workshops and skills

Digital Matte Painting and Set Extensions

As part of my project I need to look at set extensions, both for the reception space to extend the height and also for the external scenes to change the sky lines. Matte paintings are used behind a built set, filmed action or scale model to extend the set or create a world that would be impossible or too costly to build. In the early days, matte painting was done on sheets of glass. Today it’s a digital composite.

Craig Barron, once matte cameraman at Industrial Light and Magic discusses matte painting.

“Good matte paintings are as much about design and planning as anything else,” states Barron. ” Long before anything is filmed, a matte shot will be carefully planned by us and the film’s production designer. This usually entails producing a number of small test paintings in which we figure out composition, colour schemes, lighting effects and how live action will integrate with painting.” (RICKETT, R., 2000)

matte_painting_5_by_astrokevin [sourced on 7/05/14]

An image like this would take many hours to produce, so a production designers job is to produce images or collaborate with artists to design scenes that portray the overall look of the film and act as a guideline for VFX artists.

The videos that I’ve found so far about Matte painting either use photographs or images to start with or draft up drawings then paint over, adding photo elements on top. This video is an example of how the image is built up using stages or layers to produce a realistic view.



From this I have thought about how I go about designing with matte painting in mind. I’m not trained in the art of digital FX like the VFX artists of  companies such as Framestore but I can design concepts  that convey the colour palette of the film or a certain look to some of the architecture.

I had a go at using photos and digital painting in Photoshop to try to produce concepts/matte painted backgrounds as a guideline image for colour schemes and lighting.


skyline 7 purple


blend panorama C

This image is a progression from the first drawing with  background and foreground pieces inserted. To finish this digital Matte/concept I would need to add some detail and some more buildings in the foreground. When designing my locations where a CGI is needed or a space that needs green screen I will create a matte concept that will give a good idea of how I want the scene to look as part of the set design.



RICKETT, R., Special Effects: The History and Technique. London: Virgin Books, 2000.

You Tube and videos:- [sourced on 7/05/2014] [sourced on 7/05/2014]


Categories: MA Practical Project, Post Production, sketchbook and visual diary, The production designer and art department, workshops and skills | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sound Stage Build: The Arena

I’m turning my attentions back to the main build of the project and fleshing out the details of each section one by one. This week I decided to focus on the arena part of the design. It’s a fairly basic shape and design in regards to details and features as it’s a subterranean space with little light. This section has to be set in the bowels of the building, so needed some kind of pillar structure and to drop down into the tank for depth.

I had a basic structure planned out for the space and now I’m working on the textures, details of doors, railings, lighting etc. It also houses the Huntsmen so it needs chains and will take on a horror theme with lighting and colour.

I collected lots of additional images to piece together an overall look in several mood boards.

arena mood board 1

arena mood board 2

arena mood board 3

I want the arena to have the feeling of a rustic, almost medieval/classical space but with modern/futuristic additions, such as lighting, doors, railings etc. It will also have hints at torture/confinement with the addition of chains.

I used Sketch Up to create a 3D model that can become  concepts but also can be viewed from several angles and directions.

arena 3b

arena 3d arena 3a


The next stages include finalising details and producing 1 or 2 concepts that show the space with all its colour, fixtures and fittings and technical drawings that will include a plan, elevation from 2 sides, cutting through the circular space.

Categories: MA Practical Project, MA project, sketchbook and visual diary, workshops and skills | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

VectorWorks and Plans

Towards the end of term we were introduced to the industry standard software VectorWorks. It is similar to CAD in the way it allows you to produce technical drawings to scale. It also has 3D capabilities so that you can turn plans into 3D models and then render them with realistic textures and surfaces. I found a few examples before having a go at making a basic plan and seeing how it looks as a 3D model.


image available at[sourced on 2/5/14]

Gallery00250_Rest_BarArea Gallery02349_jasper

two above images available at [sourced on 2/05/14]

These pictures show what is possible for rooms and architecture. I want to use some of my plans of the Medical Research Centre and turn them into fully rendered images to practice using the software.

I had a go at doing a basic plan and model shape just to see how it worked, then a basic plan for part of my model below.

vector 1 3d render3vector 1 3d render2

vector plan 1i



Visuals image available at on 2/5/14] [sourced on 2/05/14]




Categories: workshops and skills | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Digital Painting: Painting over photos

Another way of producing concept ideas particularly when dealing with actual locations is to paint over photos. This will probably be useful for when visualising set dressing rather than set build. It allows visualisation of a mood, alterations of lighting and might be useful for the designer who wants to guide design at the post production phase. I see that I will use this technique for some of my location choices around London that are not going to feature in my main model/design.  Once I get the hang of digital painting it should be fairly straight forward to produce concepts.

