According to platforms like Animation Career Review and ZipRecruiter, an average salary for a background animator in the United States ranges from $44,000 to $48,000. Of course, professionals who have more experience or advanced training can expect to earn more. The same applies to states where the cost of living exceeds the nation’s average. Given such figures, it comes as no surprise that many new animators are choosing to pursue a career as the so-called “matte painters” who take care of the background.
For someone who is just entering the market, however, there are some important guidelines on how to best navigate the education and subsequent job search. This includes everything from selecting the most fitting program to landing a dream job with a good employer. So, what will you have to do to become a background painter?
Find an Animation Degree Program
Before getting into the background painting work, you must first become an actual animator. The reason why is that this field operates somewhat like medicine. First, the candidate has to become a general doctor. After doing so, they can then choose a specialty and further develop their skills. Well, to get to the background painting specialization, you must usually earn a bachelor’s degree in animation first. That means investing approximately four years of your life on high-level education.
Before choosing where to go to school, however, you must complete some preliminary research. Given that certain institutions are more prominent and successful than others, the quality of an animation college program will vary. Whilst your final credentials may be the same at every location, you do not want to attend an institution that has very little ties to the real-world recruiters. If you do, finding that entry-level job that comes after graduation may become a nightmare. This is why you need to focus on degree plans offered by universities that have a long-lasting track record and a high rate of currently working alumni.
Learn as Much as Possible
During your time as a student, you may face situations where you wonder if the background painting side of things will ever present itself. This is quite normal as most students lack the enthusiasm for the mandatory parts of the class curriculum. And even though focusing on the material may be challenging, you must learn as much as possible. Background painters work directly alongside animators and other multimedia artists. Each of them will rely on you to know exactly how animations and editing software operate. If you spend your college career simply trying to get to the finish line without retaining much of the information, you are going to struggle once you start learning about matte painting strategies.
Specialize in Background Painting
After you get through the animation portion of your education, it is time to specialize in background painting. You can do this a few different ways. One of them is to simply find work within the industry and get trained by experienced professionals. Companies that hire animators are no strangers to working with recently graduated students and teaching them about the ins and outs of the job. After all, hiring a brand new animator will make it easy for the company to sculpture that professional exactly how they want to.
The other option is to seek advanced degrees or actual courses held by academic experts. One of the main downsides of this approach is the fact that you will have to pay for the training yourself. When you get trained on the job, there are seldom any additional fees. Here, however, you have to hire someone to show you how to do background painting efficiently and teach you the basics.
Network and Look for Jobs
Once you finish specializing and feel that you are ready to take on a real job, it is time to start networking. According to Forbes, networking is essential to your career for several reasons. These include things like improvements in your creative intellect, qualification reassessments, new opportunities, additional resources, and more. Also, networking is where you are going to meet employers and companies who work with animators. Before venturing into the actual endeavor, you must learn a few important strategies. First, you need to have a brief speech that will let you introduce yourself to recruiters effectively. The next step is to put together an outstanding resume and always have a few copies with you. Finally, you have to demonstrate good communicational as well as many other intangible talents. Even if you have an incredible portfolio, no amount of networking will help if you do not come off as likable, easy-going, and understanding.
Offer Professional and Reliable Service
Once you find a job, you are still not an official background painter. To become that, you have to work on a few different projects in the market and prove yourself. If your employers become satisfied with the deliverables, you can officially label yourself as a professional animator who specializes in matte painting. Do not forget, however, that your job security is only as solid as your ambition and persistence are. If you stop developing or start delivering unprofessional or unreliable services, you will soon realize that your background painting job outlook can change in a blink of an eye. Hence why one of the most critical points of an animator’s career is when they acquire their first long-term client or employer.
If you think that you can handle all of these steps, the said career may a good choice. You should keep in mind that each of the stages is going to be quite difficult and may take a prolonged period. Also, some of the steps could overlap. Going to school and networking at the same time would be a very good example. Not to mention that you should be learning as much as possible throughout your entire professional life, not just in college. In the end, your success as a background painter will only be as great as your ability to adapt, learn, and innovate.