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Hello, Reddit, This is Christopher Evans. My career as an artist has included shows in New York galleries and museums, working as a matte painter at George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, travel assignments with National Geographic magazine, and creating historical scenes for California's Chumash Indian tribe.   More Info for Reddit: A few days ago my son showed me this album on Reddit of Star Wars matte paintings and I wanted to share with you some additional information about those paintings, who did them and how they were done, as well as answering any other questions you might have about my art.

The photos are primarily from these books: The Invisible Art by Craig Barron and Mark Vaz; Industrial Light & Magic by Thomas Smith; The Art of Return of the Jedi; Moviemakers at Work by David Chell.


My personal website,


Gallery in which some of my works are being shown


It's been three hours and I think I've answered almost everything so sadly I have to go. Thank you for all of your questions, I really enjoyed answering them.

Comments: 191 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

blackthorngang115 karma

Hi Chris - what a pleasure to address one of the artists behind the films we all know so well. I spent a couple decades in the visual effects business myself, at Rhythm and Hues Studios, so I've seen the grisly side of production under crazy deadlines and high-pressure client relationships. One of the things we struggled with most was requests for changes once a shot was well into production. Just wondering if you could share some of the big-ticket curveballs you had to deal with back in the day? How often was a huge shot scrapped or rethought when it was close to done? Conversely, how about cases where a shot was supposed to be impossible but you pulled it off easily?

Christopher_Evans147 karma

its nice to forget the agony and only remember the ecstasy when possible, but let me try. Believe it or not we didn't have to make too many changes because we had an awesome art department and worked with decisive directors most of the time. However there was a killer shot on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was an establishing shot of the Temple full screen, a total painting with no live action. Crazy - they had too much faith in our abilities! It was front lit with a full moon rising over the temple. Pangrazio told me to do the shot. After a few weeks it wasn't looking very real. So Mike took it over and did his best, which probably actually was the best any artist could have done. But still not looking real. So Mike totally changed the concept of how to do the shot. Made the temple a dark silhouette against a sunset, filmed using a cut out against a real sky. It was brilliantly simple and worked great! As far as biggest rescue I'd say it was doing a painting looking up into the Never Tree to replace a $200,000 miniature set that never had depth or scale regardless of how much detail or smoke was added.

Kanuck_Kyle73 karma

What's the pay like?

Christopher_Evans146 karma

used to be good. comparable to a good carpenter or plumber. These days a lot of work is going overseas to sweat shops paying very low wages.

kaythetall42 karma

Can you point to a particular depiction that you're proud of that always gets ignored due to the layout of the direction, or brevity of the scene?

Conversely, is there something you can point to that you cringe every time you think about because you thought it would be unnoticed and could rush it, but ended up being prominent?

Christopher_Evans88 karma

Our work at Matte World Digital for David Fincher's film Zodiac went almost unnoticed. Twenty five shots I believe and very difficult establishing shots of San Francisco in the 70s. But for matte shots to simply be believed and accepted by the audience and not noticed as fake is a sign of their success, so something to be proud of. There are a few shots in Star Trek films that I wish looked better to me now, but they were appropriate to the style of that time.

Christopher_Evans2 karma

The 3D matte shots were done at Matte World Digital. Here's link to the company website with Quicktime videos of key Zodiac shots. Check out the time-lapse matte shot of the TransAmerica building under construction by Steven Messing.

zandernice41 karma

Hi Chris,

I know I'm late to the conversation, but i thought I'd leave my question here in case you happen to check in.

I've been a digital matte painter for features for a while now (I was on Hugo too), and I work or have worked along side quite a few original painters whome I'm positive you know. Over the years I've noticed a general reluctance to use matte painting in favor of using all 3d for massive environments. The other studio trend I see is the "lets create the composition in 3d, and hand that cg base to the matte artist to digitally paint on top of". In my humble opinion, this has created a situation where a lot of the beautiful compositional artistic decisions that the matte artist used to make has been taken away, and the end result seems to be less impressive almost generic big hero shots.

