Matte World Digital
Matte World Digital was a visual effects company based in Novato, California that specialized in realistic matte painting effects and digital environments for feature films, television, electronic games and IMAX large-format productions. The company closed in 2012 after 24 years of service in the entertainment industry.
The company, initially called Matte World, was co-founded in 1988 by visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, matte painter Michael Pangrazio, and producer Krystyna Demkowicz. Barron and Pangrazio had worked together at Industrial Light & Magic, starting in 1979, when they helped create the matte-effects shots for George Lucas' Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Barron and Pangrazio continued to work with the crew at ILM on notable matte-painting scenes in several classic features including Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Barron left ILM in 1988 after serving four years as supervisor of photography in the company’s matte department.
The Matte World team formed to provide realistic matte-painting effects for film and television. In 1992, the company was renamed Matte World Digital, reflecting the new technological tools available to matte painters. Since then, MWD has created digital-matte environments for films directed by (among others) Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, and David Fincher. Barron is now the sole owner of Matte World Digital and in 2008 celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the company. Current projects include an IMAX production in collaboration with theoretical physicist Stephen W. Hawking.
Matte World Digital closed its shop in August, 2012.
Digital innovations 
MWD was the first visual-effects company to apply radiosity rendering to film in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995). Recreating the 1970s-era Las Vegas strip was made possible by simulating the indirect bounce-light effect of millions of neon lights. Radiosity rendering allowed for the first true simulation of bounce-light in a computer-generated environment.
For David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, one of MWD’s challenges was to create 29 digital matte paintings of a New Orleans train station and its various looks throughout time: new, run-down, and remodeled. To accomplish all these scenes from one 3D model, the company used Next Limit’s Maxwell rendering software—an architectural visualization tool—revamping the software to accurately mimic real-world lighting.
When Fincher requested a low-altitude helicopter shot over Paris, Barron took digital reference photos from a helicopter flying over the city at a higher altitude (as required since 9/11). Then the team at MWD used a flight simulator to determine aerial views at a lower height. Once the height and angles were worked out on the simulator and approved by Fincher, a high-resolution CG model was built for a completely computer-generated flight shot.
Craig Barron won the 2009 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAFTA Awards for achievement in visual effects for MWD's work in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He was also nominated for achievement in visual effects by the Academy and BAFTA for shots created at MWD for Batman Returns (1992) and The Truman Show (1998). Barron, along with MWD team members, Michael Pangrazio, Charlie Mullin and Bill Mather, won an Emmy for outstanding visual effects for By Dawn's Early Light in 1990.
Selected filmography 
- Hugo, 2011
- Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011
- Alice in Wonderland, 2010
- Terminator Salvation, 2009
- X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008
- The Golden Compass, 2007
- Zodiac, 2007
- The Last Samurai, 2003
- Jurassic Park III, 2001
- X-Men, 2000
- Mission: Impossible II, 2000
- The Green Mile, 1999
- The Truman Show, 1998
- Titanic, 1997
- Star Trek: First Contact, 1996
- Independence Day, 1996
- Casino, 1995
- Clear and Present Danger, 1994
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992
- Batman Returns, 1992
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991
- Arachnophobia, 1990
- By Dawn's Early Light (television), 1990
- Matte World Digital | Company Information
- Cotta Vaz, Mark and Barron, Craig, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting Chronicle Books, 2002; p. 212 ISBN 0-8118-4515-X
- Cotta Vaz and Barron, p. 197
- Rickitt, Richard, Special Effects: The History and Technique Billboard Books; 2nd edition, 2007; pp. 202-203 ISBN 0-8230-8408-6
- Biography for Craig Barron at the Internet Movie Database
- Matte World Digital | Casino
- Matte World Digital | Bram Stoker's Dracula
- Matte World Digital | Titanic
- Memories of Murder: VFX for Zodiac | Recreating 1970s San Francisco for Director David Fincher | Barbara Robertson | March 15, 2007
- Universe Partners | Project Management
- Matte World Digital Farwell
- Rickitt, Richard, p. 209
- Matte World Digital | SIGGRAPH 1998 - Matte Painting in the Digital Age | 3-D Lighting Techniques | Craig Barron
- Cinefex, #116, January 2009, “The Unusual Birth of Benjamin Button” by Jody Duncan, p. 95
- Cinefex, #116, pp. 97, 98
- The Official Academy Awards Database
- British Academy of Film and Television Awards - Film Winners in 2009
- Academy Awards Database
- Cotta Vaz and Barron, p. 213
Further reading 
- The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting by Craig Barron and Mark Cotta Vaz, Chronicle Books, 2002; ISBN 0-8118-4515-X
- SIGGRAPH 1998 - Matte Painting in the Digital Age | Speech from the "Invisible Effects" series | Craig Barron | 1998