Friday, 9 February 2018

Introduction

This blog is aimed for anybody who is seriously considering becoming a digital matte painter (DMP) but is not sure on how to go about it or is after more direction. This was something I encountered when graduating and would have greatly appreciated at the time.

I'm a DMP working in television and film since 2011. Some of the projects I've worked on include Kill Command, Independence Day Resurgence and The Dark Tower, to name a few..

Something to be mentioned is that this is not to say that there isn't or wasn't information at the time I realised that this was my desired career path but is merely intended in being a brief history into how I went about becoming a DMP which maybe useful information to some.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Chapter 1 - Reel

Before going to the beginning I want to start at the end by showing my most recent reel. By no means is it necessary to have a reel containing this many shots when beginning and is more than is needed to get a job in DMP, I feel as though it's important to show the final result before my early endeavours.

I would classify myself as a DMP although I have a solid understanding of CG. I have a comprehensive knowledge of Photoshop, Maya, Nuke along with Mental Ray, Arnold, V-Ray, Mari, Photoscan and Speedtree at present.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Chapter 2 - Why DMP?

From an early age fine art and in particular learning how to draw was something that I was passionate about. This passion led me into studying art at A - level where I would be able to further this skill. At that time I was uncertain about what I would do with this but it didn't concern me.

Once my A - levels were complete I decided that taking a one year foundation art course would be a good step and by doing so I would be able to further my drawing skills and get some guidance on possible career options.
After the foundation course, back then, the Animation Production course at my local university seemed the best way to further my drawing skills even more and also offer a possible career path becoming an animator so I decided to take the leap and undergo the three year course.

During my second year at university I came to realise that although I enjoyed animating to a degree it wasn't my true passion. Being able to draw and paint with a more fine art approach appealed to me much more than just animating so I decided to re evaluate my game plan.
Back then you had the option on the course of either being able to animate or become a layout/ background artist. To me the latter seemed to make more sense as it leaned itself towards something which interested me more. Being able to draw/ paint and not just draw/ animate.

After graduating I realised that I enjoyed working realistically and that animating wasn't what I wanted to do. This led me into beginning a concept art portfolio but what I realised whilst doing this was that character design did not appeal to me so much in comparison to environment.

One of my close friends who studied on the same course as me was exploring digital matte painting at the time and after hearing loosely what it entailed I came to realise that this area really had strong appeal to me.
Looking back now I realise that after a quick Google search of what DMP was and stumbling across the work of Dylan Cole, in particular his contribution to LOTR, I realised that this is what I had to do and so began my journey into becoming a DMP.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Chapter 3 - Education and continued learning - Traditional art principles

Something I can't emphasise enough through having worked as a DMP for a few years now is having a comprehensive understanding of traditional art principles. These include drawing, light and colour, perspective and composition. These are the foundations for every DMP I've ever worked on and before landing a job in DMP in my opinion one should have a firm grasp over them.

From studying Animation Production for three years one if not the only things I gained from doing so was being able to further my drawing skills. By no means am I somebody with great skill but am able to draw technically sound from observation. What learning to draw will teach you and is vital in my experience when it comes to DMP is scale/ proportion through having to observe and measure along with such other things as perspective. One of the biggest things you will learn from drawing is being able to record what you are seeing. Being able to observe and understand what you're seeing and replicate it comes in very useful when working in DMP.

In its most basic form an example of this could be modelling a house. Being able to get all of the proportions of the house accurate is very important. Another example could be if you look at a plate but don't understand where the points of perspective are or take them into consideration then you're going to have issues.

Something I soon realised after I finished my university degree was that although I could draw my understanding of light was somewhat lacking. In order for me to improve my understanding of this I read up on the subject as well as watched video tutorials.
What immediately jumps to mind and for me and should be read by anybody who needs to improve their understanding of light is Light for Visual Artists by Richard Yot along with watching the gnomon workshop DVD Practical Light and Colour by Jeremy Vickery. In relation to perspective and the fundamentals of composition a great book to read is The Art of Layout and Storyboarding by Mark Byrne.

Something I do on a regular basis and for me is a key part of learning traditional art fundamentals is always observing the world around. Continually I find myself asking.. Where's the horizon line? What points of perspective am I seeing? Where is the direct light coming from? By observing the real world and understanding what you're seeing you're rehearsing the typical questions that arise when dealing with a DMP.

A little after my graduation I had the pleasure of speaking with a senior DMP who gave me the essentials of what I needed to do to become a DMP. The first thing he mentioned to me and what I've just mentioned to you is that a comprehensive understanding of light is absolutely key in DMP. My realisation of a necessity to further my understanding of light came through having spoken to this person and as soon as I did so things started to make much more sense in terms of what I was doing.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Chapter 4 - Education and continued learning - Software

Along with traditional art principles it is key to have a comprehensive knowledge of certain software. In total I have a sound understanding of three applications however having a basic knowledge of more than this is not only required at times but will make you more employable plus more of an asset when employed.

Many people know that Photoshop is a key tool. It's what you will be using everyday so nothing less than a comprehensive understanding is what's required. It's a DMP's bread and butter.

Being more than familiar with Maya is very important. Maya is an absolute goliath of a package. I've been using it heavily since 2011 and still feel like a novice at times. In my opinion being able to do the following is essential before your first job in DMP.

