Please welcome our latest Meet the Artist candidate, senior matte painter and conceptual artist Milan Schere.
Graduating with a master’s degree in digital effects from Bournemouth University, Milan Schere has worked on a variety of projects ranging from architectural visualization to music videos. The first real step up in his professional career was the opportunity to work on the trailer of Sony’s ‘MotorStorm: Pacific Rift’.
After working on a few BBC and National Geographic documentaries for broadcast television, he became heavily involved with the ‘Dredd’ pitch at Prime Focus in London. In 2010 Schere decided to join the talented visual effects team at Mr. X Inc. in Toronto, when being offered the chance to work on ‘Tron: Legacy’. As a technically oriented 3D matte painter, Schere utilizes a mixture of techniques and software in his process, always trying to improve his workflow and the efficiency of the matte painting pipeline.
His more recent filmography includes such movies as ‘Robocop’, ‘Pompeii’, ‘Mama’, ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn’ and ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’. In addition to his feature film work, he is also known to fans of the television series ‘Vikings’ for the numerous digital backdrops he created. ‘Vikings’ is the History Channel’s first scripted docudrama and is currently nominated for an Emmy award in the category ‘Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role’.
Milan Schere will be available to answer your questions and chat about his career in this unique setting over the course of a month. Post your questions and allow some time for answers. Please welcome Milan Schere.
Would you tell us about your 3D matte painting pipeline? 3D software knowledge is becoming a standard and I often hear questions from artists what to chose - Maya or Max. Recently Modo is quite popular for modeling (and Zbrush).
I asked David Luong “What type of matte paintings every matte painter should have in it’s portfolio? Should it be sci-fi stuff, mountains/landscapes, sky shots, cityscapes etc.? I found that this is the common problem for many artists”
What is your thoughts about it?
Unfortunately, theres no formula for breaking into the industry. As with most things in life, I believe persistence is the most important attribute. The more you practice a skill, the better you will eventually get at it. I recommend developing a professional demeanour by working on projects together with other people, rather than to lock yourself up at home by yourself. Even an unpaid opportunity will help you gather a certain level of experience. Matte Painting is a very specialized art form and in the end the tools you use do not really matter. It is much more important to develop certain artistic skills like seeing light rather than knowing which buttons to press. I recommend not rushing through your education, but rather, building a strong foundation by doing a BA in Fine Arts and an MA in Visual Effects in order to obtain a full understanding of all requirements.
Over the years my tool set has changed a little as you adapt to what is available to you and what new techniques you pick up. Right now, I use Photoshop, Maya, Mari and Nuke but tools really dont matter because ultimately a Matte Painter must train his eyes for realism and a sense of lighting. Most of my shots are based on filmed footage or 3D renders. I get almost no locked-off shots assigned to my task list these days. It is important to familiarize yourself with the plate or pre-viz and all the surrounding shots within the sequence before you start. Until recently, I used to solve all large scale environment shots with multiple projection set-ups and layered shaders but since Mari came along and Nuke has been getting more powerful with each new version, Ive been implementing these softwares far more significantly into my Matte Painting workflow. The techniques themselves are very simple. I still do the majority of my work in Photoshop. It is important to judge, depending on the necessities of the shot, what approach would be most efficient within the given timeframe. On that note, it is also very important to understand that Nuke projections are often more than sufficient and you do not have to run everything through a full 3D package, such as Maya. I like Maya and it is my primary 3D application. It was absolutely essential to me especially when I was using Shake, before witching to Nuke, but I find myself more and more in situations where using Maya for one of my Matte Painting shots is simply overkill.
Ballistic Publishing’s book “d’artiste: Matte Painting 3” (2013) will include 6 of my written tutorials, as well as additional video walk-throughs in which I will be sharing my Matte Painting process from creating a shot all the way through to the final imagery. In these tutorials I’ll demonstrate many techniques which I utilize to design successful Matte Paintings. This includes getting an idea out of your head onto paper or screen, working out composition, integrating photographic elements, colour matching and much more. Youll learn how to create depth perception and mood through atmospheric lighting effects in your Matte Paintings, as well as technical explanations of how to hand of your work down the pipeline. I tried to include a full range of Matte Painting scenarios to help people interested in the art form with their digital environment creation process.
As for your demo reel, honestly you don’t need one. What a potential supervisor needs to see is how you can fit into the Matte Painting department. If you demonstrate the proper skills, two before/after comparisons attached as JPEG files to your email will be sufficient to obtain an interview. The subject matter in my opinion should not be science fiction nor fantasy related but real life set extension based work because that is the majority of what professional Matte Paintings consist of.
