Integrating photographic elements
I like to develop a solid framework for an image before I begin working with photographs. Finding appropriate reference can be time consuming and distracting. Searching for high quality images can take days. And once you start sorting through reference it can be tempting to compromise your original idea in favor of available Images. I think its important that the reference serve the composition so I try to have as clear an idea of the final as possible when I start.
I approach the layout similar to how you might create a texture map over UV coordinates. Starting on top of the sketch I lay various photographic elements together, swapping, transforming and adjusting them until the basic composition is laid out. A primary concern is that the architecture, vegetation and geography feel natural together. Also, the perspective, scale and focal length of the various images needs to correspond and fit the composition. Another concern is matching the lighting and resolution of photos within the collage. However, there is more flexibility with this because I will be painting over most of these elements in order to resemble the original sketch and changing some lighting shouldn't be a big problem.
After the various elements were laid out and color corrected I went back over the collage as a painting. Focusing on the image as a whole I worked broadly across it in semi opaque layers to restate the feel of the image. Once the painting worked when zoomed out I began to go into specific areas to develop and restore details. Using primarily a soft round brush I blocked in areas between photos, continued details across seams, changed lighting and add atmosphere effects. Throughout the development of the painting I continued to use both collage and painting techniques while resolving specific areas. For general textures I often will paste in a photo element, whereas for specific details it is usually easiest to just paint it in. Most often it is a combination of the two. Either painting in a form and then pasting in textural elements or starting with the texture and mimicking it with paint to create a desired shape.
When the painting was consistently resolved throughout I took a step back to assess how the image was working as a whole. Making sure that the contrast levels throughout didn't conflict with the aerial perspective and atmosphere I had established. I reworked any area that distracted from the composition. Using adjustment layers I experimented with various changes to the curves, color balance and hue/ saturation until I found a combination that complimented the drama of the image. To finish off the painting I added some subtle lens effects and grain to aid in making it appear photographic.
Born a Virgo in 1978 in a coastal town of Rhode Island. Brenton grew up during the 80s with an affinity for Saturday morning cartoons, side scrolling video games and fantasy movie trilogies. Inspired by the matte artists from that period, he moved to New York at 21 to study classical painting and illustration at the School of Visual Arts. He has since been working in video game development as a texture artist and continues to paint traditionally when time permits. Brenton currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife.
Once Brenton lays out the collage and paints over it with values, he progressively adds detail until the final matte painting is complete.
Castle Dracula thread on CGTalk
Brenton Cottman's website