A digital matte artist, or digital matte painter (DMP), is today's modern form of a traditional matte painter in the entertainment industry. He or she digitally paints photo-realistic interior and exterior environments that could not have been otherwise created or visited.
The term 'digital' is used to distinguish a DMP from a traditional matte painter, although this is unnecessary, as the nature of a matte painter's work remains the same, regardless of the tools and techniques used.
From traditional to digital
Traditional matte painting is older than the movie camera itself and has actually been already practiced in the early years of photography to create painted elements in photographs. With the advantages of the digital age, matte painters have slowly transitioned to a digital work environment, using pressure-sensitive pens and graphic tablets in conjunction with a painting software such as Adobe Photoshop. A digital matte painter is part of a visual effects team being involved in post-production, as opposed to a traditional matte painter, who was member of a special effects crew, often creating matte paintings on set to be used as back-drops.
Workflow and skillset
Through the growing need for 'moving' mattes camera projection mapping has been implemented into the matte painting pipeline. Although ILM CG Supervisor Stefen Fangmeier came up with the idea of projecting Yusei Uesugi's aerial painting of Neverland onto a 3D mesh modeled by Geoff Campbell while working on the motion picture 'Hook' in 1991, projection-mapping based 3D environment matte art was until recently, like its predecessor matte painting has been, the industry's best-kept secret. The involvement of 3D in this until then 2D art form was revealed by Craig Barron from Matte World Digital in 1998 after completing their work on the feature film 'Great Expectations' when they introduced this technique as a 2.5D matte to the public. In production today this combination of 2D and 3D is part of every matte artist's bread and butter.
Because of their high artistic skills, digital matte artists are often also involved with the creation of concept artwork.