Fun with Magic Mattes!

DAZ Studio : Movie Magic is all about the idea of working more like a Post Effects (VFX) studio relationship with the live action director - whereas our main DAZ Studio work is the Live Action and the VFX Studio takes that work and paints it into the final image that we end up seeing on the screen.

We also use DAZ Studio to create many of the VFX elements used in post, which is part of the Magic, but we're not held to that. We could be using Carrara, iClone, Action VFX stock footage, or an AI application - for these elements, there is no limit to what we use to create them. 

That is the Real Magic!!!

DAZ Studio is a very special photography studio that specializes in Actors. 

From the beginning, DAZ Studio has always been striving toward achieving high-end images of CG Actors and the things that they wear - of course, with great efforts going into making sure that it's easy to use for literally anyone who tries it - which is Magic all unto itself!

As we see in Movie Magic, it's also great for a whole lot more! 

Environments can come alive and we can produce amazing foreground, mid, and background elements that look incredible on the screen, yet take absolutely no time at all to create. 

More time is spent figuring out which item to load that it takes to actually shoot the image!

Picture Mattes

Since nearly the beginning of filmmaking, a discovery has been made that we can use filters to block out certain colors from film in order to layer something behind it, using multiple exposures through a procedure called Optical Printing -  A process that we've all come to know as "Blue Screen". This works because most things shot in film are never quite That Blue on film - so it was one of the great choices of color. But in truth it doesn't have to be blue at all. The new common color of choice for this has become Green. 

PD Howler offers blue screen, green screen, as well as Magic Pink (magenta) as base color mattes but in the end, we can actually use any color we like as our key. These just make the job easier as they tend to Stand Out from most other colors in our average image.

​Another way to superimpose one image over another is through the use of Mattes.

For film - before the digital era, these mattes are a black shape on transparency to hold light back from being captured on the film for that particular frame.

BBC's Horizon looks at ILM and visual effects. This show is from 1985 and is a true gem. 

I thought it would be important and educational to show the interesting bits of the show, focusing on subjects such as optical printing, matte painting and even rotoscoping.

This is part 1 dealing with optical printing.

Daniel Kutz

In the digital world, this is what we refer to as the Alpha channel of an 8 bit image. Some software, like Photoshop and Fusion, can isolate that alpha information and use it as an individual matte for anything, if we want to. Because in all actuality, the alpha channel is simply matte information collected as grayscale data that is isolated to its own channel within the image data.

DAZ Studio's Iray render engine can produce very nice alpha information - making our job in post so simple that we just don't need to worry about "How to use Mattes" in post - we can simply stack our renders in whatever order we wish to achieve the look we want in the end without even giving it another thought. 

In truth, however, we're using a process that used to have to be done by hand by a Matte Artist for every frame that needed alpha! It's really nice being spoiled, isn't it?!!!

In the below image, notice how shadows are spilling onto the floor slightly beyond the matted-out wall (lower left). Later in the shot, Catcher Plus (see below) also captures reflections from the gunfire of her blaster against that matte wall, making it much easier for us to create a believable shot using nearly any background.

In the above example, most editing software would translate this image, when used as a matte for whatever image it was applied to:

In other words, this matte would work to hold Rosie's rendering out of another image. In most cases, we would do the opposite - overlaying Rosie OVER the background image. So the Alpha information channel is the inverse of what we see above.

A good example of how this works for digital art is the idea of using a brush in a paint program, like Affinity Photo or PD Howler. Those brushes are the result of someone, perhaps even yourself, making a Matte. 

The white part of the brush image will paint fully opaque which graduates through darker and darker shades of gray until it reaches full-on black, which will be transparent. 

Of course this can be inverted to be the other way around where black is fully opaque, but the principal is exactly the same.

The fall-off of a gradient brush is simply using math to determine the grayscale. Like air brush tools, gradient generators and the like. It's all about generating a Matte - which was a BIG part of the magic that was being developed into the very first version of Photoshop back before it even had a name. 

This image shows black being painted with a very soft airbrush. The actual brush matte is the inverse - white = fully opaque - Black being the color selected to paint with.

PD Howler gives us amazing opportunities for creating our own brushes on the fly. In fact, it was truly developed around the idea of using brush mattes for many, or even most of everything we do in Project Dogwaffle. Work out an image, making it into a brush, and paint with it - either in still form or across an animated filmstrip. 

The Magic of Catcher Plus!

Catcher Plus, by 3D Universe allows us to lay down mattes directly in the scene. The most common practice of this being applied to a plane, and then we place the plane anywhere we want to 'matte out' part of what would otherwise be rendered as part of the image.

It will even create a plane for us, if we ask it to! :)

With Catcher Plus applied to any geometry, we're able to block out parts of the image to the Alpha channel in exactly the same way as having an Alpha floor or ground - allowing us to superimpose our renders over any background we choose.

In this example, I'm using Catcher Plus to catch the shadows and mild, muted reflections from Rosie who is using a cube as a wall to provide cover from incoming fire as she blasts her way to freedom. Notice how she can hide behind it, and as it turns out, what she's hiding behind becomes truly invisible. An Instant Hole, if you will. Then, when she steps out and fires her blaster, the reflections and shadows get collected onto the invisible surface.

The result over my usual web page background


So now we can use this on any background and she'll appear to be hiding behind it in a believable way. Of course, it's best used with a background image that matches what's going on in the scene.

As a digital artist, this provides a lot of extra power in post. It really can be a fun and rewarding experience doing these things without a matte, and using our artistic abilities to work out how it all fits into the final image. But when we're talking about animations, this can be a very time-consuming task for the individual artist - and having the ability to use Catcher Plus for mattes not only saves us a Lot of time, it gives us a nice, believable result in the end!

This is how it might look after a simple composite over a background image

Pssst... by the way...

In the above example,

Rosie 8.24 is wearing Major Cache for Michael 4

Slightly modified using Fit Control (and the Addon), Mesh Grabber, and the Geometry Editor

Materials tweaked slightly to work better with her "Artemis Knight"* color scheme.

* Rosie - Artemis Knight is an intergalactic warrior who conducts secret missions through an organization so secret, that we don't even know who they are or what they do.

One thing for sure is that, whenever they send Rosie on a mission, lives are saved!

Being able to recreate shadows and reflections in your 3D scenes enables you to insert 3D content into photographs and make it look like it belongs there.

Catcher Plus is a utility that makes it very easy to catch shadows and reflections leveraging the powerful Iray render engine. Floor and Wall planes can be easily created, and even existing geometry in your scene can be converted to catch shadows, reflections, or both.

The utility allows you to adjust the reflection amount, as well as the reflection blur to match up with the existing reflections in your background photograph. Simply selecting any catch you've created and running the script again allows you to make changes to the settings.

Catcher Plus is an excellent utility to add to your toolbox if you enjoy merging 3D items into existing still photographs.