Work as a matte painter.
Movies, TV, and video games result from the combined efforts of hundreds of people, and matte painters have to incorporate the visions of the director, writer, and artistic director even as they express their own ideas. “If I’m in Hamlet, I’m not going to start improvising lines,” says matte painter Paul Topolos. “It’s like a cake. I’m doing the icing, but the cake has already been made.”
Before a matte painter starts working, they’ll meet with a project’s creative leads to find out more about the assignment. “Usually you get what’s called a kickoff, when you’ll get a sense of what the shot is about and where it is in the story,” says Topolos.
That kickoff meeting might include storyboards or concept art for the scene, or instructions about the look and feel of the shot. “If you’re working with an art director, they give you notes about the color temperature, camera depth, values, and mood of the scene,” says Case. “You work from those notes and build something out.”
Regardless of the scene, matte painters need to know how actors, VFX, or other visual elements are going to be positioned in relation to the matte painting. “You need to leave room for the overall composition that the director is working toward,” says Case. Matte paintings are not really works of art unto themselves. They always exist in relation to other elements in a film, TV show, or video game.