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Everything You Need to Know to Become a Matte Painter

By Sierra Mon ( - April 24, 2017

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In lms, Matte Painters are the creative and talented people behind making incredible photo-realistic landscapes or

interior and exterior environments that you just cant get on a real set.

When it comes to Matte Painting,Saby Menyhei ( a superstar in the

entertainment industry with projects under his belt like Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, Thor: The Dark World, Jason

Bourne and many more (IMDB ( He graduated from the

Hungarian University of Fine Arts andstarted his career as a Digital Matte Painter at Digic Pictures. He worked as an

Environment Artist/Generalist TD at Double Negative and Industrial Light and Magic.Currently, hes working asa Lead

Matte Painter/Environment Artist on Paci c Rim: Uprising.

Think this is something youd like to get into? Read on in this interview with Saby to nd out everything you need to

know to become a matte painter yourself.


Getting Started

The most important thing is to practice as much as you can.

First and foremost, you have to love movies! At least, that was one of the main reasons in my case. I had no idea I

wanted to be a matte painter for a while it was almost a mere accident. I studied Fine Arts, and one day I found

myself painting backgrounds for animation. The next logical step was matte painting: I loved movies that transported

me to exotic locations or galaxies far-far away. Techniques used by digital matte artists today are quite di erent from
how traditional matte painters used to work back in the day. Matte painting now sits rmly as a 3D discipline. We are
living in an age of transition: there are di erent job titles (like digital matte painter, environment TD) which I think are

going to merge into one in the future.

I think of matte painting as a skill, a solution that might be the best way to complete a shot in some cases. I spend

most of my time in 3D and use painting/projection techniques when its the quickest and most e cient thing to do.

Sometimes you are just enhancing your 3D render by painting it over, sometimes you work on a big vista that

requires bigger brush strokes and eyes of a painter. So if you want to specialize in environments for lm and want to

become a modern day matte painter, you need strong 3d skills but also traditional art training and 2D digital painting

skills. You can learn by yourself or you can attend a school and take a course but the most important thing is to

practice as much as you can.

( kind of skills, training and

software do I need?

You will have to use every trick in the book, so make sure you know this software very well.

Most essential is to learn the foundations of traditional drawing and painting. You need to master the principles of

drawing, starting with the rules of perspective. Learn to draw basic three-dimensional geometric shapes before

moving on to more complicated subject matters. Descriptive geometry will also help you to understand how we see.

You have to study how light works. Start with a simple cube and eventually you will get to the human form, which is

perhaps the most di cult subject you will encounter. This will require a lot of time and practice but it will pay o at

the end.


The best way to learn about colours is to paint, as often as you can. Painting landscapes outdoors (plein air) might be

the best way to put your skills to the test (I would suggest using watercolours or acrylics). You have to be very quick

as lighting conditions rapidly change. Theres no colour picker in real life you will have to rely on your eye. While

observing nature, make sure to study the Old Masters as well! After completing the foundations you can focus on you
digital painting skills more. Adobe Photoshop is the most commonly used software for matte painting. You will have

to combine still photography, rendered CG elements and digital paint to create believable virtual backgrounds. You

will have to use every trick in the book, so make sure you know this software very well.

At rst, try not to rely on using photos too much. Virtual plein air is a good exercise pick a location on Google Maps

and paint it. No tracing or colour picking! You can paint from imagination too part of your job will be to create

concept art as well. Later on, get a photographic plate and build on top of that. Everything is allowed, as long as it

looks photo-real. Good matte painting exercises: invisible set extensions, day for night, sunny for snowy, destroyed

cityscape, modern to old etc. Try to work in a non-destructive way.


You will also need 3D generalists skills. Be familiar with a modeling package like 3ds Max, Maya or Modo. Mari and

Substance Painter are the most widely used programs for texturing. Knowing how to use UVLayout might be handy,

too. For organic modeling environment artists use ZBrush or Mudbox. Learn how to light and render your scene

(Arnold, Vray, Renderman). I know its a lot, but Im only scratching the surface here, you will have to pick up other 3d

softwares along the way (Houdini, Vue etc.)

Last but not least, for 2.5 (projected) environments we are using Nuke, a compositing tool from The Foundry. You will

use it to project your nished matte painting onto a 3D model to add camera move and also to create your nal

comp. This is a very important step because this is where the static image comes alive.


What should I include in my portfolio?

Only the very best of your work should be included in your portfolio. Dont forget: less is more! Its good to have a

website that is easy to navigate. Keep it very simple. Try to have a variety of di erent environments (architectural,

landscape, sci- etc.) in your portfolio. Try to stay away from heavily stylized artworks. You will also need a demo reel

when you apply for a job. Upload your video on a site that loads fast, in the highest quality possible.

See Sabys ArtStation-powered portfolio (

Some basic demo reel tips:

Keep it short (around 2 minutes)

Put your best work up front

Only include your best artwork

Include contact details (name, e-mail address, website)

Keep the music discreet

Include a CV, Reel Breakdown (information about exactly what you did on each shot), Cover Letter

What do hiring directors want to see and what is the interview process like?

Be prepared to talk about your strengths and weaknesses.

All the studios are looking for talented and friendly people, who are good team players as well. The interview process

takes about 30-60 minutes. You have to introduce yourself and talk about your background. Then you will have to

present your reel. Having a demo reel breakdown certainly helps, but if you dont have one, you will have to talk

about each shot in detail. Be prepared to talk about your strengths and weaknesses. It is also possible that they will

ask you to rate your skills (For example: Texturing Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10). You will also have to tell them

about what software experience you have. Your reel should highlight your best work, but you also have to convince

them that you would be a good addition to the team. Dont forget to ask any question you may have before you nish

the interview!


What is a typical work day like?

O cial work hours are between 9 am 6 pm. I submit my latest work for review when I get in the o ce most of the

time. We have dailies later on in the morning, thats when I get feedback from the visual e ects supervisor. It is also

the rst time when I get to see my work on the big screen. We have a nice team of environment artists working on the

show but we often have to collaborate with FX artists, compositors, lighters etc. We have training sessions once or

twice a week. It always gets busier towards the end of the project. I really like that period because its amazing to see

the shots progressing so fast!

Advice for aspiring artists

If you have great traditional drawing and painting skills combined with amazing 3D skills, you will be in demand. Be

passionate about what you do!

This may sound trivial, but enjoy what you are doing. Remember, you will spend a lot of time in front of that screen,

so if you are having fun at work, it will show in the end result. Good luck!

See moreof Sabys work on his portfolio website ( follow him on ArtStation

( for updates of his latest work.

For more on creating your own easy and sleek website, nd out more about ArtStation Pro (

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About the author

Sierra Mon (
Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.

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