Again, these are just rough images showing what can be done. I will spend a lot more time on my chosen locations when I have my photos next week.


photo work

photo work2

The bottom image is some digital painting with various filters to change sections of the buildings.

Categories: sketchbook and visual diary, workshops and skills | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skills and Digital Design: Auto CAD


Above image is a screen shot jpeg of my computer screen.

The second practical session this week was Auto CAD. It provides a quick way to produce technical drawings for scenic design, but can also be used for architecture, product design and a number of practical applications. It’s a particularly important design tool for film and TV design as the role of the Production Designer involves a fair amount of technical drawing that has to be produced to a high standard for the construction team. The drawings have to be clear and to the appropriate scale, which is usually 1:50 for film and TV design.

I had a go at drawing some simple shapes, cross-hatching, adding a few measurements and then exporting the document as a jpeg just to get a feel for the basics. In my next session I plan to do a basic room layout with measurements and to have a go at importing an existing plan of a sound stage that I can add to.

Categories: sketchbook and visual diary, workshops and skills | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Skills and Digital Design: Google Sketch Up

Today I downloaded Google Sketch Up as it’s a useful tool  for producing quick concepts of architecture and interiors. I exported the first two images as Jpegs which means I should be able to use them in other applications like Photoshop. The first images are really about experimenting with rough room shapes and textures and seeing what I can do. Each wall has a different texture chosen from brickwork through to stone. There are plenty of textures to choose from so it’s possible to render architectural buildings, rooms, streets and external scenes that contain organic matter such as grass.

room textures 1

room textures 2

dogs and sketch up 099

This image show the introduction of objects that are imported from the Sketch Up files. The clock, desk, chair and rug are all imported additions that were resized and manipulated to fit roughly with the shape and size of room.

Today was just a starting point and there is a lot to learn. I’m going to keep working on the application this week and see what’s possible. Whether the textures are realistic enough for some of the concepts I have in mind remains to be seen, but maybe creating composites of Sketch Up and Photoshop combined might produce some nice textures and workable designs.

Categories: sketchbook and visual diary, workshops and skills | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Carcass: After thoughts

The  purpose of the Carcass project was to give us a starting point, to put our current skills and knowledge to the test and to highlight what skills needed to be developed for the main project. For me it served as a practice run to get me back up to speed in working to deadlines and also to fill in any gaps in regards to how the industry might have changed technology wise. When I started out on my theatre design degree just over 15 years ago, the design approaches were different. We’d only just had the internet. Computer graphics were considerably more basic so we were taught more traditional design techniques ranging from white card models through to wood work skills. So it was a more hands on, practical course.

Computer applications have improved the process in the way of speed and professional presentation, particularly when it comes to designers who have limited drawing skills. It allows a way to present ideas quickly.

A few things that I’ve learnt:-

My old-school skills are still relevant. As a practical designer I tried to see the project as if it was a real situation. I tried to think through the ways a set could allow camera access, how the set could be broken up for the logistics of building and striking, possible lighting opportunities and considered the fact that this was to be a fairly low-budget build. My current skills allow me to visualise scenes with perspective and to adapt drawing to different situation like storyboards, props, etc.

However, there are problems that come with this approach. The main one is time. Applications allow for designs to be rendered quickly so more ideas can be explored, which would be beneficial in the future. They also look amazing when presented on Powerpoint. I’m quite keen to look at as many applications as possible. CAD and sketch up can be used at home. Vector is installed at university along with other programs. I might be able to install Maya and 3D Max at home too if I can get the right version for the Mac. I can also look to improving my Photoshop skills. These applications will give me opportunities to work with set, props, technical drawing and concepts. The plan now is to use these along with my other skills in the next phase of my project which is more practical in regards to production design.

Box concept space 3

The universe concept (work in progress). Photoshop drawing that was adapted. This image uses drawing and photography combined.

Another aspect to consider is that of time management. In my attempt to find interesting visuals and contexts for the sketchbook I started the concepts too late. This in turn limited my final output and didn’t allow enough time to explore CAD. I need to have a strict guide line for the final project/projects in general that gives me a cut off point for visual research, sourcing, sketchbook etc. to then allow enough time for idea exploration, computer skills experimentation and concept realisation. I think once I have some more experience of computer applications this will be less of a problem. At the same time, I don’t want to neglect the mind-map/scrapbook approach as it gave me some interesting design ideas, colours, shapes etc.

My conclusions are that the best approach may well involve a delicate balancing act of both computer and traditional skills. The next phase of the MA will allow me to test this in preparation for the final project/EXPO over the next few months.

machine concept 2 colour

Machine concept with drawn/painted imagery and computer colour/lighting adaption.

Categories: projects, workshops and skills | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at