I am always amazed by the works of great designers, like Ryan Church. He is a concept designer, matte painter, who worked for the biggest companies like Universal Studios, Industrial Light & Magic, Paramount Pictures, and also participated in some computer game concept design (Command & Conquer 3:Tiberium Wars, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3).
You can check his portfolio site, to see pictures from different projects, like Star trek, Star wars II, Star wars III. There are also personal pictures on the site. The works are really great, nice, clean designs, powerful visuals.
There is also a little shop on the site, containing Ryan’s tutorial DVDs. A few titles: Volume 1: Rendering Matte Vehicles, Volume 3: Rendering Hi-Tech Architecture, Volume 4: Rendering Low-Tech Architecture. Now these DVDs are not as cheap as movie DVDs but they provide useful tips and everyday techniques that can lead you to successful designs.
Most of the time he works on a powerful PC, with a wacom intuos 3 tablet, using Maya, Photoshop and Painter.
Matte painting: Matte painting is a technique often used for movies, where the painting is used to create environment elements which would be impossible (or too expensive) to build. A few years ago these paintings were painted on glass and most of the time they fit in the scenes perfectly. Nowadays matte paintings are created using computers and tablets. With the use of 3D programs film makers can achieve great, realistic effects so they can create whatever they want.
Matte paintings often contain elements from photos, but enhanced, so there are things on these pictures which are painted only.