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CG Society.org - The making of the Haunted Circus

CGNetworks Feature :: Reader Project - The Making of The Haunted Circus
6 April 2005, Jessy Veilleux and Frederic St.Arnaud

History: Two artists decided to do a side project and see what would materialise. This spooky fun contrast is the result. Jessy Veilleux and Frederic St.Arnaud have worked together for the last three years as concept artists and matte painters. They work at Hybride, a visual effects company based in Canada.

The original idea: Our goal was to make a matte painting that would mix real photography with 3D elements. We both agreed that we wanted to create a landscape where we blended two contradictory themes together in a believable way. The idea of a haunted circus came to us after a few hours of brainstorming. In this case, the theme of the circus, a fun place to go, is opposed to the theme of the cemetery, a sad place to go.

Concept: The best way to start an image is by drawing as many sketches as you can on the subject. We didn’t try to put too many constraints on ourselves during the development of those sketches. In this way, we felt we could arrive with some results and new ideas that we would not have expected. Also, the composition in those sketches is not that important, it’s more a graphical library of what elements would be part of our final painting.

Only after having explored in detail our subject matter did we start to speak about what could be interesting to show. The question ”Do these elements help us understand the image?” is a nice question to ask. Then we research our subjects with photography and on the net. And then, using these references we build pieces of our image in 3D in low resolution.By creating the ground in 3D and having our 3D elements in Sofitmage|XSI, it was easy to make a nice composition. Instead of drawing everything from scratch each time, we could simply move the camera or translate or scale our objects. This is how we ended up with the final composition.

We printed out this final composition and then went out again to find locations where we could take some photos that could be used as live footage to base the final image on. We found what we wanted at the Mont-Royal Cemetery in Montreal, Canada.

After, we came back home and made a photo montage to fit our composition. Then, we placed this photomontage in our 3D software in rotoscopy mode, which allows you to see your photo in your 3D software. We placed our 3D objects so they would fit the perspective of the original image. Then we placed some lights to imitate the lighting of the live plate. We rendered a church, tents and lamp posts in shaded mode because we knew we would be able to paint the textures and lighting directly in Photoshop afterwards.

Photoshop time: So we started in Photoshop with two layers: the photomontage and the 3D render. The photomontage was very flat in terms of luminosity because we took the picture in the middle of the afternoon. To achieve the sunset effect that we wanted, we painted longer shadows and gave the overall image more of an orange palette. The sky was painted entirely from scratch because we wanted to have a feeling of dream and imaginary world, which was impossible to find live. To finalize the image we repainted over everything to make every element blend together.

Conclusion: In the end, one of the hardest parts of any matte painting involving 3D element on actual live footage is the illusion of realism. We wanted to create that but also keep a dream like quality to it. We took around twelve hours of free time to do this image and we split every step together. So both of us worked on each part of the creation from the beginning to end.

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