Matte Painting | CG Master Academy

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Matte Painting

An 8-week extensive study course on the art of matte painting and the techniques used in today’s industry

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Piece together your imagination into reality

This course will guide you through the complex discipline of matte painting for an animated film, tv, and video games. The first half of the course will focus on Photoshop skills and how to use the various tools for combining photos into a matte painting. The second half of the course will cover how to use 3D to enhance the matte painting process using Maya,QuadSpinner Gaea and Unreal Engine. Through in-class demonstrations and lectures, students will be guided on the techniques and tools of creating a finished matte painting. By the end of the course, you will gain some insight on how to solve various lighting and design challenges.


Course Format:   Live
Lecture Type:   Live
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 8-10 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop and tablet, Maya or equivalent, QuadSpinner Gaea, Unreal Engine. Optional: Vray or equivalent
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Basic understanding of perspective, composition, lighting; some knowledge of Photoshop; working knowledge of 3D software required | Course Recs: Environment Concept Design, Environment Painting & Design, 3D for 2D Artist OR equivalent skills

Matte Painting WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Essential masking techniques | Photoshop Actions, Brushes, Custom Shapes | Rule of thirds
Creating a reference board | Setting up perspective guides | Color matching
How to transform daytime photos to night | Artificial lighting techniques
Creating atmospheric effects | Lost and found techniques
Matte Painting for Animation | 3D scene assembly | Composition and Lighting
Storytelling | Gathering references | Intro to Terrain Generation using Gaea
Blocking in 3D scene in Maya | How to create planets in the sky
Analyzing the painting to bring to completion | Finishing details| Final thoughts

Unleash your creative potential

Marcos Shih has been working as a matte painter since 2010. His versatile style of painting has him traverse across feature films, commercials, animation, and gaming. He began his career working on blockbuster titles such as Captain America: Civil War, Thor: The Dark World, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Maze Runner and The Angry Birds Movie. He currently works for Respawn Entertainment as a senior matte painter and skybox artist.

Student interviews


April 19th!

Spring TERM Registration

Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021




April 19th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

Speak to an advisor

Need guidance or course recommendations? Let us help!

Have you taken a course with us before?

Show us your skills

Not sure if you have the skills, or are you proving you do? Show us.

Have you taken a course with us before?

Matte Painting: From Dream to Reality

Interview with Olga Rogovets

Olga Rogovets tells us how Matte Painting taught her the skills she needs to move forward on her artistic journey and how important instructors like Eric Bouffard can be. 

Matte Painting: From Dream to Reality


My name is Olga Rogovets. I have a Bachelor degree in Linguistics but recently I have finally realized what I would like to do with my life. I quit my job and stated everything anew. It sure was scary and hard to change my career path entirely. It all started with photography and learning traditional drawing a couple of years ago and soon after I started learning Photoshop. My love of photo manipulation gradually led me to Matte Painting but at some point I felt stuck and started to look for a well-structured course that will help me to move further with my art.  Then I found CG Masters Academy Matte Painting course. I immediately decided to give it a try as a course curriculum seemed exactly what I needed. I must say – I never regretted my decision. Eric is a fantastic mentor and the 8 weeks were loaded with tons of information and professional tips. I really loved intro to Matte Painting, so after this course I decided to continue my education and got enrolled into a full time 3d modelling and VFX program in Vancouver, where I currently reside. So for me online course with CGMA became a start to something bigger and allowed me to get one step closer to my dream.
Matte Painting with Eric is incredible and well structured. From easy assignments to a challenging artwork it was exactly as I thought it would be, I did not have any prior 3d modelling, animation or Nuke knowledge at that point but I was still able to work entirely in Photoshop. My prior experience in Photoshop and traditional drawing helped a lot during this course as I already had an understanding of light, form and perspective, but also Eric helped me realize what my strong sides are as well as my flaws and showed me what I needed to work on. He guided me all the way and I can’t be more grateful for that.



