Illustrators, Storyboard Artists and Matte Artists

Illustrators, Storyboard Artists and Matte Artists are visual artists and storytellers, who, in consultation primarily with the director and Production Designer, illustrate and express the look, atmosphere and emotion that move a story, in order to communicate this vision of the script to the entire production crew. They do this previsualization through the conception and creation of traditional and digital illustrations, storyboards and matte paintings. Illustrators and Matte Artists play a crucial role in conveying and realizing the overall vision of a motion picture or other form of visual communication project. They provide the imagery necessary to assist communication between departments. They communicate regularly with the Production Designer, director and cinematographer and collaborate consistently with second unit, stunts, special effects, visual effects and numerous other departments. They are artists who adapt their style to all types of films.

Production Illustrators, Illustrators and Apprentice Illustrators prepare presentation artwork, using traditional and digital tools to create perspective illustrations, sketches and designs for the previsualization, preparation and production of visual entertainment. These images play a crucial role in conveying and realizing the overall vision of a motion picture or television project. An Illustrator might portray the initial concept for a vehicle, creature, character or setting for any genre of film or any style of project. An Illustrator working in the Art Department may depict a lavish set or part of a set including the illustrations of props, backings and landscapes. Illustrators may, at the sole discretion of the producer, be assigned to any department without requiring the supervision of an Art Director.

Storyboard Artists are Illustrators who help the director of the show previsualize a project by means of sequential imagery: whether in traditional or electronic media, two-dimensional or three-dimensional form, using stills or imagery in motion. They create a series of illustrations to previsualize the composition, dynamics and action of a scene. The Storyboard Artist collaborates closely with the director. The resulting storyboards reflect the mood and composition of the shots to be filmed, the staging of the camera moves, the blocking of the actors, the editorial order of the shots within the scenes and the scenes within the show as well as the transitions between them. The storyboards are the means by which the director communicates a vision to the rest of the crew, the producers and the studio and they inform the work of almost every other department: production, Art Department, cinematography, VFX, SFX, stunts, 2nd Unit, etc. Storyboard Artists may work closely with the director and they may, at the sole discretion of the producer, be assigned to any department, without requiring the supervision of an Art Director.

Matte Artists, Assistant Matte Artists and Apprentice Matte Artists use traditional and digital tools to create a scene employing photographic-like painting combined with live action to create the illusion of reality without having to build an entire structure or going to a specific location for a necessary background or terrain. The photographic painting executed by the Matte Artist will contain this visual information. The Matte Artist may work with the producer, director or Production Designer to determine what portion of the scene requires painting and how the final product should appear. Often a preliminary concept sketch is required. Matte Artists also work with previs and with the VFX supervisor during the pre-production design of the effects shots, completing the work in the post-production phase. In traditional Matte Painting, the Matte Artist must ensure that certain requirements are met at the time the live action "plate" is shot; e.g., placement of the camera, lens choice, camera steadiness and lack of action crossing the matte line separating the live action plate and painting. After the plate is shot, the matte painter must create the painting and supervise the combining of painting and plate by selecting exposures for correct color matches. Most contemporary Matte Painting consists of digital set extensions and the creation of virtual environments. The digital Matte Artist, often working with a team of other computer artists, is no longer confined to 2D painting and static composition. A modern Matte Artist creates in a 3D virtual environment that permits and encourages camera movement and perspective changes. The Matte Artist is knowledgeable about composition, lighting, atmosphere, color, perspective, camera lenses, story, and movement or action and has training in art, photography and computer software.

The Illustrators and Matte Artists
A Brief History

As the techniques of storytelling in motion pictures gradually advanced from the early 1900s into the 1920s, becoming more realistic in setting and action, filmmakers soon discovered the necessity of employing Illustrators to develop conceptual sketches and storyboards during preproduction and Matte Artists to expand the filmed visuals in production and post production. The Illustrators and Matte Artists soon were bringing life to the written words of the writer, the aesthetic visions of the Art Director/Production Designer and the ideals and actions planned by the producer and director.

Exactly when the first conceptual illustrations and storyboards were created for a film has not survived the passage of time, but concept illustrations planning the first known matte shots by Norman Dawn in 1905 survive. He later executed matte paintings for his film, California Missions, released in 1907, showing how the then deteriorating structures initially looked in all their previous glories. By the 1920s, William Cameron Menzies was doing conceptual illustrations and storyboards and designing mattes for Douglas Fairbanks’ adventure films like Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). As an Art Director, he passed on his motion picture techniques to the future Illustrators and Matte Artists he employed. He would later become the first person to receive the screen credit, “Production Designer,” in 1939 for Gone with the Wind. For this landmark film on the American South during the Civil War, Menzies also chose to feature the illustrations of Dorothea Holt and J. McMillan Johnson and matte paintings of Jack Cosgrove, Byron Crabbe, Fitch Fulton, Jack Shaw and Albert Simpson to help realize the production’s now classic imagery.

Following Menzies’ visions, the additional following indelible images have benefited from the conceptualizations, storyboards and paintings of the Illustrators and Matte Artists: King Kong’s prehistoric world; the Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City; the bell towers, gargoyles and flying buttresses of the Hunchback’s Notre Dame cathedral; the castles of the Three Musketeers; the Pirate strongholds of the Caribbean, the Seahawk and Treasure Island; the Roman empires of Caesar and Ben Hur; Citizen Kane’s fabled Xanadu estate; Tarzan’s African tree house; Cleopatra’s Egypt; the King of Kings’ Jerusalem; the last stands of Custer, the Alamo and the Spartan 300; the sinking of the Titanic and the Poseidon; the private lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Porgy and Bess, Funny Girl and Benjamin Button; the night life conquests of the Terminator, James Bond and Batman; the daylight conquests of Superman, Iron Man and the X-Men; the futures of Blade Runner and H.G. Welles; and the universes of Flash Gordon, Star Trek and Star Wars. And, of course, there have been many, many more that have also come to life thanks to the initial strokes of the Illustrators and the final touches of the Matte Artists.

As the early 20th century methods of film making evolved into a major industry, the various trades they employed were subsequently organized into guilds and unions. By the 1930s, the Illustrators and Matte Artists were part of the Federation of Motion Picture Crafts. By 1941 they became a part of the Conference of Studio Unions. In 1945, they received their own chartered local, Local 790 in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which by the 1950s became the dominant labor organization representing the motion picture and television job categories working behind the camera. In 2008, the IATSE merged the Illustrators and Matte Artists’ Local 790 into Local 800, the Art Directors Guild, which is now comprised of most of the major cinematic art crafts in Hollywood.

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