David Luong is a talented matte painter, bringing experience from movie production and game cinematic creation. He currently working at Blizzard Entertainment as a Senior Cinematic Artist II. Work includes look development, matte painting, lighting, rendering, and compositing to finalize a shot. Some of David’s credits include Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, WoW: Cataclysm, Hearthstone and the newly released Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls cinematic where he did lighting/compositing work.
As well as working in games, Luong has spent time at work in high-end film studios. He worked for Rhythm & Hues Studios where he finished shots for Garfield 2, Superman Returns, and Night at the Museum. He also worked as a freelance matte painter for various studios and independent films. David has worked alongside other master matte painters like Alp Altiner, Chris Thunig, Levi Peterffy, and Fabio Zungrone.
David Luong is also one of the authors of the fast approaching ‘d’artiste: Matte Painting 3’ Master Class book from Ballistic Publishing. Together with Milan Schere and Damien Mace, he has gathered together tremendously detailed tutorials, images and invited artist galleries in a long-awaited, timeless publication.
He is also a well established and highly sought teacher in the popular CGWorkshop series at CGSociety. Please make him welcome on CGSociety’s Meet the Artist, David Luong.
Hey David, congrats on your recent accomplishments! I think I can speak for a lot of us when I say you continue to be a great inspiration for us all.
Now onto the questions. I’m horrible at these, so they’re pretty generic, but bear with me a bit.
Out of all the projects you’ve worked on throughout the years, which would you say has been your greatest learning experience? Was there anything special about this project or the artists around you that made you want to learn more?
Of all the cinematics you have work while at Blizzard, what game would you say you enjoy playing the most? Do they let you guys beta test at all?
Alright, that was like 4 questions in one, so I’m done now.
How do you find coping and adapting to new technology and possibilities in your field, always being on the edge, and what do you consider to be the core foundation that allows you to always be able to learn more, experiment more and create continuous original, professional work?
Hehe no problem The project that I learned the most on, was on World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. I was really able to start from almost the beginning and stay till the end on that project. I learned greatly from my director on the project Jeff Chamberlain, and my lead Sheng Jin through out the process. It was the first return to an old piece of Lore in the World of Warcraft, the story of Arthas, and his eventual turn to evil for this expansion of WoW. I am a HUGE WoW fan myself and player, and so I immediately wanted to work on this project first before any other. I poured my heart and soul into the images and was able to do many things during the cinematic. The team we have at Blizzard Cinematics is such a unique one and one of the best in the world. So great to be apart of that as one of my first cinematics I got to work on there. And of course, Nick Carpenter, who gave us amazing overall art direction on the show!
My favorite cinematic to create, and then play on, was again Wrath of the Lich King (but all of the other ones were great too!!) A lot of my RL friends were playing WoW at the time, and so we raided the hell out of Naxxramas with our 10 man crew at level 70. I played a priest at the time, so I was one of the main healers in our guild. Getting the title Champion of the Frozen Wastes after defeating the undead skeleton dragon, Sindragosa, and then unlocking the raid to bring down Malygos the dragon, was a true testament to our raiding abilities back in the day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to down Arthas later as the expansion grew…but I still had a great time gameplay wise and story wise in that expansion! We do have access to beta for our games, but I didn’t play it for WoW because I wanted to still be surprised like I was if I weren’t working at Blizzard.
It’s always hard to find time to keep up with technology, as it moves so fast. Personally, I try to learn what I need to learn in order to achieve a certain look. It really doesn’t matter which software I use, but as long as it’s a good enough base, I can go from there, and improvise my look further in more known software. There are some strong staples I do keep to though: Maya for 3D (although I’m dabbling more in Cinema4D as it’s very powerful for stand alone projects), Nuke for compositing, and Photoshop for painting as well as manipulation. That’s the core for me, and with the foundation that I have for art and theory, I can really take it far with that. Now there’s all other kinds of software that do things well and faster. But I let the art lead first, and then I would find software or other tools to solve the problems I have so I can achieve what I need creatively.
Also having the passion and motivation to keep trying new things, experimenting, and not being afraid to fail. As artists, we have sensitive Ego’s and don’t want to show others failure. But a part of being an artist is to practice, to try, to fail, and learn from that to be better each time. At work in dailies, no one is perfect, and you will always get feedback from work that can help improve the image. You must be able to take these criticisms from all angles and from many people to create a more powerful look…something that is usually stronger than what can be seen with just your own eyes. This is the driving force in always trying some tools that work first, and then experimenting with newer ones to solve that problem.
Haha thanks…the furry beast you see having a break for some water is Xena, she’s my little monster! You’ll see more of her featured in the book hiding from Aliens and all in another matte painting
Hmm…some tricks…let’s see. I think one of the most important ones is to learn how to work in a team and do it well. No likes to work with someone with an ego, or can’t take some criticisms or direction. Getting to know someone on a more personal level will help achieve some trust too, and that will go a long way in working with them as you don’t want to fail someone else who trusts you to do a good job, and to make your whole department stronger as a whole by doing so.
Another thing, would be to try to work the smartest, not the hardest. Pulling long hours and overtime is not an achievement, something that you don’t have to do. By being more efficient and being more on top of your tasks, as well as being a little pro active, you can get a lot of work done in the 8 hours of a normal business day. Stay after hours only if you really need to do so. People have lives other than work, we need to allow people to enjoy their life outside of work. I’m very fortunate that Blizzard cinematics follows this mentality and overall morale as well as efficiency goes up when you don’t have to work more than you usually do. This in turn also saves your company money, which is just a better deal all around. So everyone’s happy!
I have said this many times but let me say it again… I am a huge fan of your works and your works have always inspired me. :bowdown:
I still remember when I first learnt about matte paintings…it was HORIZON OF HEAVEN matte which inspired me so much that I used to see it every morning before going to work. It always brings a smile on my face. I wanted to know if you have done it completely in photoshop or have u used any 3D in it ? I feel that your experiments with clouds in your works is exuberant. I was wandering if you could share few tricks you follow to get such beautiful skies.
I also have few generic questions for you. Lately I’ve been confused about two different job profiles - Matte artist and Environment artist. I would like to hear your views on it. Which do you think is a better job profile ? Is it a good idea to start your career as an environment artist ? What amount of technical knowledge an environment artist is expected to have ?
Thank you SO much!! It’s always so elating when I hear I’ve helped someone else out there. I have been inspired and helped numerous times but other artists and it’s great to return the favor outwards. Thanks for following my work. You have some great art works coming out already as I have seen in the DMP forum here. Well on your way to becoming a great artist yourself.
Horizon of Heaven…oh man. I think that’s the #1 matte painting that has been called out (and asked to be used for licensing to other companies). It’s a a really fantastical image I conjured up many years ago and it was actually created for a friend of my, John Blalock at the Academy of Art University many years ago for his graduate film project. It was done all in 2D, Photoshop using a combination of painting and photo textures. I’d say there are about 50 different clouds that I used to get the look I needed.
Great that you asked about what techniques I used. Actually the newly created matte painting you see here at the bottom of the original post by Paul, is ‘Skyward Life’ and is used as an exclusive tutorial for the D’Artiste Matte Painting vol 3 book JUST for that…how to create an epic/fantastical sky! I hope you can wait to see it in the book, as it will show you some steps that I took similarly to what I did with Horizon of Heaven to achieve that look.
So the question of being a “Matte Artist” vs an “Environment Artist” actually came up in the interview I did with the legendary Michael Pangrazio, who is now one of the senior art directors at Weta Digital. He has done tons of matte paintings, on old glass in the Star Wars/Indiana Jones days, to some for The Hobbit in digital. We discussed this, along with Damien Mace and Milan Schere, about what a matte artist is today, and what it has transitioned to. We all agreed that the lines are blurring more between being a matte painter and an environment artist. There is a few clear distinctions though; a matte painting artist deals more with efficiency, and digital painting, more with projections. While an environment artist would build his environment and set out entirely of 3D, textured and lit. Combining these two skills would allow someone to be a full impact “Environment Artist” that can use any of the tools available to get the shot the director wanted. Almost a one man team or generalist. So it really depends if you want to be more of that sort of generalist and one man team, or be a separate “Matte Painting Artist” that deals more with efficiency and time saving via photo manipulation/digital painting as well as projection painting and simple geometry to get the magic to happen. Technical knowledge is a bit more as an Environment Artist as you’re dealing with more software and a more generalist view. Also as an Environment Artist, you can transition more easily into games, as they’re all fully 3D sets, not projections and paintings of simple geometry. That’s another plus for being an Environment Artist…working in games/film is an easier thing to do.
I hope that answered your question Rohit! Keep at it
What type of matte paintings every matte painter should have in it’s portfolio? Especially when it’s good to know 3D. Should it be sci-fi stuff, mountains/landscapes, sky shots, cityscapes etc.?
I found that this is the common problem for many artists- they know the software but there is often a problem, where to start.
Quoting Milan Schere
“Matte Painting is an art form with a true purpose and especially establishing environment shots should tell a story”
When it comes to personal projects it can be problematic because working in the studio, matte painter have already specific tasks and projects which determines theme.
Can you talk a bit about the ‘d’artiste: Matte Painting 3’ book you just completed with Milan Schere and Damien Mace. What it was like juggling your work and life as well as producing this book? We’re extra excited here at Ballistic Publishing too by the way.