My question is, what are your feelings on the overall look and design of films these days? Do you feel like anything has been lost artistically and if so, what do you think we need to bring back some of the magic like in those Star Wars mattes. I would love to hear your general thoughts on this.

Thanks for doing this AMA!

Christopher_Evans5 karma

If a Director or VFX Supervisor foresees needing many shots and angles of a location that can only be created as a 3D environment then it makes sense to go through the trouble of making it in order to have freedom of camera movement and choice of many angles and backgrounds. But its also possible to pre visualize the sequence using storyboards or animatics, then just go about making the shots that are necessary. Probably a question of time and money. The fact remains that a movie is a series of visually composed scenes telling a story in an artistic way. Ever read Sergei Eisenstein's books, Film Form and Film Sense? Lots of intriguing concepts in them.

-MacGyver32 karma

What was the most difficult piece you created and why?

Christopher_Evans79 karma

There was a painting in the movie Willow that I was doing of a rider approaching a castle on horseback. The whole castle, nearly full screen was painted, and when we projected the test footage in the screening room it was not looking realistic enough. I felt I'd done all I knew how to make it look real. So I said to George Lucas that I wasn't sure what was missing , but would try adding more fine detail. He replied,"Good luck!" I went back to the painting and made some changes and fortunately the next take worked.

poetryninja31 karma

What is your favorite color?

Christopher_Evans44 karma


poetryninja32 karma

Right, cobalt! PS. It's Esther Unti. Awesome that you're doing an AMA!

Christopher_Evans41 karma

Hi Esther! I showed that big Cobalt Blue canvas you and Aaron helped me with at Sonoma State's Sustainability Day back in October. There was a panel discussion with a Geography professor and an Anthropologist that was quite stimulating and put the artwork in an interesting context. Nice to hear from you!

Rawrby30 karma

How long does it take you to complete a background shot? Your work is astonishing!!

Christopher_Evans87 karma

The average ILM matte painting took between one to two weeks depending on difficulty. The painting in the Reddit album showing the Death Star trench and docking bay took one month.August 1983. That photo of me using a magnifying glass to do detail was actually hamming it up. There was lots of detail, but nothing microscopic.

alkaline8103 karma

Are you ambidextrous?

Christopher_Evans3 karma

I work with a wacom pen in my right hand and a mouse in the left, but always use a paint brush in my right.

snaverevilo26 karma

/u/dgoberna couldn't make it so I am reposting his questions for him.

  • What do you currently do? Still working on matte painting? (I think your last work was in Hugo)

  • Among all films you worked in, which project was the most challenging?

  • Which one was the most artistically frustrating?

  • .. and the most rewarding?

  • .. and which one was a living hell? (in terms of production, dull work..)

  • Is there anything you see in current digital matte paintings that you miss in the traditional ones? I feel MP departments today are not very well considered, taking into account how much of their work is going to define a shot. Do you feel any difference with the old times? How were MP departments considered in the pre-digital era?

  • Any funny anecdote regarding a specific matte painting?

Is a truly honor and a privilege to 'talk' with alive history of matte painting. Thank you for your work and the AMA!

Christopher_Evans88 karma

I'm currently working on a huge mural for the Chumash Indian tribe of California for their cultural heritage museum. Not painted any matte paintings in a while . The last was for Hugo. Most challenging was probably Willow, but very rewarding. Most frustrating - The Road. Matte Paintings can add tremendous visual scope to a movie, and yet are often misunderstood, and used as an afterthought rather than as an integral part of the cinematic storytelling. Digital painting, CG environments and Photoshop have not solved all the problems of making complex illusion of reality so I still see shots that don't look real. The job requires a study of nature, a knowledge of photographic lighting, artistic skill, and a gift for being able to see and imitate what looks real.

MartiniCat26 karma

Are you a fan of Hayao Miyazaki's films? I heard in Japan that the artist responsible for many of the backgrounds is a big fan of yours.

