Reality is not a fact, it's a point of view

Este es un pequeño trabajo que escribí hace poco para un curso de redacción para artículos académicos en inglés. Como tiene algo que ver con infoarquitectura ya que explico unas de las técnicas más antiguas de efectos especiales, el matte painting, lo cuelgo también por aquí por si os pudiera interesar. Originalmente publicado el 8 de junio de 2014 en el curso English Composition I: Achieving Expertise.


Reality is not a fact, is a point of view.


Take a look at this photo. It seems like a nice place to stay, right? Pleasant weather, impressive environment. Surely you're feeling right now the waving sound of the ocean and the sun warming your skin. Or maybe you're wondering how will you get to that villa down there, that road looks like it's long enough to make you think of resting some time before taking it.


Figure 1. Popescu, A. Mediterranean Coast. Unknown year. Web of the author
Figure 1. Popescu, A. Mediterranean Coast. Unknown year. Web of the author

Let's take a closer look. At the very background we can barely see an island. Closer to the cliffs there are some beautiful and strange natural rock formations, similar at the one we can see at the foreground, in the right side and similar to those bridges linking the cliffs. It's a magical place,unique, the kind of site we'd like to go on summer vacations.


But there's a little problem: all you're seeing is not real.


In fact, this isn't exactly a photograph, but a collage made by dozens of them, combined so well to create a new landscape. This technique is called matte painting and, besides being used to create masterpieces like the one in this image made by Alexandru Popescu (1) and based in some pictures of Capri (Italy), is usually part of the scenery in some movies, specially science-fiction ones.


Nowadays this kind of illustrations are made digitally, but it has not been always like so. In the 70s, the first matte paintings were painted directly in glass, to integrate live-action footage with actors and a landscape or scenario that was impossible to build in a model or to visit. Some notable examples “include Dorothy’s approach to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz or Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu in Citizen Kane” (2), but not all matte painting are done to create magical worlds. One example is the Hitchcock's 1948 film “The Paradise Case”, where this technique was used to substitute the real location for a studio without anyone noticing to cut costs (3).


Later on computers slowly replaced the paintings in glass to create digital images not only to use them in the shooting of films, but in the early stages too. It is commonly used in videogames too, mainly in the background landscape. Other purposes for this technique includes book covers, mostly in science-fiction and fantasy literature; architecture and city visualization, or simply as pieces or art or illustration in posters or frames.


In the last years, almost all matte painting art is made combining photography, 3D models and digital painting for the little details. The process seems simple enough to make you want to try: take a lot of photos of an inspiring site that seems similar to the one you want to create. Then, paint an outline of the piece; a lot of experts do this phase in 3D to be more precise, I recommend you this way, too. Then you reassemble the photos and blend them together to create a new environment. Easy to say, extremely difficult to master (4).


Once you know what matte painting is and what are its purposes, you may wonder how do you achieve expertise in this particular field. Take a look at the image again. It seems real, right? Even with some exaggerated elements: Those natural formations made mostly entirely of rock, that lonely villa, the ocean with that tone of blue... it's perfect. Too perfect. In the limit of what may be real. That's the point: an expert has to have the ability to make not realistic images, but plausible and convincing.


Even when you're looking at a science-fictional city or landscape, half of your brain is totally sure it's a real photograph even when the other half know perfectly it's not. How many times have you seen in a movie a destroyed city? You know that's not real, but for one moment, for a mere instant, your mind believe it's true. And the expertise focuses on bring the viewer that millisecond of reality.


It's all about how you communicate an idea and play with spatial perception. A strong knowledge not only of art, but how the real world works is required. Inspiration, references, research, photograph and 3D modelling are the main tools, but all for the same purpose: not only to make a technically perfect illustration, one that will confuse people about if it is real or not, but one that can transmit sensations. Think again of the sun in your skin or the waving sound. These may be a part of the image naturally. Again, that's expertise.


All of us know that Star Wars scenarios may not be real, but next time you see them, think of what kind of sensations they bring to you and if you believe they may be a reality one day. The more intense the response are, the more expert their author may be.


1. Popescu, A. Mediterranean Coast. Unknown year. Web of the author

2. Matte painting. Wikipedia. May 2014. Web

3. Barron, C. Siggraph 1998 – Matte painting in the Digital Age. Matte world digital. 1998. Web

4. García, A. Photoshop Matte Painting in easy steps. Www.photoshoptutorials.ws May 2013. Web

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Comentarios: 1
  • #1

    rosamar osorio (lunes, 10 agosto 2015 19:14)

    i really like and enjoy your posts,
    this was really interesting, keep writing plz.