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 you will go through the complex discipline of matte painting, utilizing many different skill sets you will be primarily working in Photoshop. Using photography and combining them into your pieces, you will create skyscapes, landscapes, cityscapes, and seascapes—and create different design possibilities and lighting scenarios. There will be a lecture on the history of matte paintings and how traditional principles and techniques are still applied today to current matte work with the newest technology and tools.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
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, tablet, Maya, Vue (optional), Nuke (optional)
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Environment Concept Design and Environment Painting & Design OR advanced digital painting and environment design skills; some knowledge of 3D software is also required

Matte Painting WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Introduction to matte painting and the process of matte painting | Discussion on gathering reference | Create a simple sky replacement and cloud extraction | We will be working primarily in Photoshop exploring different designs and lighting scenarios | Lectures on the history of matte paintings and the masters of matte painting will be observed to get a better understanding of matte painting
Taking an existing plate, we will extend a shot | Utilizing cloning techniques to remove unwanted elements and matching a plate | Then we will transform the shot into a classic day for night technique using adjustment layers and paths | Study different movie shots and how they are constructed with matte paintings in their backgrounds
Using references to extract elements and color correct them | Lighting condition, foggy/overcast painting with a seascape theme (this will be the first of many different lighting conditions we will go over through the weeks) | When looking at foggy and overcast lighting we focus on light being diffused, low key ratio, muted colors, softer shadows, and observing reference photography
Research ancient historical locations and imagery to execute a painting by adding some form of history to your landscape piece | Lighting condition, sunlight day with a landscape theme | With this lighting condition we focus on direct harder light, high key ratio, saturated colors, details ion surface texture, sharp shadows, and observing reference photography
Using references and/or 3D models to build your scene, create a believable futuristic city; research movies, books, games, etc. | Lighting condition, backlighting with a sci-fi city theme | Also look at how cities are constructed and incorporate them into our scenes, become inspired by movies, comics, etc. and create your own versions through your voice
Create thumbnail sketches, exploring composition and design | Research and gather reference | Begin blocking in painting once you have selected a thumbnail | Look over steps to create a matte painting, using thumbnails, sketches, research and reference, tonal drawing/color study, and final painting | Study different compositional scenarios and apply them into your sketching phase, then move onto deciding the many color possibilities that best fit your image
Continue building up painting from previous week | Work on whole area of painting, not just specific pieces | All the elements should be present in piece with an established lighting direction | Discuss different techniques to start finalizing your final image | Look at how Maya is used in a pipeline to quickly block in simple geometry over your sketch to use in your final painting | Cover the use of Vue for creating terrain and vegetation to import into Maya | Look extensively over reference to build and design your structure, finally move onto texturing and finishing the final painting
Take the matte painting to a final | Try giving it those final nuances to make the painting sing | Add last bits of realism to your final matte painting, if knowledgeable with Maya, After Effects, or Nuke render out final movie | This week will be the final push on the project, look over Maya for scaling and layout and Vue for an ecosystem with the plants | Use animated camera in Maya to create more exaggerated shots, save out elements and alphas, work with projection shaders, patch projection and finally cover how basic projection set ups work in Nuke

Unleash your creative potential

Eric Bouffard is currently a Matte Painter Supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios, working on the highly anticipated sequel, Frozen 2. Previously, Eric worked at Dreamworks Animation for 11 years, Asylum Visual Effects, Sony Play Station Cinematics, Third Floor and many other studios. Eric was promoted Matte Painting Supervisor in 2011 on “Rise of the Guardians” and followed up with supervising the highly anticipated "How to Train Your Dragon 2". Eric most recently worked on "Ralph Breaks the Internet." These films allowed the matte department to push the boundaries on creating digital environments by using a combination of techniques in Maya, Vue, Photoshop and Nuke to create stunning vistas such as Berk Island, North Pole's palace, the Dragon Oasis, and more. Their work was nominated in both films for VES awards "Outstanding Environments in an Animated Movie".Prior to 2011, Eric was a Matte Painter artist on "Over the Hedge", "Kung Fu Panda", and "Monsters vs. Aliens"; and a Lead Matte Painter on "Monsters vs. Pumpkins" and "Scared Shrekless" among other movies.

Student interviews


May 1st!

spring TERM Registration

Feb 10, 2020 - Apr 18, 2020




May 1st!

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!

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Show us your skills

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

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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.