Christopher_Evans54 karma

Totoro is one of my favorites! and all his films are superb. In fact I like the backgrounds as much or more than most matte shots because they are so beautifully painted and transport me into a world that is more wonderful than our everyday photographically realistic one.

Terry_Topcock22 karma

What kind of paints did you use for the Star Wars stuff? How do you even start with such a complex scene? Do you do details as you go, or have a process to outline the whole thing and then detail? I really love all of those images, and always wondered how they were done. It's amazing to me that they're just 2d paintings, they look so rich with depth!

Christopher_Evans34 karma

I learned to paint with acrylics when I began as an apprentice at ILM. I also learned how to use an airbrush. But eventually I developed my own hybrid technique of laying in the painting and making all major changes in acrylic, then switching over to oil for delicate color matching and glazes. Not wise for permanence, but efficient for matte painting. Each artist has his own preferences. The process invariably requires progressing from a loose block in of colors and shapes to make sure they work as a composition, followed by more and more detail.

thefutureischrome20 karma

Of all the things you've listed your involvement in, which one resulted in the most personal growth for you as an artist, or was simply the most fun?

Christopher_Evans52 karma

The most fun was actually working on Jedi at Industrial Light & Magic. It was very exciting to be working on that movie with a bunch of talented people. Watching it in a theater when it was done was a thrill. Most personal growth happens with my fine art because its so emotional based and its a difficult business to achieve success in. The best moment was when I saw that my work New York Full Circle was reviewed in the NY Times. I just sat down on the floor at the train station and laughed out loud.

OttieandEddie17 karma

Do you like "The Phantom Menace"?

Christopher_Evans47 karma

Yes. I was totally blown away by the opening sequence, and there are some of the best matte shots ever done in it.

Spikesguitar214 karma

When working on backgrounds, would each artist be assigned an individual painting or would you all contribute to one painting at a time?

Christopher_Evans24 karma

We decided to assign particular shots to individual artists. Michael Pangrazio was lead artist and usually decided who would do which painting. We received storyboards from the Art Department and had them pinned on the wall. Every morning the artists and cameramen would green test footage of the shots in progress and we'd have a big discussion about what was working or where the paintings could be improved. It was a collaboration, and each artist was respected.

Christopher_Evans2 karma

I'd like to add that the three matte painters on Jedi were Michael Pangarzio, Frank Ordaz, and me. Frank now has his own art gallery in california, and Michael is an art Director at Weta Visual Effects. It was a privilege to work with those great guys. The camera work was done by Neil Krepela and Craig Barron.


How precise did you have to be with details of spacecraft in RotJ? Did you paint from models?

Christopher_Evans17 karma

to be precise with perspective and lighting we often took photos of models for reference.

OverTheHorizonRadar13 karma

Huge fan and Jr 3d artist here! You've worked on a lot of top-level digital productions in addition to the classics like Star Wars. Can you speak to the advantages of a digital matte workflow, and address the critics who think modern VFX is entirely soulless?

Christopher_Evans25 karma

I've heard this idea that digital matte painting lacks some magical artistic human touch, but as someone who has done both I do not believe it. It is not so much the tools but the picture on the screen that counts. I've seen many wonderful, beautiful matte shots done digitally. They are actually getting more complex and amazing. And of course the 3D moves make them more realistic.

GabrielBonilla8 karma

Do you like soup?

Christopher_Evans13 karma

yes, lentil

SenorAnonymous7 karma

Any idea what happened to the original paintings after the movies were finished?

Christopher_Evans5 karma

They are in an archive room at Lucasfilm. I imagine it looks like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That scene by the way is one of Pangrazio's matte shot masterpieces.

thewhaler7 karma

What are your thoughts on the matte paintings used in star trek, do you just laugh to yourself when you see them?

Also I was disappointed you weren't captain America for a second, but I wanted to work at industrial light and magic when I was a kid so you have him beat :)

Christopher_Evans6 karma

I actually worked on the first Captain America film on the scenes of the World's Fair. Here's a link-

sedict6 karma

Hi Chris, Is there any specific painting that needed to be completely re-done because of some mistakes?Also I would like to ask how easy it is to correct a mistake you have made.