Devil in the Details

First assignments in the course were quite simple but they surprisingly took me a lot of time as I was scrutinizing all the details. My perfectionism is my worst enemy, I am never fully satisfied with my work, I see all those tiny details that normally people wouldn’t even notice and they leave me desperate. Eric was always there with me helping in this battle thanks to him I stopped treating my assignments as my beloved child and was learning to just do what has to be done and leave alone those tiny insignificant details.



students were to create a set extension and a "day for night" version



Seeing Through the Fog



One of the most challenging assignments for me was  creating the Foggy/overcast image. I didn’t expect it to be that hard, I understand perfectly well how light is supposed to look on such an image but creating believable fog was a tough one for sure. It was difficult to balance out all the other elements with it. I browsed through a lot of foggy images that I myself did, googled other misty/foggy photographs to get a better idea of what I wanted to do in my piece. I immediately decided that it would be a seascape with a Viking ship. I tried to use my own assets whenever possible, so sometimes it is a tough job to find appropriate images that will match the lighting scheme as well as focal point. Sometimes I work and I just can’t see any flaws any more. What actually helps is giving your eyes and brain a rest as at some point. After half an hour rest I start to notice what needs to be fixed again!




Sunset and Sunrise


As for my favorite assignment on the course it was Sunset/Sunrise Lightning Scene. I really love sunlit pictures. I like to exaggerate light, making the picture more of a fantasy, so this assignment was a true pleasure. When I was thinking of an idea of this project I came up with two solutions: at first I wanted to make it a bit more gloomy, more of an alien invasion, second idea was an old man contemplating the surrounding with a big spaceship appearing in the sky. I stopped on this one as it leaves more room for interpretation: whether this person a villain, or just a civilian sitting there on the hill, what he thinks of at this moment, what is happening, where is this ship flying, is it going to attack or it is a peaceful scene. I liked the idea of several possible explanations of the situation, my idea was to show how lonely we are in spite of living in dynamic buzzing cities, and in spite of technological progress. I think a lot of people feel like this old man sitting there on the hill, utterly lonely.  So when I had a picture in my mind I started looking for necessary assets. First I planned to make zeppelins instead of a spaceship but then I came across a photograph of this monument in the Vatican which is called ‘Sphere within a Sphere’ by Arnaldo Pomodoro. I realized that it was it- that was my spaceship. I liked its crooked and uneven edges, they gave this worn feeling that I liked. As for the lightning scenario, as I said before sunsets and sunrises are my favorite. I like to exaggerate existing lightning conditions giving it a more illustrative look, so I did the same here. Just because I love this lightning scenario so much I actually did 2 works for this week’s assignment and couldn’t decide which I liked more but eventually stopped on the old man and a spaceship one.





Manufacturing a Fantasy

Another favorite assignment was the last one. I was inspired by Lord of the Rings scene with huge statues - Gates of Argonath and wanted to do something like that in my final work. I decided that it would be a monastery. I needed statues of some scholars, kings, or monks so I found stock images of two statues that I liked, but when I started working on them I decided that it will not be our world and made them half human half animals. The  general idea was that they are statues of some Gods. Then I needed photographs of monks, but I was specifically looking for images that would not show people and just give the idea that these monks are humanoid creatures instead. That was a tough job, I decided that if I can’t find the right image I will take a picture of my husband wrapped in a blanket and then make it look like a monk’s robe, but good luck was on his side and I found what I was looking for. Statues were actually the most fun part, I liked working on the statues blending them with the rock. It surely was a bit challenging, as I was working entirely with photographs with minimum painting on top, challenging but fun. Surprisingly at the end I was quite happy with my work, as most of the time I am my worst critic who is never satisfied with their work.




Final Thoughts

Overall my experience with CGMA is nothing less than fantastic. Instructor’s support, valuable comments, tips and guidance are priceless. Eric is a great mentor, every step of the way he was there for us, not to mention that he is an incredible artist, a pure inspiration. And learning from such a great person is a blessing. I was intimidated at the beginning of the course, thinking that I would be at the bottom of the class but Eric helped me to believe in myself, realize my strengths  and weaknesses. He showed me what skills  I need to master in the future. My journey continues, I now have a clear goal and understanding of what I want to do, and what is more important is what I need to do to one day become a Matte Painter. Thank you CGMA for incredible experience, and for doing such a tremendous job in helping aspiring artists follow their dreams.


Matte Painting: From Photo to Artwork

Interview with Mark Trafankowski

Mark Trafankowski briefly talked about the way he created a sci-fi matte painting piece created during CGMA's course mentored by Eric Bouffard.

Matte Painting: From Photo to Artwork


My name is Mark Trafankowski and I am a CG artist currently working in the architectural visualization industry. I have been working as an architectural visualizer for the past ten years. Сurrently, I work for a London-based studio The Boundary

Initially, I became interested in digital art from an early age and I have always been playing around with Photoshop as well as 3D packages such as 3ds Max.

