Artefact Tutorial

Visual Effects veteran Waldemar van Deurse guides us through the creation of his Artefact Matte Painting

Artefact Tutorial

By Waldemar van Deurse


Editor Foreword: This guide goes hand in hand with our artwork image packs. Each pack is created by a different artist who also creates the cover image. The guide below is designed to guide you in creating your own artwork. Enjoy!

You can download the PSD and Images used in this article. Then follow along and recreate it, or make your own!

Click here to go to the download page
Artifact — Waldemar van Deurse

Hello! My name is Waldemar van Deurse, I come from Poland, or to be more specific, I live in a small city called Rzeszów.

I’ve been working as a Graphic Designer for different creative agencies in Poland for about 9 years. Now I work as a UI designer for different brands from around the world. Because of my current age which is pretty close to retirement :D (30), I’ve decided to use my experience and focus on matte painting even more as I would like to break into the film industry.

Overview

But ok… Let’s get on with the artwork!

The most challenging thing for me, as I’m an amateur in matte painting, was to create a feeling of depth in a landscape filled 90% with snow. If I hadn’t prepared a few reference photos before starting — showing the sense of depth in snowy mountains — then probably I wouldn’t have achieved such a realistic look in the final image. Of course I find all my resources on MattePaint and it’s always so easy! So I always recommend looking for reference before you start any piece.

I spent about 3–4 hours a day after my office hours working on this piece. I also added a 3D sphere from zBrush using the ‘Greeble’ effect.

Quick Tip:

Every matte painter or concept artist I have ever followed has said if you want to create realistic pictures, you need to find best possible reference images which help in creating more realistic scenes.

Tutorial Section

Ok, so here you can have a look at a small breakdown which I’ve prepared. I will try to explain it by showing you a few steps of my process.

Part 1 — Concept & Story

As you can see in the picture below, my drawing skills are a little limited :D. But it’s enough to get some information about the composition, depth, focus point and lightning. Also, I’m thinking about implementing a 3D object here so I don’t really want to complicate the scene with complex elements. I just want to make it clear and simple.

It really doesn’t matter how bad your sketch is, you are just giving yourself some ideas before you start.
Concept phase — developing the look and story

Part 2 — References

Next I started the photobashing process by finding an interesting photo of horizons with some winter mountains and epic lighting. As I said earlier, you should definitely gather some images before you start, it will help a lot and to use as reference. So don’t skip this step!!

Now that I have my collection of images ready, I can start the real work.

Some of the reference I used from MattePaint.com.

Part 3 — Getting the background right

I believe it is best when you work from the background first and move forward. This way you are creating a good foundation to your work before adding the foreground details.

As you can see here, I decided to change a few things like clouds and blue sky because I didn’t really want overexposed images to interrupt the whole scene. Remember, we never want to lose details! It’s crucial for the details to be as visible as possible so we don’t want to have any over exposed areas.

Original chosen reference (top) — Sky replaced and flipped image (bottom)

For this sky I used another image from the pack provided and blended it in. You can also see that I have done some manual painting of clouds in some areas. Grading the sky to match can be difficult but luckily in this case, the images were from the same time and area so they were similar in values!

If you are using images which are very different, I recommend trying ‘levels’ or ‘curves’ to match the brightness and then use a ‘colour balance’ adjustment to match the colour. It is tricky and will take some time but you will learn during this process!

Quick Tip:

If you can, use images from the ‘set’ of photo’s, this way it will be much easier to match the images when you are blending them together. Later, you can use other images to finish off the piece, but you need a good foundation.

Part 3 — Work towards the foreground

Now that we have a good foundation background, we can start working towards our foreground layers.

Here I chose photo’s with similar lighting and perspective. Don’t go crazy by carefully masking and grading each one, just use the ‘lasso’ tool and cut out the layers quickly to see how these chosen elements fit the whole scene. If everything’s OK, you can start cleaning up the edges of the image. Remember to spend time on the tiny details around the edges — it looks more interesting and realistic when you spend time on this! If you have good contrast between objects like (in this example) mountain and sky, you can easily use channels in Photoshop to cut out your mountain (see image below).

To do this, create a new layer by duplicating one of the colours from your ‘channels’ tab. You can choose from the red, green or blue channel. It is best to choose the channel that has the most contrast — here I use the blue channel. Now start creating a black & white mask (using Levels or Curves) to separate the sky from the mountains (see image below) Later you can easily create a selection with this layer by holding CTRL and clicking on the thumbnail of this new layer.

Duplicated blue channel layer (left), Final mask from duplicated blue channel (right)

The next step is to fit the elements to the whole scene, focusing on highlights, mid-tones and shadows individually.

I prefer to use Levels in Photoshop but many artists use Curves. You should just play with pushing and pulling sliders, jumping from red to green, from green to blue etc. until you’re happy with the results. Again, you can use the curves adjustment and other options if you like, I am just most comfortable with levels.

Use levels or Curves to adjust each image to match the colour and intensity.

Quick Tip

Remember! As your layers come into the foreground, they should have more contrast and also more details!

Part 4 — Adding Story

Here I decided to close the whole composition and add some interesting story using a 3D object (from zBrush). I rendered it in Keyshot (this software is very easy to use and render results are pretty awesome!), I highly recommend you take a look because it is probably the easiest 3D tool available for lighting and rendering.

Sphere made in Zbrush with Greeble (Left) — Initial placement in the scene (right)

Once the object is ready I can place it in my scene and mask out the bottom section so it looks like it’s in the snow. Then it is a matter of using colour balance or curves to match the colour. I chose to manually paint some additional snow gathering on one side of the object so it feels more integrated with the scene.

Part 5 — Final Touches

I didn’t have enough time to polish some areas and to add more interesting elements to this scene before the deadline but I think sometimes simplicity works well too and it’s good to work under a deadline! I added some shadows on the alien ‘Artifact’ to show the direction of the light. You must make a few colour corrections on shadows, highlights and mid-tones also. Once I finished, I realised it was difficult to judge the scale of the scene, so I decided to add a small character to the picture to help the image look more epic. Some simple corrections like these made the picture look much better!

Now, when I look at the whole thing, I’m really happy with the result. Sometimes get that feeling (which everyone knows) where I think ‘damn, I need to fix this or that… Maybe I should change everything and it would be better… Maybe I should delete this piece of sh**…’

Everyone gets this feeling when looking at old work, but this is good, it means you have improved since you began the work! So…

Remember → Volume, Not Perfection!

This is something Andrew Price said in the 7 habits of Highly Effective Artists. I strongly recommend you go and watch the video because it is very very good and only 30 minutes!


If you have any questions, feel free to catch me via social media or Artstation. I will do my best to help you!

Also, I want to say big thank you to the people from the MattePaint Academy because without them my skills would probably start drowning somewhere in the middle of nothing :D. They are always able to find the right way in your journey to create awesome matte paintings for future projects. If you’re interested in joining the group you can email me or ask how to join in the public Facebook group

Best! Waldemar van Deurse

Want to download this pack and recreate it? click here