Production Illustration for Matte Painters and Concept Artists | CG Master Academy

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Production Illustration for Matte Painters and Concept Artists

An 8-week course that will enhance your production illustration skills and apply them to real-world scenarios

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Level up your production painting skills

Today’s studios have evolved a set of demands that move beyond the singular focus of matte painting to include digital environments and production illustrations. In this course, Nick Hiatt will demonstrate the processes he uses to create a detailed production illustration, employing the same modern techniques required in everyday production work. He will break down his workflow for creating digital environments and show students how to create a range of 3D assets--from characters to terrain to architecture. Once 3D assets are created, students will paint them using a mix of techniques in Photoshop. This course will cover many different types of industry-standard software, and will explore an array of approaches to create production illustrations and modern digital paintings.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual Recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 10-20 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Adobe Photoshop, Graphic tablet/Cintiq (or equivalent), Maya, Zbrush, Daz3D
Skills level:   Intermediate to Advanced
Prerequisites:   Knowledge of Photoshop; Basic 3D modeling and ZBrush (or Mudbox) skills // See syllabus for full list of course prerequisites.

Production Illustration for Matte Painters and Concept Artists WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Course overview | Layer Basics | Shape Tool | Creating Thumbnails | Thumbnails to Color Keys
Set up 3D Layout scenes and camera | Create Temporary Geometry for layout | 3D Terrains (assets provided by Terrain Domain) | 2D Terrains (photo assets) | Temp Render for 2D Mock Up | Setup Sky and Color Base | 3D Refinement
Matte Painting Techniques: Curves, Layers, Reference | Setup IMM in Zbrush and Kit Reference | Kitbash out Architecture ideas in Zbrush, Flesh out Architecture ideas in Maya
Mech Kit: Free and Paid | Mech Reference | Kitbashing in 3D -- Hero and Destroyed Mechs | Import Mech into 3D scene
Daz3D Interface | Create a character in Daz3D | Importing a Daz Character into Maya | Prepping a Daz Character in Maya
Wrapping up 3D Scene | Setting up 3D shaders and textures | Altering textures in Photoshop | Rendering in 3D | Setting up AOV and Render Layers
Detailing your 3D Mech | Detailing your 3D Architecture | Adding FX elements(fire, smoke, heat disp)
Final Painting | Detailing your 3D Characters | Values and Levels | Grain and Post-processing | Depth of field and Lens Blurs | Detail, Detail, Detail!
Student interviews


October 12th!

spring TERM Registration

Feb 10, 2020 - Apr 29, 2020




October 12th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

Speak to an advisor

Need guidance or course recommendations? Let us help!

Have you taken a course with us before?

Show us your skills

Not sure if you have the skills, or are you proving you do? Show us.

Have you taken a course with us before?

Developing Matte Painting Skills

Interview with Sue Jang

Sue Jang talked about his matte painting made at CGMA during the course Production Illustration for Matte Painters and Concept Artists.

Developing Matte Painting Skills


Hello. My name is Sue Jang. I’m a Freelance Matte Painter based in the United States. I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with an Associate degree in Illustration and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Computer Animation.

I got my first job as a 3D generalist at a boutique-sized studio called UVPhactory in New York where I spent 4 enjoyable years growing as a production artist. Afterward, I went on to freelance as a 3D lighting artist and worked at various production studios such as The MillMPCMethod StudiosFramestorePsyop and more, mostly working on TV commercials. Some other fun jobs I’ve had the pleasure to work on include a music video for Bjork and game cinematics for Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins.

CGMA Courses

I took my first online Digital Matte Painting course with David Luong where I was given the invaluable chance to explore the world of Digital Matte Painting. Shortly after that, I took the Advanced Digital Matte Painting course (currently unavailable) with Heather Abels to delve deeper into the subject. Last but not least, there was Nick Hiatt‘s awesome Matte Painting course that I took earlier this year. Taking courses from different instructors at CGMA greatly helped me to be better equipped to deal with different ways of approaching creative production challenges and new ways of looking at things.

Starting a Piece

For the assignment for Nick Hiatt’s class, I simply wanted to make a dense cityscape and utilize a couple of Kitbash assets from As a fan of anything with Giant robots, the idea of a Giant VS Tiny came about and I wanted to depict a little woman facing her greatest fear.

Prior to start working in Photoshop, I generally like to come up with a theme/rough story for the piece, as giving a sense of thematic purpose seems to help me stay motivated throughout.

Once the idea is somewhat solidified and sketched out, I spend a great amount of time gathering reference images until I find an image(s) that I feel could be a good base to start off with.

I then quickly put together a still with the desired sky/lighting direction which I then import into Mayaas a background image to help layout assets in 3D space.


The original giant robot in the artwork is a 3D model made by talented guy name Jake Newton. I have come across his asset on CGTrader. The small mech is by Samuel Dube ‘Creativa-studio’, also from the CGTrader website. The female character is a standard Daz 3D asset.

Use of Stand-Ins

In terms of populating buildings, I utilize Stand-Ins to help keep things light in the 3D scene.

Here’s an excerpt from Arnold renderer documentation:

“Stand-ins allow you to keep your working scene light and workable by deferring the loading of geometry data until render time. It is possible to add huge levels of complexity to your scene with very little effort.”

Essentially, I made a Stand-In 3D building block asset which I then randomized and propagated in 3D space by duplicating, rotating, and translating.

Fire & Smoke

For fire, I used images from Smoke is a combination of found images from the internet and hand-painting. I think about flow and directionality when adding smoke and fire to help lead viewers eye around the frame. Hopefully, it is somewhat successful in the piece I did!