I personally don’t think you obtaining your first Matte Painting job will depend on the softwares you use. I’ve heard really good things about Modo and it might be the most popular 3D application in 5 years from now, but I have personally not tried it yet and utilize Maya at the moment. I’ve dabbed into ZBrush and Mudbox but it is really not necessary to familiarize yourself with these from a Matte Painting point of view. On “The Three Musketeers” I’ve created some of the clouds with Vue Metaballs but it takes a lot of fiddling to get a good result with acceptable render times out of that package and I don’t always have the luxury to experiment in such a time consuming way. There’s an article by The Foundry about how Mari can fit into a Matte Painting pipeline that you might be interested in checking out: http://www.thefoundry.co.uk/articles/2013/04/03/508/mr-x-inc-bring-back-the-undead-in-resident-evil-retribution/
However, it really depends on your circumstances. As a junior at a larger studio they would take the time to train you, while working freelance mostly means they’ll get you any license you prefer when you’re on a specific project. Generally, you should display an artistic proficiency first and then worry about the technicalities.
One amazing benefit you can take advantage of today is the DMP forum here on CG Talk as many of the members are professionals, and some newer participants just landed very promising jobs at respectable visual effects companies. Networking can be an important part of getting your foot in the door.
Growing up with a passion for drawing and painting, visual arts has always been the main path I followed. One of my first film inspirations occurred after having watched the Indiana Jones movies at a young age. I became increasingly fascinated with the worlds in movies. Once I found out that almost all my favourite movie shots were not only hand painted but most of them created by the same person, I became a huge Michael Pangrazio fan. I even learned airbrushing because of a story I heard about how he got into the industry. I still have Glim the Glorious and the Art of Star Wars books on my bookshelf today. He is amazing and his “Raiders of the Lost Ark” warehouse set-extension is probably the most famous Matte Painting in history. That is what inspired me to become a Matte Painter.
Outside of the office, I try to stay away from computers and would enjoy being a traditional Matte Painter, I believe. Im a real traditional Matte Painting enthusiast. I own publications on the subject matter, such as Ellenshaw Under Glass and The Invisible Art, and often get lost flipping through them. http://www.stopmotionanimation.com/forum/topics/matte-painting-section
The only existing traditional Matte Painting forum is currently being archived, in case you’re interested in that type of Matte Painting work.
As part of the upcoming book publication, I co-authored together with Damien Mace and David Luong, we were given the opportunity to conduct a Skype conversation with Mike Pangrazio, who also wrote the stupendous foreword for the book. It was an honour, since all three of us agreed to Mike being the greatest Matte Painting influence in our lives. The interview will also be included in the book for everyone to enjoy, and will hopefully inspire many more Matte painters out there.
One thing I miss about living in London is the National Gallery. I used to spend hours staring at romantic paintings on the weekends, trying to understand the magnificent way those artists painted with light. So, if I really had to pick an era to go back to it would be the time of Joseph Mallord William Turner. Matte Painting today is what Romanticism was in 1836 or Renaissance art in 1498. It is the most significant art form of our age and without access to a time machine I’m quite happy being a Matte Painter these days.
I hope this answers your question and I’m confident you will like the book and all of its content based on your visible interest for the art form.
What a matte painter uses today, will be different tomorrow. Focus on creating beautiful images under a tight budget. That will always work in my opinion. Do themes that you love, cause you might find yourself doing that topic for the rest of your life, if you’re hired for it.
Can you talk a little bit about working with the option of different lighting effects in your mattes please? When you generate a piece with the suggested elements, dust, and colors sorted out, is it your general rule to make available many different iterations of the same scene showing different light directions and other tweaks, or is this overkill, do you feel?
Can too much choice for the art director be a hindrance?
Dear Cesar Alejandro Montero Orozco,
Thank you for all your personal input and your question regarding Michael Pangrazio.
Being one of the most significant Matte Paintings in film making history, we were naturally eager to discuss this shot with Michael during our conversation, which will be available as part of “D’artiste Matte Painting 3” soon. He was actually so kind as to go into such detail like how long it took him to paint this magnificent image and much more.
I’m certain you will find it entertaining and educational once it is finally available for purchase. Make sure you sign up for the pre-sale notification at: http://www.ballisticpublishing.com/books/dartiste/matte_painting_3/
I was wondering what the greatest matte painting challenge you have faced is? (specifically not camera projection-related)… but what was the most difficult piece of reality you have ever needed to fabricate?