Choosing CGMA

The reason I chose the Matte Painting course at CGMA is that I needed to find a new skill set that could help me with my everyday workflow. Apart from this, I had developed an interest in matte painting and became fascinated by the art and process of creating such amazing environments, plus, the fact that this has contributed to so many amazing movie scenes over the years.

After doing some research into what courses were available, I came across CGMA and this seemed like the best option for what I wanted to achieve. I also really appreciated the fact that the classes were taught by industry professionals who have a full working knowledge of the industry skill set needed, and what direction the industry is evolving in. For example, my tutor was Eric Bouffard who has been a matte painter and environmental artist at Dreamworks animation, and now Disney animation. You just can’t get any better than that right? The only other way to get this kind of one-on-one mentorship is by interning at various studios.

Eric Bouffard's art:




I think for many concept art or matte painting pieces these days, Sci-Fi is a natural topic. It pushes us to create new, unknown worlds, or picture the influence or remnants of something unknown or foreign that has to be realistic and believable.

To me, one of the greatest examples of successful sci-fi cinematography is Blade Runner, so I guess I took some inspiration from it.

During the class, we had a brief that we needed to adhere to. The point of the exercise was to explore the sunset or sunrise lighting mood. It also had to be some kind of a city or civilization. Finally, the scene had to be somehow disrupted or influenced by something futuristic or alien.

I found an image on Google that had the dramatic lighting effect I wanted: sunset with a lot of atmosphere. The image was a really great photo (unfortunately, I don't know the author) which had been edited to some extent. With such a strong base, it wasn't too hard to create something cool. All I needed to do was to bring in some 3D elements into the original photo and work on the composition.

Original photo:


If you need to sketch out an idea, photobashing is a great way to quickly iron out a concept or eliminate bad ones, especially when you aren’t super amazing at drawing. I also find that using a 3D package like 3ds Max is a great way to ‘sketch’ out a composition by just blocking in basic pieces of geometry. Even adding a basic lighting system within the software can quickly help you discover what mood or light direction you want.

My references and 3D composition examples:

Adding 3D Geometry

After finding a great base image, I needed to work out the elements I'd add in order to sell the idea that the original city had been taken over by sci-fi architecture. My brain immediately rushed to strong architectural forms, since I am an archviz artist. To save some time, I purchased a pack of sci-fi models from the great Vitaly Bulgorov. His models are incredibly detailed!

I added a basic texture to the models, knowing that I would be doing a paintover or overlaying elements in Photoshop afterward.

I imported the backplate into the 3ds Max viewport and started placing the geometry to find the best composition. I went through 10-15 attempts before I was happy.

Note: A lot of the geometry in Vitaly's pack isn’t necessarily buildings but rather just... sci-fi forms. I scaled and rotated all sorts of objects to find something that fitted. The buildings in the background are part of the original photography. If you take a look at the images above, you will see the 3D assets separated from the original plate.

Painting In Details

Hopefully, the reference images attached will clear up what has been added in 3D. I matched the direction, color, and intensity of the light in 3ds Max - this would give the geometry a good working base. Once I dropped the rendered geometry onto the image in Photoshop, I painted additional light to match the original plate better. I also painted a lot of depth onto the buildings to push some of them into the back. Finally, I painted in smoke and atmosphere using various cloud brushes. The most time-consuming part was probably overlaying the graphics, grunge, and dirt onto the buildings.


In 3ds Max, you can either set up a camera and use Perspective Match to get the correct perspective, or just move the geometry around as you wish, especially with something so conceptual like this where there is no exact scale. Then add a lighting system, some basic textures, and render.

Final result:


The biggest challenge for me was choosing an idea/concept and sticking to it from the beginning to the end. In this case, it really helps to have some restrictions or brief guidelines, even if they don’t really exist. I sometimes give myself some imaginary restrictions so that I do not deviate too far from my initial idea.

Eric helped so much with all of the hurdles. During the live Q&As, you can discuss the challenges with your mentor and get really helpful feedback. One of the most important things to me was having someone of that experience and talent critiquing your work. Completing this course opened my eyes to a whole new industry and skill set. The course has also helped me drastically in my workflow in the ArchViz industry and I make use of what I have learned on a daily basis.

I think anybody who has a genuine interest in matte painting or VFX could apply for this course. You do need to be able to use Photoshop at a proficient level, plus some very basic knowledge of a 3D package will always be an advantage. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is seriously looking at becoming a matte painter or just getting into the world of VFX.

Mark Trafankowski, CG Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova