Digital Matte Painter

The role, salary, software and skills of a film and game digital matte painting artist

Image: Pixomondo

What does a digital matte painting (DMP) artist do?

A digital matte painter paints believable, photo-realistic environments and backdrops (interiors and exteriors) on a computer that seamlessly replaces live-action elements and/or improves existing live-action footage for films and TV series. They can also paint backgrounds for video games and game cinematics. Matte painters work with several types of content: live-action footage, digital still photography, CG elements, and digital painting software. 

Digital matte painter job description

Digital matte painting is a cross-disciplinary role that straddles the border of 2D and 3D and requires an understanding of working in both mediums. DMP artists will work closely with the CG environment artists with a strong commitment to teamwork and technical level. 

Role and responsibilities of a DMP artist in film and games:

  • Create digital paintings of photo-realistic environments based on concept art and/or photo reference

  • Understand all aspects of digi-matte workflow and know how to combine 2D and 3D elements

  • Experience working with shoot data; including photographic and reference data, HDRIs, and photogrammetry

  • Setup, image re-projection, and apply atmospherics and light effects.
  • Assist with and develop the look of a shot/sequence in liaison with the supervision team

  • Work in partnership with CG environment artists and compositors to ensure shots are delivered to the very highest standard

  • Seek out and build photographic reference material

  • Continue to become familiar with new tools, software, data, and other related technology

Skills required to become a digital matte painter for film and games

Along with being able to paint realistic backgrounds and environments, digital matte painters must have at least a basic knowledge of modeling, layout, lighting, rendering, and compositing, as well as a strong understanding of all facets of CG production including color theory and LUT. A strong understanding and sympathy for real-world materials and lighting are essential.

Film and game companies may look for the following skills in a DMP artist:

  • Strong knowledge of matte painting techniques including color space, digital paint techniques, and Photoshop file management (be it file format, bit-depth resolution, or appropriate layering of elements)
  • Demonstrable experience integrating matte paintings into 3D environments using Maya and/or Nuke
  • Possess a strong understanding of light, color, and perspective
  • Possess excellent artistic communication skills, as well as an excellent eye for detail
  • Flexibility to produce concept art from scratch
  • Solid knowledge and understanding of visual effects pipelines, production, and implementation
  • Good knowledge and ability with perspective, color, and value matching
  • Good knowledge of camera focal lengths and composition
  • Knowledge of film resolution and aspect ratios
  • A good understanding of 2D and 3D workflows within a feature film environment
  • Business Systems Experience
  • Expert working knowledge of Photoshop

What software and tools do DMP artists use?

Digital matte painters work with a selection or combination of 2D and 3D software, primarily working in Adobe Photoshop or similar.

Digital matte painters may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Nuke
  • Zbrush
  • Maya
  • Vue
  • Terragen
  • Mudbox
  • Renderman
  • 3D Studio Max

How much does a DMP artist make?

The average wage of a DMP artist is about USD 67,528 for a junior position to upwards of USD 93,342 for a senior position. (Source: Glassdoor)



Want to know more? Download your free guide!

Here's your guide to starting your career in the film and video game industry.


Digital painting courses taught by industry experts