That’s a really great question, and the answer can vary between different VFX studios, as some larger houses employ concept artists just for this. However, the conceptualization that we do is very different from pre-production concept work.
Depending on the production, the duties of a DMP go beyond painting digital backdrops and we have the chance to get more involved with the art direction. As such we sometimes find ourselves creating production design Styleframes. A Styleframe is like a Bierstadt or Constable painting. It captures a moment. They are production art pieces visualizing the essence of a shot or an entire sequence. It’s primary purpose is visual communication between artists and clients/supervisors or the different areas of production.
Although Styleframes have to be of a photo-real Matte Painting quality, they often go beyond the purpose of a Matte Painting and include a still of a moving element such as a character, or ship etc.
Typically, we do work within a set lighting scenario though, and receive rather detailed instructions, because each shot has to match continuity with the surrounding ones in the movie. Sometimes on a one-of stand-alone, or when you’re working on the first look of an entire sequence, you can suggest an alternate take within the same limitations but it is not advisable to create more versions than that since it would be a time consuming luxury to be shopping for ideas in such an expansive way. Efficiency is at the core of visual effects and one way to keep a progressive workflow is by assigning leads who keep a visual overview of certain aspects. You can then narrow down your options and ideas with the help of your sequence lead before presenting it to the supervisor, and so on.
However, it happens ever so often that a scene gets changed and the time of day in some shots has to be altered. While traditional Matte Painters had to start over or painstakingly relight their painting in such a case, the benefit of the digital age allows us to keep our work flexible and make changes fairly easily. The most likely scenario to having multiple versions of a shot is when a day-to-night conversion is required, or if a setting is featured multiple times with different lighting setups.
I hope this shines some light onto the creative process and responsibilities of a Matte Painter within a studio environment on feature films.
Any successful visual effect must be invisible. Especially Matte Paintings must appear real to be believable. Throughout my career I have found 3D paint-overs to be the most challenging Matte Painting work. A full CG shot without live action elements often lacks the necessary connection to the world our eyes are used to. It is the Matte Painters job to re-establish that link for the audience. Everything from cracks in a piece of concrete, stains on the ground or random objects like mail boxes, all the way to little pools of light placed by nature itself. Plate photography work gives you the necessary cues to all these but CG has none of it, as it is perfect, lacking the imperfection our brains are used to. Being a 3D Matte Painter is something like a combination of a Digital Matte Painting Artist and an Environment TD. I love the painting part but I like to handle my shots all the way to pre-comp where possible. Earlier in my career I used to even take some of my shots all the way to final, including all the compositing work, sometimes.
This New York Times Square shot from Paul W. S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Retribution” movie is a personal milestone in my digital environment creation process because it successfully makes use of the Foundry’s texturing tool Mari. Ive been using Mari since my work on Paul W. S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers and took the time on Silent Hill: Revelation 3D to figure out some of its technicalities, establishing a basic workflow. By the time I was setting up this shot on Resident Evil: Retribution my objective was to efficiently implement Mari into my Matte Painting workflow. I have been using this approach successfully on set extensions with implemented live action footage, but this was the first time for me on a full CG shot.
All the hard work really paid off in the end, as I was able to recycle parts of it in my next shot.
Was it the same type of challenge for you with the 3D base or what has your personal experience been with full CG shots? I can imagine it being a tricky situation, especially with the main focus of the painting being an otherworldly spaceship for which no direct reference exists.
I would like to ask you about how far we can go with cheating in matte-painting?
We all know that one of the main goal for each dmp is photoreal, but sometimes while working on some of them we can see that if we add something that probably would not be in real world situation it can make the picture looks better. I mean for example some highlights from the sun on objects or might some interesting shadows and so forth. Of course as long if it still fits with general mood of shot\matte-painting, but if it brings some more visual interest.
For instance before going to Canada I had this kind of project. There were a few shots with sunsets and the sun was quite low there but I felt if I add some highlights on mountains and castle it can help lead eyes of the viewer and just make a whole picture looks better. So finally it still was sunset with correct color palette and values but some parts with lighting were slightly cheated in order to get more benefits of that.
So and my question is how far we can go with this sort of cheating?
Thanks in advance!
p.s. sorry for some mistakes, a bit in a rush here now…
I’ve noticed that you like to push the borders of reality within your Matte Painting work exactly the way you described here.
Especially now, being part of a major VFX studio’s DMP department, you should use these visual tools with extreme caution because AAA feature film is less forgiving.
