Kazuki Takamatsu and the Depth Matte


The delicate, creepy, beautifully executed work of Tokyo artist Kazuki Takamatsu caught my attention recently. He uses the style of a depth-matte render (an image format native to 3D modelling programs, which displays depth information as a monochromatic scale: white is close, black is far away). I’m not sure whether these are straight-up depth matte images or, as suggested somewhere else on the web, gouache paintings. It doesn’t really matter anyway - however they have wound their way to our eyes, I’m pretty certain that they started off, at least in inspiration, from depth matte images. There’s no natural precedent for this style of image (we don’t ‘see’ like this, ever), but I’d argue it is an established convention - it’s stylistic identity is as strong as pointillism or stained glass or the polaroid. Yet it came about as a by-product of 3D programs. For those of you who don’t know what a depth matte (or z-depth) layer is, it’s normally used to help compositors very the focus in a shot. Rendering off a depth matte layer (as well as your full colour 'beauty’ layer) brings 3D information into a 2D composition. The compositor can select the depth of field in a shot by selecting their preferred tonal range between black and white.

I’ve been wanting to render rippling cloth in depth matte for a while now because I knew it would have a ghostly quality. Takamatsu seems to have tapped into the ghostliness of this particular image format in inimitable Japanese style. I bet we see animations in this style popping up from now on. Maybe one of them will be mine.