A matte painting
is a painted representation of a landscape, set, or distant location that allows filmmakers to create the illusion of an environment that would otherwise be too expensive or impossible to build or visit. Historically, matte painters and film technicians have used various techniques to combine a matte-painted image with live-action footage. At its best, depending on the skill levels of the artists and technicians, the effect is "seamless" and creates environments that would otherwise be impossible to film.
Traditionally, matte paintings were made by artists using paints or pastels on large sheets of glass for integrating with the live-action footage. The first known matte painting shot was made in 1907 by Norman Dawn
, who improvised the crumbling California Missions by painting them on glass for the movie Missions of California
.The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting
by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron, Chronicle Books, 2002; p. 33 Notable traditional matte-painting shots include Dorothy’s approach to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz
, Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu in Citizen Kane
, and the seemingly bottomless tractor-beam set of A New Hope
. The first Star Wars documentary
ever made (The Making of Star Wars
, directed by Robert Guenette
in 1977 for the television) mentioned the technique used for the tractor beam scene as being a glass...