It is acceptable to play with pools of light to help lead the viewers eyes but be cautious not to break your lighting. Our main reference is photography, not traditional painting.
The human brain notices immediately when something is wrong and even the humblest, most dedicated movie audience will be able to tell that it’s off.
To pinpoint down what is wrong takes more delicate observational skills. However, if the lighting doesn’t make sense it ruins your shot by making your matte too illustrative.
If I ran into a similar type of issue where a large sun hit on some rocks was implausible
and I couldn’t find a way to implement a break through an opposing structure to motivate the lighting eg., I’d opt to get rid of it all together, and find a different way to tell the story within the image. Any form of practical art is information transport and most of the time less is more.
The great thing about working in movies is that most of the time we get practical plates to base our work on. I personally prefer working within certain boundaries, such as a given lighting scenario I’d have to respect, and then as an artist try to explore those limitations. It’s rather shot dependent but I believe your question is at the core of being a Matte Painter. Judging what a shot requires and how little is enough is partly what makes a good Matte Painter.
Generally, avoid making any of your work too stylized and always strive to keep it as realistic as possible.
You are on the right track and having so many talented DMPs around you will certainly impact your learning curve!
Thanks you Milan for great answer (as always) and good wishes! Appreciate that!
Yeah actually getting into pipeline in a major company it’s not the same as in a smaller ones. But it’s a nice and great experience!
Thanks again for your answer, you definitely right, and will keep in the mind some of your ideas.
The bid time for a Matte Painting depends on the complexity of the shot.
Usually, the Matte Painter advises production how long a particular task should take. Working in a professional realm you have to be able to estimate a quote of how long something will take you.
I have written a brief for the
CG Talk Matte Painting challenge and provided a rough background draft to understand the mood of the shot. I would expect to see a first concept after 12-14h.
You would then receive notes and the turnaround for each set of feedback would be around 8h, which is one day of work. The number of rounds will depend on your supervisor’s vision, as well as your proficiency.
On this CG Talk project, I would advise not diving into the final Matte Painting stage without at least 3 revisions. When working for a client I recommend trying to keep a visual balance
so that if you’re asked to show a work in progress everything is at the same level. Try not to waste too much time polishing individual areas until everything is in place and well balanced.
The photo-realistic Matte Painting will take, depending on your technical and artistic skills, between 2 to 4 days (16-32h). The more frequently you present WIP during this process, the less time you will waste exploring wrong avenues.
Finally, depending on the schedule and how much time there’s left in your original bid, there will be
another few rounds of notes with a 4-8h interval, of course depending on the nature of the notes, until your Matte Painting looks amazing or production runs out of time.
Ultimately, the client has to be happy with your product, and if they love it after the first client review session, you’ll either get
another 3-6h to clean it up and add some final tweaks or you simply move on to the next shot. In the case of the
CG Talk Matte Painting challenge, Michael, Jaime, David, Damien and I are your creative leads, supervisors and clients.
To create a successful styleframe that will live up to the expectations it will take a DMP anywhere between 32-80h of serious work.
When I’m mentoring a Matte Painting apprentice or Junior Matte Painter, these are the expectations I’d have but I’ll usually alter these guidelines based on individual levels of experience or knowledge/abilities.
It is also important to mention that within a studio environment it is important not to get attached to shots personally. You might have been working on a DMP for 2 weeks and by the time the client review notes come in you could be assigned to another big shot that requires all your attention. In that case another DMP Artist would pick up your work and address the notes. This can be quite nice, as the painting will receive a fresh pair of eyes and the next person working on it will bring a piece of their own vision to the image. This also means your working files have to be extremely clean and easily understandable by others.
In other cases due to various reasons the time frame might be so tight that one shot has to be divided into sub-tasks and areas, where multiple painters are working on one matte simultaneously in order to get the job done on time.
I hope this answers your first question in enough detail.
As for moving back to Canada, it depends on your preferences. Some VFX artists
move around the world, trying to be involved with the projects they personally prefer to be working on. Others are more loyal to
specific studios due to unique working conditions.
My wife and I realized London was not the best place for raising children and wanted to re-locate to somewhere we would feel comfortable enough to start a family.
We’ve done a fair amount of moving as well and so far Toronto has been our favourite place we ever lived in.
Mr. X helped us settle in and it has been a great experience being here since the first day we arrived.
Traveling can become a large part of your life if you’re in the movie industry, so I recommend anyone to embrace the possibilities that come with working in
film, until you get too sick of living out of a suitcase and need to halt for a while.
Let me know if you have any further questions.