By Mike Johnson

This guide goes hand in hand with our Art Guides. Each pack is created by a different artist who also creates the cover image. This article 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!
Download the Rio Skyline Assets and PSD!

Hi! My name is Michael Johnson. I am currently a Lead Generalist and Matte Painter at Blur Studio. I started working for Blur about 8 years ago and fell in love with the vibe of the place. After being a Generalist for a while I wanted to learn new things and tried to step out of my comfort zone and got into Matte Painting. I think a lot of the techniques I used for this piece most people would already know, but hopefully you get something out of it!

What is the story being told in your cover art?

Well, the base image I used really caught my eye, it's a great landscape. The lighting is a little overcast with sunlight peeking out so I wanted to really bring out the beauty in the landscape so someone would see it and think "wow, I really want to go there".

I wanted to avoid the super cliche "looking out at the landscape" image, so I tried to bring a little interest to the foreground character by adding some additional elements to his clothing. I wanted people to question where he's from, is he human or Alien, how far in the future is this?... I think that's what makes artwork really interesting in what we do. I don't think I'm the greatest story teller in my work but I'm always focusing on improving that.

"...can you still make futuristic skyscrapers and still maintain a nice world without destroying things?"


Step 1 - Initial Adjustments

Looking at all the images in the pack I decided to just "Plus" one of the images because it really had everything I needed already. You can probably do this with any of the images in the pack because they are all so cool! (Check the pack out here)
So, I started with one source and decided to tweak it a bit by squishing the height and tweaking some levels in the clouds to see details in the clouds and also bringing up some levels in the buildings and trees.

Step 2 - Building

For the next step it was time to combine my CG elements into the plate. I started by matching my camera in my 3D software package and then building from there. I started out with some Kitbash3D elements that I knew I would use as a base and then paint over down the line. After I brought in the CG elements to Photoshop it was time to match the values, so that all of the elements blended in seamlessly.

One quick way to check your values is to set your “Proof Condition” to show up as “Working Gray – Dot Gain 20%”. After you set this up, this will allow you to be able to hit Ctrl + Y (On Windows) and it will show you true black and white values.

Step 3 - Creating Depth

After I balance the levels to integrate the CG into the plate, it was now time to add a bit of atmosphere to the CG to even further integrate and bring life to the buildings. A nice way to do this is to render out a "Depth pass" so you can use this as a mask to correctly blend in atmosphere at the correct depth.

Step 4 - Enhancements

In this step I started to paint in some details on the buildings, add structures and bring in a basic Aircraft I modeled in 3DS Max. Along with adding those details, I also brought in some flares and such to act as thrusters for the ships in which I just screened on top.

Adding elements to flesh out the story of the City

Step 5 - Adding to the story

Now it was time to add a character to help the story and scale. This character I bought some time ago and the foreground I quickly modeled. I didn’t spend too much time on this portion because I knew this would be out of focus and wouldn’t need that much love.

After I brought this in, I decided to add to it a bit by photo-bashing some metallic elements on top to act as Armor and or some futuristic Fashion ? as well as giving Mr. Baldie-Lox some hair.

I then went and defocused the image and blended it in with balancing levels and color.

Step 6 - Setting the mood

This part of the tutorial is all subjective. This is where I just added a bunch of grades to give the image the mood that I wanted. I added a bit more atmosphere with the gradient tool set to radial. I find that this blends a bit smoother than using a spherical brush.  I also realized that I wanted to add some sort of atmospheric element to show how far away and how high we were from the big buildings in the city.  So I went into my library (Check out Matte Paint's extensive library) and found an Aerial cloud image and extracted the cloud from there.

Let’s say you have an aerial cloud image and wanted to just extract a certain cloud. A good way to do this is by selecting the whole image with Ctrl+A, then create an Image Mask filled with black. Next, Alt + Click the Image Mask to enter it. Now if you Ctrl + Shift + V, it will now paste that image in the EXACT same location as what you copied. Now you can adjust the mask with levels or curves to reduce or increase the amount of the cloud layer you see.

Step 7 - Lighting Direction

After all the grading and tweaking I realized some areas around the clouds and buildings were a bit blown out (too bright) and needed to be color balanced. I went to  Filter -> “Camera Raw Filter” for this process. I  changed the temperatures to a bit cooler, as well as tweaking the highlights and the whites to bring them back into a range where they were not blown out. I also added a lens flare coming from Screen Left to imply somewhat where the light direction is coming from.

Adding Light direction 
Final image

That’s about all there was to this... I really enjoyed the pack and would love to see some of you re-imagine my work in with this Guide!

Till next time.

Mike Johnson
Artstation | Facebook | LinkedIn
Download Mikes PSD and the Assets used to create this image.