Christopher_Evans17 karma

Because we worked together as a team, critiquing the work as it progressed, and because each shot evolved in stages, it usually didn't occur that a shot need to be wiped out and started all over again from scratch. Many times thought there was a need for bold revisions. Early on in my career my mentor Alan Maley was fond of saying in regard to the painting," Don't fall in love with it." That is be willing to wipe out a nice area of painting you may have done if it didn't work in the shot as part of the storytelling of the movie.

Theinfrawolf6 karma

how was your inception as an artist(could you provide details?)? and how important was it to network and find the right people at the right place so that you could find something that you might consider a big project?

Christopher_Evans13 karma

For me the right place and the right people was ILM. It was something of a miracle to arrive and be there at the right time. But without knowing it I'd actually been preparing myself for years. Painting and drawing since early childhood. Art major at UCLA. Learned perspective, copied the old masters, studied photography. So when I walked in the door at Lucasfilm looking for a job I was able to show them slides of my work that convinced them to hire me. I've heard that one must always be preparing for the big break, even if it looks like it may never come, so when it comes we're ready to take it.

Alacrious6 karma

When generating assets at ILM, was the pipeline setup in a manner which allowed you to get real time feedback of your progress (assets available to compositors) to allow changes as you worked/see it in the shot, or was it primarily generating a finished piece which would then be refined later to match any changes if necessary?

Christopher_Evans14 karma

The pipeline was simple in those days. The film's Director worked with the Art Dept to create a storyboard that was given to the Matte Dept. We worked on the painting and did tests to match it to the live action plate. When it looked good enough we'd show it to the whole company in the morning dailies in the screening room. If it worked and looked real it was a final; if not suggestions were made, and we'd keep working on it. Most of the feedback came in dailies. Sometimes we'd loop the take and watch it over and over again to zero in on technical or aesthetic problems needing to be solved. The atmosphere was always supportive and collegial, and we had some tremendous talent working together both in and outside our department. The takes might also be sent to the film's editor to actually spice the film in to the movie to see how it was working.

zakriboss5 karma

How would you recommend getting started in the field?

Christopher_Evans14 karma

Learn all you can. Develop the skills that are in demand by going to school or just doing it. Then make a portfolio of your work and show it to whoever needs what you have to offer.

blackthorngang5 karma

Color management remains a difficult issue in film production pipelines, even in an all-digital world. Thinking back to film issues, the colors you paint on a matte painting can be affected by the chemistry of the negative stock being used to shoot the painting. I've seen some examples of paintings from Blade Runner, for instance, where the colors of the original painting are pretty garish - but when passed through the chemical/optical production pipeline, suddenly look fantastic.

That said, I'm sure each film had its own issues, and the techniques different companies used to get to final must have differed somewhat. I don't know a ton about the nitty gritty details of ILM's 1980's pipeline, but did you have to re-learn your own sense of color to compensate for changes that would emerge downstream from your painting?

Christopher_Evans14 karma

I learned a lot about color at ILM. Craig Barron reintroduced original negative or latent image compositing of paintings and live action plates so for those shots it was a single step to color match. I had a big frosted skylight over my work space that gave be bright full spectrum daylight. I would look at the film test in a mirror aimed up at the skylight, the same light illuminating the painting on the easel. I also studied color science a bit an learned through trial and error how particular colors of paint reacted on film. On the other hand when we composited our shots on the optical printers it was much harder to match color using many filters, and the hues and tones in the painting were often compromised. The chemistry at the lab did effect the process, too, and could vary day to day.

LeadingSomewhere5 karma

How is life as an artist? I would like to do VFX in the future, but it seems like any sort of art career would be very difficult to manage or hold down.

