The matte painting is the bedrock, the foundational matrix, of special effects imagery. A great matte painting exemplifies the aspirations and themes of this blog in its embodiment of spaces between.
So many considerations go into a beautiful matte painting. There are the aesthetic concerns such as mood, composition, and framing. There are the technical considerations such as compatibility with the output film stock; compatibility with the photography to be matted in; lighting; perspective; atmosphere. There are narrative drives, such as surfaces, attention, detail, and focus.
So much of what is embodied in the painting is non-physical, non-photorealistic, and expressive. In a sense, it is hyperreal; an embodiment of an ideal expressed state that focuses the viewer's attention, and communicates the artist's intention. Often what is expressed cannot be photographed; the image is not a representation of the physical interaction of light with a photographic process, but rather a two dimensional stimulus to the mind's eye to steer thoughts and feelings to a particular place.
These are united in a matte painting through the consideration and manipulation of light as it traverses an imaginary three dimensional space, interacting and convolving with intermediate media, until finally it meets the two dimensional plane of the image. With this in mind, the artist paints not the details of the distant mountain, but the light reflected from the mountain toward the viewer. That light undergoes a journey where it is scattered by nitrogen in the air turning distant objects blue, the scattering diffuses colors overall and intermingles photons, blurring the image. As the light travels toward the image plane it can meet water vapor, clouds, dust and other participating media. Color is manipulated, shifting feelings towards the comfortable or the tense. Saturation can focus or remove attention to drive a narrative.
This subjective, aesthetic, and narrative light fills the spaces between an object and its representation, a reflective surface and its projection, the artist and the audience.
Figure 1. These aren't matte paintings, just some tiny speedpaints I did to try to illustrate painting the light between objects instead of the objects themselves.