What is Matte Shot in Film

What is Matte Shot in Film?

Many different forms of compositing and editing are used to create the shots and scenes that we’re so familiar with in the film industry. Visual effects, specifically the compositing of matte paintings into film, are commonly incorporated into the production process to create amazing shots that couldn’t otherwise have been achieved with standard filmmaking alone. The matte shot is one of the many types of composites that are used by vfx editors. But what is the matte shot in film and how is it achieved?

What is the Matte Shot?

The matte shot represents a form of VFX editing in which a landscape or large set piece made up by a matte painting is used as part of the framed image. Usually surrounding the characters present on the screen.

The matte shot is not a live action show. But rather one in which a painting is used to resemble the vast area behind the actors. 

How is Matte Shot Achieved?

The matte shot in film is achieved by painting the desired image of a landscape or vista. Which will form the basis of the shoot. Instead of building a large, detailed set, the details are painted onto a scenic painting. Which is then used as the background.

To achieve the matte shot, the actors are on a plain set that includes just simple background elements. 

Camera Frame

Parts of the camera frame are matted off using opaque cards. The actors are filmed and then, an opposite set of cards are used to matte different parts of the camera frame.

This way the background can be shot separately. The matte background is a detailed painting that is achieved using acrylics on glass achieved by a matte artist.

Matte Paintings in Motion Pictures

Historically, matte shots have been used in a variety of films. Many of the early matte paintings were included in films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Especially throughout the 1940s and into the 1960s.

Some of the most famous uses of matte paintings. And the matte shot in film are represented by Mary Poppins scenes. As well as The Planet of the Apes, both filmed in the 1960s.

Matte shots continue to have their place in filmmaking. And are represented in some of the most widely known and respected motion pictures throughout history. Including Star Wars, Titanic, and Lord of the Rings as well as many of the Harry Potter films, too.

Still not sure what a matte shot looks like in film? David Mattingly goes into great detail (with examples!) in his video about matte paintings in horror films:

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