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matte photography

Definition: Matte photography is the process of compositing two or more elements filmed separately into one strip of film. One element usually consists of a static background that cannot be an actual filming location, such as an artist’s rendering of a fantasy world. It is because such backgrounds were created in non-reflective or matte paint that the process received its name. However, matte backgrounds since have also consisted of photographs (most often of outer space), composite photographs and photographic-painted hybrids.

The matte process commonly begins with the background element being repeated in multiple frames, e.g., the shot of earth below. The foreground element, which is often active, e.g., actors, animals and/or vehicles, is filmed in a like number of frames.  


Stage two involves filming the printed footage of each element after masking areas in each frame intended to incorporate the other element. Masking is done using the colors green or blue, which render the masked areas transparent when reshot.

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The final stage involves shooting the masked background onto a strip, then rewinding the strip and shooting the masked foreground. .

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The procedures for traditional matte photography and digital matte photography are basically the same, although digital eliminates two shortcomings of its predecessor. First, combining two strips of traditional film often results in registration discrepancies that form double-exposure haloes along the edges of foreground subjects. In digital matte photography, image edges can be aligned with single pixel precision. Also, transferring images from one traditional film strip to another causes the image quality to degenerate. Digital images, on the other hand, are composed of pixels which remain constant in transference.

Related Terms:     CGI      framing     VFX    

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