A Journey, transforming reality, one frame at a time

Welcome to my article, where I share my journey as a 3D VFX and Digital Composition artist through my thesis project. In this article, I will discuss my experience working with matte paintings and 3D camera projection in Nuke, as well as the challenges and triumphs I encountered along the way. So, follow along as I reveal the creative process behind my matte painting masterpieces.

Embracing the Challenge: Concept Sketch

During my thesis project, the first challenge I faced was creating a concept sketch with my limited knowledge of digital sketching and painting. I decided to make two post-apocalyptic matte paintings, each featuring iconic architecture. The first scene would be set in a desert with the famous Taj Mahal in India.

Taj Mahal

For the Taj Mahal scene, I decided to hand-draw a large portion of the sand but not use 3D software to simulate the sand. I wanted to test my traditional matte painting skills and blend images with some painting. Finding the right images was not as easy as it seems. With the angle I chose, I needed to find assets that were more bird-eye angles, and since the Taj Mahal is a famous historical landmark, there were not many drone shots clear enough to be used in the scene.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

The St. Basil’s Cathedral scene was also tricky to work on. With limited pictures out there that show the whole building structure with a more top-down angle, I had only a few choices to begin creating this scene. I adjusted the buildings I put in the background and added The Spasskaya Tower on the side. It looked more photoreal after color grading and adding some mist in the scene.


For the next step of completing my two matte paintings, I began to block out the shot and get ready to camera-project in Nuke. Since it’s for projection, I didn’t spend time modeling the details. So far there is just a floor and a few boxes. Then I used the sculpt tool to make it more dynamic, not just a flat surface. My next step would be to finish the block-out for the St. Basil scene. Right now, it’s just a combination of a few simple shapes.

Overcoming Obstacles

After some quick testing in Nuke, I decided to redo my whole sketch and start things slow with the black and white block-out. The result turned out better and had a more cinematic feeling. It took me a while to look for reference images online and try to set the tone of the scenes. Now the desert looks more mystical and larger, and I have used the guidelines to follow the rule of third and make sure the key structures are in the right place. It looks better now, and I can finally start putting images together.