Interview with Matte Painter and Concept Artist Mai Anh Tran

Interview with Matte Painter and Concept Artist Mai Anh Tran
Interview with Matte Painter and Concept Artist Mai Anh Tran

In this feature, you will know more about matte painting and how a self taught person can do amazing paintings if he or she has the desire to do it just like Mai Anh Tran, our featured artist today. She is a self taught matte painter who brings out the soul in every artwork she does. Find out more about her in this interview. Enjoy!

For those who don't know, could you give us an overview about your job title and what you do?

I am a matte painter and concept artist working in the film and advertising industry. I have had the opportunities to work on feature movies and TV shows such as Unbroken or Game of Thrones season 4 and 5.
A matte painter is basically a digital artist creating an environment that is nonexistent in real life or would be too expensive or impossible to build on set. The final matte painting has to be as photoreal as possible to blend perfectly the landscape and the live-action footage. Matte painting is also called ‘’Invisible Art’’.


How did you get started in the field and when did you decide to specialize in matte painting?

I have always been passionate about the creativity aspect in all things. In 2009, I started to study 3D art in an animation school in Paris France called LISAA (L’Institut Superieur des Arts Appliques). At the time I did not know what matte painting was. During summer 2012, I did an internship at LoganTV in New York City where I have been lucky to work alongside Director Carlos Andre Stevens. During this internship I had the opportunity to learn a lot about matte painting and make my first professional landscape painting. After that, I decided to specialize in matte painting in the film industry.


What tools do you use for creating matte painting and how is it more convenient than the traditional style?

My main tool as a matte painter is Adobe Photoshop. I also use Autodesk Maya and The Foundry Nuke for the 3D aspect of matte painting.
Traditionally, matte painters used to paint on huge sheets of glass. I have always been impressed by those traditional artists, by their abilities of painting a detailed photoreal-looking landscape.
Nowadays, digital matte paintings are made with references images, painted textures combined with some 3D environment. I guess it is faster and easier to reach a photoreal final look, and it also allows camera movements. Working with 3D helps a lot as it allows to have an accurate sense of scale, perspective, depth, or lighting.


Were you self taught or trained by someone? How does it feel?

I have never really had any matte painting course at school so I consider myself a self taught matte painter. At school, in 2013, my 3D teacher Thomas Dobrowolski taught me about projections in Maya. But then I have spent all my time working hard to learn and figure out the several techniques of matte painting. Trying to find tutorials, inspired by the masters’ pieces and practicing a lot. It was Yannick Tan who pretty much introduced me to matte painting and gave me lots of good advices to start as a matte painter. I feel really thankful to everyone who helped me out in my matte painting learning process, such as Dhamindra Jeevan, Arnaud Brisebois, Adam Lawrence. I have learnt a lot from them, but moreover, they are great friends of mine. I am very fortunate to have worked with Director Carlos Andre Stevens. He is an amazing person who was totally involved in teaching me everything he could when he had some spare time.
I have learnt a lot and am still learning, because there is always something new to learn !


Do you prefer working on motion graphics or visual effects? Why?

Motion graphics is a really interesting field, but I do prefer working on visual effects. Especially in the film industry. I like creating imaginary landscapes, making a nonexistent environment looks real. It is like bringing a new world to life. And sharing it out with people.


What does the workflow look like for a Matte Painting job? Are you enjoying it? Why or why not?

A film company is a sociable environment where you need to have a great team spirit. There are different kinds of workflows and the three main ones are:

1) 2D matte painting. Starting with concept art and using only reference images and painting techniques to create the matte painting which can be used for simple shots. And in order to get parallax, the layers can be separated on different cards.

2) 3D matte painting. We start with a 3D layout, and sometimes the 3D models can be textured, shaded and rendered out so we can play around with passes and paint over the 3D in Photoshop, adding details in order to make the 3D look more photo-real.

3) Then, there’s the 2,5D matte painting. It’s a 2D matte painting projected on 3D geometry.

I personally prefer painting without 3D. Having a 3D base can be useful as a base, it gives a sense of scale and perspective. However I prefer working on a shot with a lot of 2D matte painting ! What is less interesting according to me is painting over 3D renders to texture, patch or to clean a plate...


Which industry professionals do you admire most? Why?

I admire a lot of amazing matte painters and concept artists such as Dusso, Raphael Lacoste, Craig Mullins. All the matte painters who used to paint on glasses as well.
I would love to have oil painting skills to paint like Vladimir Volegov.
Furthermore, my childhood dreams have always been driven by directors such as Steven Spielberg, Tsui Hark or Yimou Zhang.


Lastly, if you weren't a matte painter, what would you be doing now?

That’s a tough question ! Before being introduced to matte painting I did not even know what that was. At the time I wanted to be a compositing artist. So I guess, if I was not a matte painter today, I would be a compositor, maybe ?


More about Mai Anh Tran

You can find more of her artworks on her Behance profile or website.

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