Most digital matte painters begin as trained studio artists. Many graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from an accredited college or art school. Here they learn the foundations of drawing, sculpting and painting with traditional medium like oils and watercolors. They also learn important concepts like composition, color selection and perspective that will serve them well in the digital realm.
No amount of digital wizardry can make up for a fundamental lack of artistic talent. Likewise, all the artistic talent in the world won't get you a job in the movie industry if you don't know how to create art using digital tools. A program like Photoshop is a powerful and versatile creative tool that takes years to master. A good place to start is by taking courses at an art or design school. Some schools even offer degree programs in digital arts and design, entertainment design and computer animation. A few of the better-known schools are the Art Center College of Design, the Gnomon School of Visual Effects and Full Sail University.
Along the way, try to get as much experience as possible with a wide range of different software tools, especially 3-D modeling, visual effects and animation programs. Besides 2-D programs like Photoshop, Corel Painter and Adobe Illustrator, employers look for matte painters who know their way around 3-D sculpting programs like Zbrush, visual effects software like Apple Shake, and animation tools like Maya.
Once you have a portfolio of traditional and digital artwork, it's time to look for that first job. A good entry-level position is as a concept artist for a movie studio, animation studio or visual effects production house. You can also get concept art work experience at architecture and design firms. Use this time to further develop your portfolio. Eventually, your hope is to get a job specifically within the matte painting department of an effects house or studio. Like most good jobs in Hollywood, these positions are extremely competitive, so be patient and always put only your best work forward.
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