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How Do I Become a Matte Artist?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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To become a matte artist a person should, first and foremost, be a talented and capable artist. This may require education at an art school or university, or simply natural talent fostered by years of practice. Regardless of how it is attained, anyone wanting to become a matte artist should understand things like color, form, and perspective. Beyond that, the potential artist will probably want to know how to use computer software to create two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D) images that are realistic and lifelike.

A matte artist is someone who creates images called matte paintings that are used to create a background image for a scene in a movie or television program. These are not backgrounds or set paintings, but fully illustrated environments that are matted into the scene. Traditionally, these matte paintings were done with paint on glass to allow the image to be composited with the film scene more easily. With the increased use of computers for special effects toward the end of the 20th century, however, digital matte paintings began replacing the hand-painted glass images.

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These digital scenes are created using computer software to make images that are photorealistic and mesh seamlessly with the footage shot in a studio or on location. Due to this move to computer technology, someone wishing to become a matte artist needs to have computer skills as well as traditional artistic talent. Some matte paintings are still created as a 2-D image and simply composited into a still shot. Other matte paintings, however, are fully realized 3-D environments blended into moving shots to create a breathtaking landscape the viewer becomes immersed within.

Someone looking to become a matte artist will want to have experience working in such 2-D and 3-D formats. Having at least a rudimentary knowledge of film and filmmaking would also be a good idea for a potential artist. A matte artist usually needs an understanding of camera movements, lighting, and depth of field to create backgrounds that mesh with what is shot in a studio. Therefore, training in creating digital artwork and in film would be a solid background for any potential matte artist.

The sort of educational institution attended is usually less important than the skills of a person wishing to become a matte artist. Most quality schools will help a student create a demo reel that allows the student to show off his or her work and acts as a calling card when looking for employment. The work done on the demo reel is typically more important than the name of the school where the artist attended classes.

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