Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Matte Paintings

Hello :

I'm shooting a music video where the production design and effects are to be decidedly "Old Fashioned", as the video will be imitating old black and white horror films, e.g. Frankenstein. So the director wants to incorporate some matte paintings (for their organic, in-camera charm, and also because we won't have so much money to build huge, elaborate sets).

Now I know the basics of matte paintings: it's painted on a piece of glass, and there is an clear, unpainted space on the glass which will blend in with the subject and the small bit of the "real" set. But having actually never done such I shot, I was wondering if there is anything tricky I should look out for, or if there is any critical knowledge which I am lacking about this procedure without which I am doomed to fail.

Also, this begs the question: Does anyone know of anyone in Canada (or nearby) who does matte paintings anymore?


Joshua Allen

> I'm shooting a music video where the production design and effects >are to be decidedly "Old Fashioned",

> [.......]the director wants to incorporate some matte paintings

I've done this only once and I have to say, if you're only going for a tape finish you might consider creating the matte in post. Lining up the shot and lighting the matte to exactly match your live action is time consuming. You also need to light to a deep enough stop to hold focus from the matte to the live action whilst avoiding extremely wide angle lenses.

Your chosen lens has to be decided in advance so that the artwork matches in terms of proportion and distortion. Post affords much more flexibility (including the repositioning of your live action element) and you could create the matte in Photoshop from photographic elements.

If you really want to do it live you should balance the camera about the nodal point - this can allow for limited camera movement with realistic parallax between live action and matte. Some form of diffusion (a black net if you're staying in period) on the lens helps blend the image, as does having a matte painter on set to finesse the edge of the painting to the background.

There's an interesting article here :

Tom Townend,

Latent image compositing will give you the highest quality, but it requires a LOT of skill to match each exposure pass. Plus registration is absolutely critical (as with most composite work.) I'd plan on having a lot of held takes in order to get it right.

You can also do the compositing in an optical printer using dupes although I recommend doing the work digitally to avoid multiple dupe generations of 16mm. Basically it's similar to doing split-screen compositing.

The problem with rear and front projection techniques is the generational difference between the projected image and the painting. Probably would require that you shoot the projected image in 35mm, project it in 35mm, so that when rephotographed in 16mm, the grain would not be too bad. But you also have to deal with color and contrast problems too. This is a very difficult technical approach and works best when the projected area is a small portion of the frame.

There was also Doug Trumbull's difficult technique of photographing the painting onto intermediate dupe stock (used for "Blade Runner.") This involved bi-packing the developed live action plate on negative with intermediate stock and then exposing it to a white panel with held-back areas painted in black to expose just the portion of the live action wanted onto the IP, and then painting the matte painting in the black areas of the panel and painting the white areas black, and then exposing the matte painting onto the same IP intermediate stock.

Problem was the tremendous amount of light needed to photograph the painting onto IP stock.

David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles

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