There’s a special name you guys interviewed in the book too wasn’t there?
Thanks Jacek! That’s great that you’re quoting Milan, actually he’s going to be the next Meet the Artist, so I would definitely shoot him this question again so it comes from the source. But I can answer this generally. The bread and butter of being a matte painter is to make something there, that wasn’t there in the first place, as invisible as possible, much like a compositor’s work. Now it can also be fantastical, or very blatantly Sci Fi out of this world, but most of the work, is extending the set for the director’s vision and supporting the story. So because of this, having a wide range of realistic work will really help your portfolio for matte painting. Just having a plate, and then extending the building and adding extra textures, trees, mountains in the bg, or a nice photo real sky replacement with well extracted foregrounds and clean matte edges would be a huge plus. A few fantasy and sci fi images would be great to show your creativity and your design skills though. So I would have a mix of everything. Also showing some projection and 3D environments with some moving footage matchmoved to a plate, or a subtle camera move in 3D just to convey life would be nice to see.
In my workshop, I always ask the students to think of an idea first, a story, and then play around with sketches to support this idea. Afterall, as Milan said, matte painting is truly an art form that supports the overall vision and story of a bigger world. It is the setting for the characters to be in.
Thanks for your question, but I would definitely ask Milan his thoughts on this too!
Great to see you here! Oh man, a reversal in time…great great question! 10 years ago, I was at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, about halfway through my 4 year program. I was more or less tinkering in all sorts of foundational classes from drawing, to clay modeling, to perspective, color theory, and various introductory computer graphics classes. I hadn’t really focused my energies into what I really wanted until 2004/2005 at the end of my term at the university. It was compositing, and matte painting. If I were to give myself advice 10 years ago, I would have told myself to really practice more at painting in photoshop, and studying the art works of master matte painters as well as photorealistic landscape painters such as the Dutch of the 1600’s or the amazing Hudson River School of Artists painters. I didn’t really find out about them until my last year of school, and had I known earlier, I would have been copying and practicing looking at those images to death. Their composition, lighting, shadow, texture, and efficiency of painting photo real exposure even before the camera really existed was just an amazing feat. They really had their craft down. I would have also told myself to do more plein air painting outside…just enjoying nature more and working with the physical paints like the olden days. This would have translated pretty well to the digital world later on, as the concepts still apply (except the color mixing theory). This would have accelerated my path immensely.
Another thing I would say, is to collaborate even more with like minded artists, and artists who want to create something bigger than the sum of their parts. I got into this a little in my senior year as I used friends as actors, and got involved in doing graduate level thesis work as an undergraduate by really taking a lot of my assignments and passions and multiplying that with other friends and classmates who wanted to be in a bigger project. Now working with someone else won’t fulfill your own vision, so I know it is hard at first, especially if their project doesn’t go in the right direction, but it really is good practice in doing so. If you have your own vision, you can totally make your own projects (I did a few at the end of my term too) and “hire” your friends or classmates to help out if you feel up for it.
Networking is also a HUGE skill to have in our industry too, so keeping up on old contacts and meeting potentially new contacts should be ongoing as well. Back then, it was more with a real phone and some email/website contacts. But nowadays, being active in forums such as CGSociety.org, and especially big social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and the more professional LinkedIn have an immense world wide reach for exposure and contacts. So being more active and putting yourself out there to talk or even get feedback from other artists or professionals is the way to go. I know as artists, most of us are introverted, but the Internet thankfully has helped alleviate some of those barriers with a few clicks of a button.
Let me ask you this too Toby, what do you think you’re doing that’s working or not working so far for your own path?
I definitely can shed some light on that! First of all, when I was first asked to be one of the co-authors, I was beyond ecstatic and so humbled to be a part of the next book series, which previously featured other titans of DMP artists of the community. A great honor to be featured in the book. I gave it some thought to see how it would have impacted my schedule (which would have me starting to work on the book around late January or so), and after careful consideration, I accepted wholeheartedly! I had to take into consideration that I was doing full time at work, my active CGWorkshops that I would be teaching in February-April, and then again in June-August. Also personal things that were going on as well as family responsibilities.
In the end, it was actually much more work that I thought it would be…creating 3 full blown personal matte paintings for tutorial breakdowns (one has a fully composited shot which can be downloaded later to study), thoughtful comments on all of the beautifully submitted images from other artists around the world that I chose for my gallery, as well as working on a deadline to get it all looking great, checked and making sense with our wonderful editor, Mark Thomas, and the man Paul Hellard himself!
