The Haunted House

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    The Haunted House

    Daniele Montella, 7 December 2004

    The Haunted House - Daniele Montella
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    The Haunted House was developed during Halloween, when I wanted to express the idea of an eerie-looking house. Matte painting has always fascinated me, and with the help of digital tools today, it is possible to enrich environments more easily than ever before.

    Study of the Image
    The general process employed for this image is to use photographic elements, combine them and enhance them in original ways. My intention was to express anxiety, isolation and the frustration felt during a horror movie. There’s a cliché in these movies where a group of friends stand in front of a haunted mansion in awe. The main details of the haunted house required: dry and twisted trees, a cloudy dark sky that created the most horrible feeling of isolation and different types of gravestones. I used these photographic elements with the intention to modify and enhance them later on.

    To compose my collage of images, I use the ‘Rule of Thirds’ which is a photographic composition dividing the space into 9 identical pieces on a grid (thirds). I insert the house on the right third and a twisted tree on the left third. In terms of depth, the image is divided into four planes of depth. The closest is on the twisted tree to the left, then the gravestones, the tree on the right, and the house almost in the background. This way, your eye is moved around the image in an anti-clockwise direction for a dizzying effect.

    Tone and Colour
    The house is neglected by humans and infested by ghosts. To portray this, I opted for a green-yellow tone, which is associated with illness. It is the colour of decomposing human skin, urine, mucus and many other repulsive things.

    Using the Brightness/Contrast settings in Corel PhotoPaint, and tweaking the tone curve, I was able to totally change the original photograph (which was in broad daylight) to a washed-out house that looked like it was photographed on an overcast, rainy day. I recovered a bit of colour by using the Hue/Saturation settings to make the house a slight green-yellow colour.

  • The Haunted House continued...

    Once the total view of the composition was in place, I begin painting the missing details and adjusting the existing ones. This is the most complex and time-consuming part of the project. Starting with the house, I repainted entire portions of it such as replacing the stairs, removing the lush green foliage and replacing it with dead or dying shrubs.

    Then I began to “ruin” the house and give it a sense of weathering over time by staining it. First with a light black brush using the Colour Burn filter and then digging holes in the walls and roof where I painted rotten and destroyed wooden boards. I also extended parts of the veranda and roof by hand-painting them in.

    I managed to find images of dirty trees that I cloned to create the background forest behind the house. This, however, didn’t work that well to begin with because it looked totally flat. With a grey colour and a thin brush, I painted branches and trunks in with differing tones of grey to give a sense of depth to the forest. I also did the same with the plants, bushes and shrubs surrounding the house.

    Returning to the two main trees in the foreground, I used the Clone tool to paint in more branches using the texture from the original image.

    For the gravestones, I employed similar techniques used on the house to give them a weathered look, and also painted in two new ones. For additional effect, I painted the shadows of the tree branches on the ground and gravestones.

    This is where I begin enhancing the basic image. Using the Effect Tool/Custom Sharpen feature in Photo Paint, I begin to sharpen portions that I have just painted in, such as the broken wooden boards, the branches, bushes and twigs.

    To make the image more interesting, I made one of the windows in the house light up by hand painting the effect with a light yellow. To create the glow of the light, I used a soft circle brush to paint the area on a new layer, with a much lighter yellow (almost white) with no transparency, but the layer mode set to “Add”.

    The sky is the result of many tests using green to grey colours and a big brush. Details such as the clouds were painted in using a thinner brush and setting some brushes to Colour Dodge and Colour Burn modes.

    Final Image
    The final image is a pseudo-photo-real haunted mansion, employing clever digital techniques and photographic elements!

    About Daniele Montella
    Daniele Montella is Art Director for Artematica, an Italian advertising agency. Born in Genoa, Italy, he studied art, painting and sculpture at the Artistic Liceo. You can find him frequenting CGTalk as “DANKA”. Visit his website at

    Related Links
    Daniele Montella's web site
    The Haunted House - CGTalk thread