From my first paid job to present I frequent these tasks on a regular basis.

Modelling - by no means do you have to be able to model something as complex as an anatomically correct human being or be as accomplished as somebody doing this profession but you must have a basic knowledge. Being able to model hard surface objects along with basic geometry for projection is the bare minimum. In addition knowing how to sculpt is extremely useful, if not in Z-Brush then in Maya with the scuplt geometry tool.

UV texturing - being able to texture objects from creating UV's to assigning textures is very important. Of course if you're an environment artist or more of a CG guy this is given but as a DMP being able to get yourself out of a problem with CG is very useful at times. UV texturing is a key part of that.

Camera projection and an understanding of how to bake camera projections into an objects UV's - camera projection at present and for the past 10 years or so has been done in Nuke. That being said understanding camera projection in Maya is very useful. With recent DMP scripts and the addition of Viewport 2.0 projecting in real-time is now a possibility in Maya. This means modelling to projections which is a very useful thing to be able to do. In my experience this makes the process of creating camera projection much more intuitive, saves time and increases accuracy.
Being able to bake projections out as textures is another practice which is very useful. This of course can be done in Mari but from my experience doing so in Maya can be enough, depending on your brief.

Lighting - knowing as many renderers as possible will really help but a good knowledge of Mental Ray, Arnold and V-Ray is what I've found to be enough. Chances are most studios at present will use one of these renderers in their ENV department.
As I previously mentioned sometimes in DMP getting yourself out of trouble with CG is very important. What I mean by this is that primarily DMPers work with photography. If you can't find the right image you need then being able to render an element in CG instead can save you. Being able to light that element properly is cruical. This again relates to an understanding of how light works, as I previously mentioned too.

For nearly ten years now, Nuke has been a large part of the DMP toolset and a comprehensive knowledge of this program is essential. Being familiar with a camera projection workflow along with a multiple projection workflow is absolutely key. Understanding the basics of compositing in Nuke will also go a long way when working as a DMP. Colour space, roto, keying and working with lens distort nodes, to name a few, are some good things to know.

For Maya and Nuke there are countless tutorials available. For learning Maya Digital Tutors is a great resource and for Nuke as well. Additionally for Nuke the DMP section of the Gnomon Workshop is a good place to start. Watching as many tutorials as possible from the Gnomon Workshop will really go a long way in learning how to do DMP initially but what is one of the best ways to learn is by getting production experience when you're ready.

As I've just mentioned Photoshop, Maya and Nuke are key tools to know for any DMP but there are many secondary tools available. Knowing as many pieces of software is very useful but the ones I found myself using on a regular basis in the industry which aren't the three I've just mentioned are Photoscan, Speedtree and Mari to an extent.

Something which should be mentioned here is that I've listed Maya as my primary 3D application. That is not to say that knowing 3DS Max or Cinema 4D to name a couple of other 3D applications instead of Maya won't land you a job in DMP but from my experience knowing Maya first and foremost makes you more relatable to employers. All of my past employers have used this piece of software as their primary 3D application.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Chapter 5 - Colour space

When I first began DMP colour space was something which I didn't know much about. As soon as I started working in the industry this changed. Quickly I had to learn the basics in order to get by.
In regard to this subject there are many resources out there. Digital Tutors will have good resources on this along with the Gnomon Workshop. From my stand point I would say before entering the industry knowing about sRGB, Linear and Logarithmic colour space is key and how they relate directly to Photoshop, Maya and Nuke.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Chapter 6 - Building a reel

Something I can't emphasise enough when first entering the world of DMP and was case and point in my experience is to start small and gradually go big.
 
One of my interests is mountaineering so I will use this as a metaphor for what I mean. A mountaineer would not start his career by trying to summit K2 but would instead start by summiting smaller peaks and before that would have probably spent considerable time just working on correct technique and form on a climbing wall, lets say. If the mountaineer tried to climb K2 outright then this person would most likely have failed through lack of experience.

This relates directly to DMP and I can't stress this enough. Begin with more manageable exercises such as day for night, summer to winter, sky replacements, set extensions, and some basic CG paint overs for example, after having locked down your knowledge of traditional art principles and software to an extent.
Do not initially attempt a big establishing shot with no plate and a giant camera move or something overly complex but begin with something simpler to build confidence. Even if this is a lock off or a very small camera move this type of work will introduce you to DMP and you will be doing work closer to that in production. For entering the industry as a junior this will make you employable. Showing that you can do big shots badly won't.
Now that's not to say that these tasks aren't difficult but showing these kind of exercises done well (the type of work realistically you'll be doing,) will more likely get you employed than a big establishing shot or something similar done averagely or badly. This is not to say that you should do something too simple at the beginning either but be realistic and attempt something achievable.

So many times have I seen people (myself included,) attempt something overly demanding which doesn't work or look completely reel when starting out. For DMP creating something that looks 100% photorealistic is paramount. I really can't emphasise this enough. Once you begin locking down some of the above exercises well you will soon be noticed. This is what happened to me and landed me my first role in DMP. To illustrate my point I have provided my early DMPs to show exactly the kind of exercises which are useful to begin with.