Matte Painting with Photography and Film

Matte painting is a technique used by film makers and photographers to create landscapes and environments that are not real by manipulating a combination of photographs and digital artistry. Matte painting is used very heavily in movies and television shows, however it can also be used with photography to create a wide variety of art, from real to surreal. I chose this topic because, aside from my personal interest in doing matte painting, after having done it myself I wanted to show the class that we can do this level of manipulation to photos with the information we have been given in class. I want to start with a picture that I made on my own using matte painting techniques, and then show some professional level matte painting from movies and television shows that are popular.


I made this image in about two hours using stock photographs and techniques and tools we have gone over in class.

This (above) is the image that I made using the techniques that we have learned in class, granted to a different degree than what we are expected to know. However, anyone can do this with what we know, given time and effort. Almost all of the elements in this picture; the waves, the birds, the fish and whale sharks, the shoe, the clouds, and the cat are all real images that have been adjusted using dodge, burn, layer masks, and image adjustment layers. there are only three elements in this picture that are not “real” and have been painted in using brushes and layer styles.


This is a matte paint in progress. On his website Woodland shows the whole process for each piece he makes. This piece, and the series it is in, features a set he made in city streets that were sectioned off for his use.

“David Woodland (Woody) is a concept artist, art director, matte painter and illustrator working in a creative capacity for visual effects on feature films, TV series and commercials. His 15 years of film industry experience includes building and supervising teams for production art departments and matte painting. David’s previous history as a fine artist, designer and animator, combined with his experience as a photographer, provides him with an engaging mix of artistic and technical skills.” –

The two artists I chose, David Woodland (above) and Sven Sauer (below) are both very famous for their matte painting. Sven Sauer currently works for Game of Thrones and does many of the cities and landscapes for the show. David Woodland is more of a traditional artist but has done matte painting for movies, such as Thor. I think the coolest part of matte painting is that It can be used almost entirely with real elements, it is just layering and manipulating photos until it blends together. It is almost entirely layers, layer styles, and image adjustments.


This is the before and after image used to create one of the scenes in Game of Thrones season 4.

This infographic more or less sums up Sven Sauer, as well as matte painting for multimillion dollar movies and TV shows, and can say it better than any quote I can pull from his website or interviews. Click here.

Here are direct links to their individual websites. 

  • Adam Smith

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