Saturday, November 27, 2010

Making interesting images

When I think of how to create interesting images, I can think of two things:

  • Image that tells a story
  • Aesthetically pleasing image

Telling a Story
Usually when you look at some picture, it's much more interesting if it is telling a story. That leaves more room to your imagination since there is much more in the image than what you see. If you can wake the viewers imagination, then the picture is much more interesting to look at.
For example let's take a situation where you are looking some good horror movie about some sea monster. Don't you agree that the monster can be very scary until the moment when you actually see it?

Lets take couple example images..
(images are from National geographics photography contest 2010)

Now there is no point for me telling what story each picture tells. Actually that would be just like in the movie example when somebody shows you what the monster looks like, it would not be so interesting anymore.
The key here is that each viewer sees these images differently and form different stories in their minds. They all tell a story, but let the viewer decide what that story is!
Basically the image is a set of conceptions where the viewer is the artist who finishes the painting.

Aesthetically pleasing image
These are the kind of images that is not based on telling a story, but creating blobs of color that is pleasing to watch. Good example of this is once when I was in a bus going back home, there was a beautiful sunset. I was sitting at the back looking at it, and then I noticed that it's unusually quiet. There is always somebody talking in a full bus. So I looked around and saw how every head in the bus was turned to the sunset admiring its beauty.
(images are from National geographics photography contest 2010)

When going deeper from what in to how, it's difficult to separate storytelling theory from beauty theory since they have concepts that are similar.
I would break the theory of making interesting images in three categories
  • Contrast
  • Composition
  • Conceptions
Now when you create or photograph images you should remember that these theories are usually tied together and support each other.
When making pictures that has a story, you usually give the viewer a set of conceptions and guide the story with contrast and composition. This might sound complicated, but it can also be very simple.
Let's get an example.

The plastic bag is the conception that tells a story in this image. Viewer is guided to look at that plastic bag using contrast of simplicity (water and sky) and detail in recognizable forms.
The plastic bag works also as a contrast of garbage and nature so it attracts the eye because we are not used to see dolphins swimming with plastic bags.

The idea of creating contrast is to attract the eye. You can also create more aesthetic images with contrast of things.

Now some of you might think that contrast is only a difference between white and black, but that's not all that I mean with contrast. Contrast is the difference between things. So contrast is light and dark, round and sharp, new and old, natural and technical, complex and simple.. You get the point.
You can also think that contrast is separating one thing from another, and you can take that thinking to very abstract level. For example paint something that hasn't been seen before and that way creating a contrast between existing paintings and your new painting.

The idea of composition is to guide the eye to some area or point. You can also create more aesthetic images with composition of elements.

Giving the viewer conceptions is a big part of story telling in pictures.
You can give conceptions as small hints as you guide the eye to some element in the image or you can make it really stand out.. and anything in between.

This was just an introduction of making interesting images and this article should give you only the big picture and make you start thinking of this subject. I will dive deeper in to Contrast, Composition and Conceptions in following articles.
Click here to go to the next article that will go deeper in to the subjects of Contrast, Composition and Conceptions

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Theory: Basic principles of digital matte painting

I found a good article about the very basics of matte painting.

This excellent pdf file goes deeper in to matte painting production and gives lots of tips and tricks for you to experiment.

Theory: History of matte painting

I found couple links about matte painting that explains the history of matte painting very well:

Old ILM matte painting movie..not sure where it's from from Ronn Brown on Vimeo.

Here is also a link that goes through the history of matte painting .

The Future of matte painting
It seems like in the future, matte painting is going more and more in to making stuff in a 3d programs like Vue,Terragen or City Engine. The workflow would be more about generating something in a procedural engine than actual painting or composing cards.

The plan

I have been asking questions about matte painting in forums and this line that came from henrik at Somnio studios "painting nice looking image does not equal matte painting. I've seen some fantastic painters who can't do matte painting. I've also seen many terrible painters being fantastic matte painters. And everything in between.".

That made me realize that I know nothing about matte painting and it's time to change that.

He also created a list for me about what he is expecting from a junior matte painters:

1. How to paint and how to composite photographic elements.
2. Understanding SD, HD, film and how the images need to work at a a certain resolution.
2. Good knowledge of perspective.
3. Understanding, on a basic level, how compositing works.
4. Understanding green screens, keying and parallax.
5. Understanding cameras and lenses. Focal lengths, shutter speeds, aperture etc.
6. Curves and grading.
7. Clean matting, colour ranges roto etc.
8. Basic 3D/modeling/lighting/rendering.

Now this list is going to be a base for my learning and I will look back every now and then to see that I am getting closer those requirements.

To learn about composition, I´ve decided to go to school.
Escape Studios
It costs 11 000 euros, but I gain several important things from it:

  • Compositing basics
  • Learn the VFX pipeline that they use in England
  • Possibly learn using real movie footage
  • Get contacts

But the school is not enough. I learn compositing but I learn little about matte painting, so that is what this blog is about. Self-directed matte painting course.

Topics and Exercises
To break that junior matte painter requirement list down, I have written my self a set of exercises that I have to do before going to school.
This list is a first draft and I will possibly edit it in the future when I have better understanding what I need to learn.

  • Making interesting images - Composition, Contrast and Conceptions
  • Atmospheric perspective, 1/2/3 point perspective.
  • Background, Midground, Foreground elements, giving depth to a matte painting. Start thinking about breaking up painting into layers for compositing later on and giving control over animating it later.
  • History and present of matte painting.
  • Basic principles of digital matte painting

Theory Studies 1
  • Understanding theory, adapting and braking the rules.

Still image exercises
  • Cloudy day to night
  • Cloudy day to sunset
  • Summer to winter
  • Winter to summer
  • Fast concept

Video exercises
  • Video footage shot in a locked position on a tripod. Day to night study using curves and painting in lights and shadows. Cloning techniques, paint back in texture detail using the levels tool and adjustment layers to paint in highlights. 
  • Video: footage shot in a locked position on a tripod. Make plate extension where the camera will zoom out. 
  • Video: Using Nuke to import in Photoshop layers, and preparing them for 2.5D/3D compositing.
  • Video: Using Maya for 3D matte painting projections and techniques to render out for compositing.
  • Video: How to spot stretched paintings if the camera is moving too much, and adding additional projection cameras to patch up those stretch marks. 

Theory Studies 2
  • Grain averaging, and re-graining plates for matte painting work 
  • Study on Lighting/Shadow, sun direction, bounce light, specular/diffuse/reflection components of objects to consider while matte painting 
  • Sky replacement, matching lighting, black values, and perspective 
  • Experiment with different color schemes before settling, giving focus to the piece and having an interesting subject.  
  • How to create rough versions of matte paintings that have strong focus 

Here is also a list of all VFX studios in London that I have gathered: