Starfighters Tutorial

Victor Pietrzykowski guides us through the creation of his Starfighters Image created for one of our Matte Paint Challenges.

Starfighters Tutorial

By Victor Pietrzykowski

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 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

Final Image

Hello! My name is Victor Pietrzykowski, I am a 24 year old junior matte painter. I chose matte painting because I always liked to see the worlds created to drive the story of movies. For me matte paintings plunge the viewer into the environment created by the film. I have always been attracted by light, composition and especially the details found in matte painting.

Original Plate

The Academy Challenge

This artwork started as a challenge set by the MattePaint Academy. The first level of the challenge was to clean the plate, the second level was to add some minor silhouetted elements on the mountains. Challenges like this are always an opportunity to learn new things and improve so I did not hesitate. Inspired by the colours, light and environment, I immediately thought of the posters of “Star Wars Rogue One”.

So I challenged myself to create a fan art piece based on this poster with a rule to integrate some 3D elements because up to now I was doing a lot of full 2D. At first, it is always difficult to learn something new, we have many questions. How will I recreate perspective? How to create a 3D light adapted to the plate? Then we start and test to find a workflow that works.

For this challenge, I spent 4 days. 1h-2h to clean the plate and make concepts to find a composition that I like. And the rest to create the implementation of the scene in 3D and the integration to the plate.


This tutorial will show you how to create a very common transformation: Cleaning and Integration. As a matte painter, you will be asked to do this task quite often! It’s a method that seems easy at first, but in truth it’s a bit more complicated. I will show you some tips that I used to properly clean this image of all life and artifacts from the photo.

Bonus images included in this pack!

Part 1 — Setup

First, we will set the scene to work properly on the image. Usually we have to double the resolution of the image in order to have more details when we are painting, on this one we do not need to do it considering the size of the image is huge! 7408x3501. So open the image in Photoshop then we will just change the working mode to 16 bits to get more values.

Adjust to 16bit/Channel

You must do this so that you have enough colour range to work on in your image. If you skip this step you will end up with banding in your image.

Part 2 — Cleanup Begins!

Let’s begin to clean the image. For this you have several tools at your disposal. Cloning, content aware, and of course a standard brush. Let’s start by duplicating the base image so we have a backup copy. Now we will use the content aware tool. But first we need to select the areas we want to remove. So with the lasso (L) tool, roughly select the areas you want to remove, then go to edit>fill> content aware or use shortcut Shift + F5. You will need to change the ‘contents’ menu to say ‘content-aware’, then press enter. We can use this technique for quickly removing boats or waves in the foreground. You can then using the clone tool to correct errors or the healing brush.

Quick Tip

To do a perfect job in cleaning the plate you will need to switch between Content-Aware, Clone & Healing Brush. These 3 options will normally get 95% of the job done.

Next, we need to fix some of the more subtle issues like the lense spots. Conrad, the CEO of MattePaint, has given me permission to share a technique he showed us in the Academy. Add a curve adjustment layer and set the curve like you see below. This will make the image look crazy, but it will show you very clearly where the issues in your image are. With this we can use a brush and paint “under” the adjustment layer with a very faint brush strength to remove the spots. It is very tricky but if you can master this, you’ll be able to clean any plate!

Crazy Curves… brings out all the Details
Finished plate clean plate… no more sunspots!

Part 3 — Background Elements

Next I worked on the integration of the Death Star. For this, make sure you choose an image with a lighting similar that of our image. For my case, I took the image below and flipped it to get the light on the left side. Continue with some adjustments using levels, hue/saturation, to integrate it correctly in the sky (see my PSD file if you need extra help!).

Part 4 — Creating the 3D Elements

For this part, I used Maya to model some assets. We have 3 assets: the base, pylons and tie fighters. I have included the Maya render for you too so you don’t have to do your own 3D work if you don’t want to!

If you’re interested in knowing, for the shaders and rendering I used Arnold. The shading is very simple, just basic materials with a bit of specular and a metal texture. In this case, we do not need to make shaders very realistic given the distance where assets are placed and if we need to, we can paint over.

Once the resources were finished, I had to align the objects to the image. For this, you need to set the Maya camera to the same ratio of the image. Then insert a flat image on the camera plane. It should look similar to below where you can see your image in the background. Now we can place our assets wherever we want.

Camera image plane setup

Quick Tip

Don’t try to master every software at once, it will overwhelm you. Instead, pick which one comes most naturally to you. In future you can try a new software!

Part 5 — Integrating the 3D Elements

Okay now it’s time to do the integration of our rendering in Photoshop! For this I used the alpha channel to cut out the elements, then move on to colour correction using levels and other layers for the atmosphere (again, you should have a look at my PSD for how I did this!).

To create the cables I used a very fine brush. In order to give them the proper depth place a clipping mask on top and played with the colour of the mountains reducing opacity.

Quick Tip

Conrad here: The pen tool is super useful for cables. You can draw the exact curve you need, then right click and ‘stroke pain’ which will paint the current brush along the path. For more advanced use, add bevel and emboss to the layer style to give the cable a 3D volume.
Check it out below:

To integrate the 3D renders with the lighting direction, use a layer ontop and clip this layer to the 3D render. If you same the colour of the sun, you can then paint softly on this layer to brighten areas. It is best to explore different blending modes too! Soft Light and Colour Dodge are some good options.

Quick Tip

Remember to pay attention to the forms you are painting on. If you simply brighten on side of the object it will not feel correct, spend some time to understand this!

Part 6 — Final Touches

Here is the final part! Reinforce the composition of the image by re-framing it with the Crop tool. It’s time to add some ‘final look’ adjustments. For this duplicate the entire image with the shortcut ctrl+alt+shift+E which will copy and merge all layers in one. Use and adjustment layer to make this black and white and set the layer to soft light blending mode. Now adjust the opacity and play around some more with the adjustments on this layer until you are happy.

Final Image!

There you go! You are able to reproduce this image and why not make others of the same style. Especially, as I said at the beginning of this article, never hesitate to join a challenge because it allows you to surpass yourself, you will have constraints of time, atmosphere, themes. And believe me, it helps a lot!

Thanks, Victor Pietrzykowski

Artstation | LinkedIn

Want the PSD file and Images for this guide? click here!