About

I am a senior matte painter at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver and matte painting instructor at Think Tank and Lost Boys Studios. Previously, I have been a senior artist at Method Studios Vancouver, and an emmy-winning co-founder of Atmosphere Visual Effects.

Useful Books
  • The Digital Matte Painting Handbook
    The Digital Matte Painting Handbook
  • Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting
    Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting
  • d'artiste Matte Painting: Digital Artists Master Class
    d'artiste Matte Painting: Digital Artists Master Class
  • d'artiste Matte Painting 2: Digital Artists Master Class
    d'artiste Matte Painting 2: Digital Artists Master Class
  • Perspective Made Easy
    Perspective Made Easy
  • The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos
    The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos
Useful DVDs
  • Techniques of Dusso 1: Introduction to Digital Matte Painting
    Techniques of Dusso 1: Introduction to Digital Matte Painting
  • Techniques of Dusso 2: Digital Matte Painting Fundamentals
    Techniques of Dusso 2: Digital Matte Painting Fundamentals
  • Techniques of Dylan Cole: Introduction to Landscape Matte Painting
    Techniques of Dylan Cole: Introduction to Landscape Matte Painting
  • Techniques of Dylan Cole: Introduction to Cityscape Matte Painting
    Techniques of Dylan Cole: Introduction to Cityscape Matte Painting
  • Techniques of Dylan Cole: Advanced Digital Matte Painting
    Techniques of Dylan Cole: Advanced Digital Matte Painting
  • Color Theory: The Mechanics of Color with Richard Keyes
    Color Theory: The Mechanics of Color with Richard Keyes
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Main | The Matte Painter as Storyteller »
Saturday
Jul272013

The Integrity Check

When you've refined your matte painting as far as you reasonably can, the last thing you need to do before moving on to the next stage is do a quick integrity check - a technical analysis of the matte painting to ensure that it all hangs together and can withstand subsequent operations in compositing or unexpected viewing conditions.

It is best to do this integrity check with a fresh eye. At the start of a work day is an ideal time; but if you're under the gun of a heavy deadline this may not be realistic. But do try to at least take a few minutes away from your monitor before delving back in to do the last once-over.

Some of the things you need to look for are:
  • Variations in colour balance between different elements in the matte painting.
  • Variations in softness and sharpness.
  • Static grain.
  • Matte lines.
  • Subtle composition and/or perspective issues.
  • Lighting issues
    • Is the lighting absolutely consistent in direction, intensity and quality throughout every element of the shot? You'd be surprised how often one can overlook obvious errors.
  • Technical setup
    • Making sure the matte painting is broken into the appropriate layers etc.
    • Slap comp to ensure the compositor will have all the layers she needs, and that those layers are free of errors.
Some of the things you can do are:
  • Make softness/sharpness consistent. 
    Variations in softness/sharpness can be tricky to deal with sometimes - obviously, you want your matte painting to go into comp looking as crisp and smooth as possible. And one might think that just using an Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen filter on the softer elements might be all you need to get everything to the same degree of sharpness. But beware: sharpening does not introduce new detail - it merely increases edge contrast to increase the perception of crispness and sharpness. And that increase in edge contrast can cause all kinds of unacceptable artifacts - for example the dreaded "halo" effect, or even the appearance of blocky compression noise that was previously not visible. So sometimes you might find yourself having to do a lot of softening to get a matte painting to hang together. Just use your judgement to find an acceptable balance between sharpening and softening.
  • Degrain. 
    Static grain is no longer the problem it used to be; most of us should be using pretty clean, grain-free digital imagery in our matte paintings. Once in a while, though, you still encounter it, especially in elements that were shot digitally in low light/high ISO conditions. 
    Regraining in the final comp will often take care of static grain issues, but do what you can to reduce the grain to the lowest possible amount anyway. Global filters like Degrain or Median are rarely the best answer, but careful application of those to localized areas can sometimes work in a pinch. In the past, I have successfully used very gentle application of the smudge tool to massage out grain, but the use cases for this technique are limited - clouds, for example -  and it takes a light touch and quite a bit of experimentation to do successfully.
  • View under extreme exposure adjustments. 
    If working in Photoshop, use an Exposure adjustment layer to temporarily introduce large exposure adjustments in either direction to see if anything breaks under extreme viewing conditions. Check up to +/-4 stops of exposure to see if black points and white points remain consistent. Generally, if everything still hangs together well when massively over- and underexposed, then your colour correct is internally consistent. (This does NOT mean, though, that your colour correct works in the broader context of the project - that is another issue altogether.)
    • NB: Nuke or After Effects have built-in viewer LUT tools so you can quickly dial in over- and underexposure without resorting to additional colour correct nodes or adjustment layers.
    • I also find that putting on fairly extreme Gamma adjustments can also aid finding problems in your colour correct.
  • Check your edges. 
    Do a minute examination of every edge of every layer; look for fringing, matte lines, etc. Make sure you check layers against plain white, grey and/or black backgrounds - this may show up issues that you wouldn't necessarily notice when looking at all the layers comped together. If you find anything problematic, decide whether a global adjustment (such as Photoshop's "Refine Edge" or the various matte tools in Nuke or After Effects) or a local adjustment (careful brushwork to tweak the area) are appropriate. In general, though, aim for local adjustments as much as possible - the principle of minimal intervention is appropriate.
  • Check for composition tweaks. 
    At this stage, the overall composition cannot generally be changed to any great degree, but there is often still room for small adjustments to micro-compositions, i.e. sub-compositions within small portions of the shot.
  • Check your perspective. 
    You may have constructed a comprehensive 2- or 3-point perspective grid in Photoshop when you started the shot; if so, use this again to do a last quick check of the perspective lines of your elements. Sometimes small changes in an element's position will require a change in its perspective too, and in the heat of production it's easy to overlook the latter if it's a subtle change. But subtle errors in perspective can accumulate enough to be readily perceived by the viewer, so they need to be fixed.

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