I was totally booked for the first half of the year teaching, doing this book, and working at Blizzard. Amazingly, I still managed to make time for my family and friends as I went out every now and then to see a movie or have a social outing to relax a bit before I delve head on right back into the thick of things after hours, and every weekend until our deadline in June. Life is still very important outside of work again, but every once in a while you can burn a bit brighter to get the job done for the bigger picture.
Working with other high caliber artists such as Damien Mace and Milan Schere was pure awesome as we all bounced ideas back and forth for each other on what should be included in the book, which themes for our tutorials, and how to present it later on to the world. Working with the team down in Australia via Ballistic Media/CGSociety was another great experience, and I can see now how they are publish some of the best art books in the world.
For the book foreword, when I was asked who totally inspired us today as artists, the first high level choice was Michael Pangrazio. And when I had heard we got a hold of him, and he accepted to write the foreword and do a Q&A with us, it was a such a dream as he is one of the most influential master matte painters of our time. His list of credits is incredible, as he started back at ILM during the Star Wars movies in the late 1970’s. From then on he’s been doing work on pretty much every ILM movie until he cofounded and moved to Matte World Digital. After a bit there, he moved on to work as the art director for King Kong, and has been there ever since. Of course being a gigantic Neverending Story and Hobbit fan, both of which he has worked on almost 30 years apart, I asked many questions about those movies!
I’m continued to be inspired by his life experiences and am so honored by the fact I am doing a book with him. We all coordinated around the world to make a two hours session with Pangrazio happen. From me speaking in LA, to Milan in Toronto, Canada, Damien in London, to the guys over at Ballistic in Australia, then finally at 10am in New Zealand for Pangrazio. Quite a feat, but it was a real treat to be a part of that history and to speak to the legend himself.We actually have our entire Skype interview session recorded somewhere. Definitely a treasure to hear, and I hope one day we can share it publicly!
Thanks to everyone for the immense journey on creating D’Artiste: Matte Painting, vol. 3, can’t wait for everyone to see it.
love your work on Blizzard and all your other projects.
i have a question when it comes to using 3D work in the mattes you do. how do you incorporate that into the final piece, do you render out the pieces into different parts and blend them together in Photoshop? or some other technique.
Also how do you mask out specific part of a photo that you are trying to use, such as the trees or sky?
Thanks again for your help and inspiring a lot of upcoming artist such as myself!
I’d like to ask you if it’s important to show environment painting skills of still images, in a matte painting demo reel, together with the before/after matte paintings, 3D models and camera projections, etc? And if so, how to make it interesting, because still images generally are less attractive in a demo reel than animated shots…
p.s:. For those who are starting as matte painters, or those who want to improve with the tuition of David, I definetly recommend his workshop at cgsociety.
Great to see you here, and my gratitude for the plug to my workshop, I’m really glad you liked it!!
Your demo reel presentation is a great question. Keeping it simple, yet fresh is the best way to do it. First have your name, website, contact info at the beginning and end for at least 3-5 seconds. Then in the middle, you can edit it to some nice complementary music that goes with the beat if possible, it’ll keep the viewer more engaged. Have something that’s non repetitive, non abrasive, and has a lyrical harmony to it so it sounds like the music itself is leading the story that you’re presenting in the images. Have it part of the world. As for the type of presentation on your matte paintings, showing the plate, and then having it wipe or “build up with composited elements and layers” would be a great way to showcase your matte painting. You can have a few of those to make your reel strong. But having still frames of finely executed matte paintings with some subtle camera moves in 2D such as scale transforms, or the “Ken Burns” effect would be much more effective than having a mediocre matte painting that moves with the camera moving. It’s very important that you get a good image first, and then show that you can be technically proficient at things such as projection map painting, compositing, and camera moves after.
Most studios won’t give you all of the layers and such for the breakdown, or even the before image plate, so just having the well executed final matte painting is good which you can take from a DVD or BluRay if you worked on a film/television show that showcases your work. If it’s a personal project, you can show some breakdowns, such as the layer build up, before and afters and such. Be it in a 3D program like Maya, or compositing program like or After Effects, there are many ways to break off layers and show it off. I would only show the assets or models in the matte painting if you only had very few strong matte paintings such as one or two shots in your entire reel to help pad it a bit. But the faster your reel can be, the faster the recruiter or employer can go through your reel and get an idea of how good you are. Don’t pad a demo reel just to make it long with longgggg break downs.
Let me know if you have any other questions for me to clarify on that, thanks Rafael!
That’s exacly the way i think. A lot of my colleagues just like to do overtime for the sake of overtime and they talk about you negatively if you actually deliver your work in time without OT. I definitly think its a very wrong notion and way of thinking/working. I only do OT if i really need to, because it will only stress myself and my managers, and directors.
Of course there’s times where there’s no chance other than doing it, but I like to keep it as minimum as necessary and still maintaining the best quality as possible