A couple of months ago I was working at an internship where I got the opportunity to help create a digital matte painting for a shot in a live action short film entitled The Hunting of the Snark directed by Michael McNeff. The following images chart the general development of the matte from conception to the final product. I studied a Gnomon workshop DVD about matte paintings before attempting this one, and learned quite a bit along the way!
This was the first preliminary sketch for the matte painting. The mountains are intended to communicate a frightening, almost alien world that certainly does alienate the characters. I indicate lighting in a rough way so that the moonlight gave kind of an eerie feel. At this stage the time of day was determined to be early twilight, combined with some dusk tones, but those were quickly eliminated early on. Note the red safety zones indicating what part of the image would not be seen in the final result.
At this stage I was developing the texture of the mountains using pieces of a photographed source material (mountains that were actually very brown in tones and photographed during the day). Hues were adjusted and a great deal of darkness and light were implied using the dodge and burn tools. Some shadows were also painted in and blended here.
Here's one of the preliminary passes with an earlier time of day implied. The foreground was largely unnecessary as actors would cover up most of that area in the final composition, but was included to cover up any empty areas between actors, and continue the illusion of realistic space. A kind of fog is made predominant as a temporary experiment.
In this version the time of day is obviously later, and the mountain on the right was narrowed in an attempt to make it more jagged and scarier. I was told to imitate shale, and a lot of research on shale followed.
This is the beginning of a series of versions where I was imitating a fellow matte painter who had used a more painterly style to create their images as requested by the director. Here the textures feel quite a bit more artificial. Even though these weren't chosen in the end, they still have a fairly interesting feel, and were fun to experiment with.
Michael was dissatisfied with the painterly way things were going, so we ended up scrapping that progression, and I drew a few more rough sketches and refined them. We ended up choosing this one to work with.
Using a similar process as before, textures were tweaked until this was the final result. Note that the lighting is perhaps a bit lighter in the sky, while the mountains are largely dark, helping to encourage a twilight feel. Although the edges of the mountains are sharp, they will be adjusted in the final composite in After Effects once atmospheric distortion is applied.
Here's an approximation of what the final composition would feel like. Overall the lighting in the background balances nicely with the foreground elements, and while the background gives a feeling of claustrophobia, they're not too interesting to detract from the foreground action. Michael liked the results quite a lot!