Summary:
The climactic sequence in the "Ice Age: Collision Course" covered a lot of ground, from outer atmosphere to the scale of the smallest characters.  There were 16 shots needing set extensions and 6 shots that were full screen 3D matte paintings with fly-by volumetric clouds.   Blue Sky has a very small matte painting team and as the team lead, I picked up this assignment.  
Techniques:
Even though I had already made a digital backlot (seen above and mentioned in another post) of assets to leverage off of, the scale of the scenes needed for this sequence meant that I needed to deconstruct it even further to be able to deliver the final result
By deconstructing the models into black/white height maps that could be used as sculpting brushes, it was possible to create huge variety of unique models and shapes in a matter of minutes.  Instead of being only models, they became versatile abstract sculptural and texture pieces. These brushes were used in 3D-Coat, Zbrush, Maya, and Photoshop to create large landscapes that have great scale and parallax.
With the exception of the animated/simulated elements (meteor+volcano+plume), all of the final environments + clouds featured in this post were modelled, lit, textured, painted, and rendered by a single artist: an out of pipeline environment workflow.
Render Passes
Full Frame Single Artists Environments
(fly-by clouds removed)
THE PAYOFF
This single person pipeline was particularly effective in coming up with a "recipe" that combined render passes to come up with a look for the sequence that would translate from shot to shot.  This would not have been achievable the same way for so many shots without the heavy reliance on building a 3D world that would work from different camera angles (particularly true since the cameras in this particular sequence were changing on the fly).  There was no lengthy pipeline to account for, if a particular pass was useful in creating the final shot, I could simply dial it up myself and render for all shots in the sequence.   Having a robust recipe allowed for the custom paint work to go from first Art Director review to final very quickly.
Programs - Photoshop, 3D-Coat, Zbrush, Maya, Nuke, Vue

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