Christopher_Evans10 karma

Life is good but challenging as an artist. We have our ideals, and hope to be recognized for what we feel passionate about. A career in art- that is a job that you actually get paid to do -is not easy to find, but as you can see in the credits of any big special effects film these days there are in fact thousands of people doing one form or another of digital art in VFX films. My advice is to learn all you can and develop techniques and skills that will be needed and appreciated. Then create a good presentation portfolio to show what you can do and start knocking on doors at any place there might be a job. Be willing to start at an entry level position. I began as an apprentice.

dgrsmith4 karma

First off, really enjoy your New York Full Circle exhibit and of course the Return of the Jedi work (though admittedly, didn't realize the extent of the matte work involved in the movie!).

As to my question, if you were to go back to school this year and were to choose your specialty, would you take to digital media and digital art, or would you stay old-school?

Christopher_Evans6 karma

If I went back to school and had to choose between one or the other i would specialize in traditional oil paint. Its not as practical in today's world , but for me it provides a more personal means of expression .

maribha4 karma

Hi Chris. Thanks for the AMA. I am curious to know what digital tools do you use, if any, in your work?

Christopher_Evans9 karma

I myself use Photoshop. I never learned 3D modeling but have enjoyed working with those artists on numerous projects.

MahaliAudran3 karma

Can you recognize a matte painting when it's used?

What do you think when you notice one? (Does it take any enjoyment out of the movie, critique the painting or cinematography?)

Christopher_Evans6 karma

I have a pretty good eye for spotting matte shots in movies. But I'm probably fooled lots of times by good shots, too. Even though I may notice matte shots, I still enjoy watching the movie, because if its a good story and interesting characters that's what has my attention. The Cinematographers art can be thought of as painting (on film) with light, and the matte painters art is to create (the illusion of) light with paint.

also_chris_evans3 karma

Hi Christopher. I am also a Christopher Evans (as my username implies). It's very good to meet you!

I think you may be my new favorite doppelganger. Right now, when people ask me "Oh, you mean like Captain America?" I respond with "No, like the BBC host" just to mess with them. Now, I might start responding with, "No, like the awesome painter who worked on RotJ."

Cheers and thank you for doing this AMA.

No question, just wanted to show solidarity in our Christopher Evans-ness.

EDIT: Oh wait. "All top level comments must contain a question" - I missed that somehow. So here is a question:

What is your favorite thing about being Christopher Evans?

Christopher_Evans1 karma

Living life in my own special way. By the way, my middle name is Leith, a less common medieval French-Scottish family name. Evans means something like "warrior" in Welsh. Thanks for the "solidarity". Makes me feel better about not being Captain America! All the best to you.

without_a_trace3 karma

Hi Chris,

Thanks for doing this AMA! Two quick questions.

  1. How has your job/career path changed with advent of digital painting and photo manipulation programs (photoshop..etc)?
  2. Can your work compete aesthetically and quick enough to keep up with the demands of the filmmakers these days?

Christopher_Evans6 karma

I happened to be at Industrial Light & Magic when Pixar was a division of Lucasfilm so I was one of the first artists to use digital painting tools. I like being able to cut and paste photos and manipulate the images digitally. Very powerful tools for an artist. I use both Photoshop and traditional painting depending on what I need to do. The most recent work I've done in Visual Effects, for Hugo, has been as an art director or lighting consultant to help the CG team produce more realistic looking shots.

peknpah2 karma

Hugo was such a visually stunning movie! How much of the work was CGI vs. Matre painting vs. Shots on location?

Christopher_Evans1 karma

Many Visual Effects companies worked on it. Here's a link to some of the shots done at Matte World Digital.

NotARobotv21 karma

Can I buy prints of your work somewhere?

Christopher_Evans1 karma

You can go to my website and let me know what you are interested using the CONTACT button. Only my fine art paintings. No movie stuff.

ssosina1 karma

Whats books did you read growing up? which inspired you the most in creating some of the work you produce today?

Christopher_Evans1 karma

Painting Techniques of The Masters by H.L.Cooke was the most important.