Sue Jang, Matte Painter

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

Creating a Sci-Fi Illustration in Cinema 4D

Interview with Pasha Statkevich

Pasha Statkevich took CGMA course Production Illustration for Matte Painters and Concept Artists and talked about the piece created during it.

Creating a Sci-Fi Illustration in Cinema 4D




Hi everyone! My name is Pasha Statkevich aka pinkymarmalade and I am an Art Director/ Senior Concept Artist with almost 10 years of experience, currently working at Warhorse Studios in Prague, Czech Republic.

After graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts in Belarus, I decided to develop myself as a concept artist and joined Wargaming in Marketing Creative Services. In parallel, I continued to develop my skill set as an artist and I dived into the movie industry as a Concept Artist and Matte Painter. Since then, I’ve worked with such great companies as SegaCreative AssemblyTHQ, Warhorse studios, UPPSila Sveta production, and other local and international creative agencies.

Though work keeps me busy most of the time, I really love to learn and develop further as an artist. Therefore I’m always looking for opportunities to fit in more study and training around my working hours. Besides, recently I worked closely with a lot of video production studios and this led me to enroll in the CGMA course Production Illustration for Matte Painters and Concept Artists taught by great master Nick Hiatt. There, I produced this particular piece I’m going to speak about and learned a lot of really useful tips and techniques used during its production.


References & Inspiration

The beginning of a new project is always the search for a visual language and the development of a world within which action takes place. I usually begin by trying to determine the idea, understanding what will happen in the scene, what objects will be there and how it will aid in visually communicating the narrative for that particular environment.

I usually start by looking for formal composition and gradually fill in sketches with details. I strive not to concentrate on too small and unimportant details in the concept. In the composition, I focus on how it affects the viewer, what emotions it causes. Besides, I analyze the environment where the action takes place. For example, how light spreads, how it interacts with objects, etc.

When I roughly understand what the composition will be and what objects will be in the scene I start to create a detailed enough moodboard, in which I try to gather references that inspire me. Usually, I use PureRef for this stage.

I try to group references for more convenient work, plus at this stage, I also create a rough example for the color palette. Sometimes, in order to better feel the atmosphere that I want to create in an image, I do a quick sketch based on the chosen composition and color palette.



Blocking, Modeling, Detailing

I began building the scene inside of Cinema 4D (in my 3D workflow, I mainly use C4D, 3DCoatZBrush and Octane) just to get a sense of scale and position for most of the elements. In order to accurately transfer the location of objects to the scene, I used the function of the projection where I placed my b/w sketch.

Then I discussed my sketches with Nick and he advised me to use some models from the Terrain Domain library to create the surface of ground and rocks. I modified and completed the models according to my sketch and placed them on the scene.

By that moment I had already decided that I would use a wide-angle lens in the camera to get the maximum depth of field.

For character development, I used DAZ Studio and 3DCoat to create small retro details.


When I was satisfied with the blockout I began to model low polys and mid polys of other objects. The space shuttle and soaring stones were created in 3DCoat as well. It should be noted that almost all the models created and used in this project were the basis for the post-processing in Photoshop.


Materials & Lighting

When I was more or less satisfied with the overall view of the scene, I started creating materials. I usually use the standard PBR workflow in Octane to work with materials. Since I do not strive to get the final result at the stage of rendering, the basis for the Diffuse textures is most often simple tile images which I later transform into a full set of necessary texture maps.

I often generate maps for Normals and Displacement using nodes of Noise and Turbulence. But sometimes I use the full cycle of the PBR process to get interesting visual results, such as with material for soaring rocks. The base geometry of the stones seemed too simple to me. I wanted them to look like stone blocks that could only be encountered on another planet. So I decided to use the generated map for Displacement and raised a lot the value of power. This made the structure of the stones more complex, so I got the desired result.

Also in this project, I used a little trick when creating materials for vegetation. Usually, artists seek to obtain the most physically accurate grass material in order to increase the realism of their image, but this does not always look good. In this case, I used the Mix Material and added a bit of frosted glass into the base material which gave an interesting effect. The grass material began to react somewhat differently to the light source and create a slight glow. It seems to me that vegetation looks more vivid and juicy, though it is worth noting that such material loads computer resources more and significantly increases the total render time.

The next stage is to install light sources in the scene and recreate the atmosphere. For me, this is a very important stage, because both the light and the atmosphere help to tell a story and communicate the feeling of depth and realism. Initially, I planned to make a background and prepare an HDRI map for the light scheme in the scene based on the background image.

HDRI map and additional light sources:

But I was not satisfied with the final result. All parts of the image existed separately, so I decided to slightly change the color code and diversify the environment. I conducted a large number of tests to find a satisfying solution.


Post & Polish

In the end, I settled on a more aggressive light scheme and a bright color palette, plus recreate the background.

And in general, I tried to add a cinematic effect to the final image.


CGMA Courses General Feedback

First of all, I would like to thank Nick and the whole CGMA Academy Team for their attitude, time and effort. My overall experience with classes at CGMA has been amazing. One of the best things about our industry is that there is always a need to learn and get better at our craft. CGMA has some of the industry’s best artists, their techniques and the one-on-one feedback from industry professionals is priceless.

This class gave me the opportunity to learn new interesting approaches and techniques in the work on complex illustrations, helped to optimize my workflow and I had an opportunity to meet new friends.

I am glad I got a chance to make this little write-up and I hope some people can find it useful. Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to contribute to the community again in the future!


Pasha Statkevich, Senior Concept Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev