I have been in the graphic design industry since 1981 working in London, Los Angeles & Spain. My career started in the traditional way on a drawing board, using Rotoring Pens, Magic Markers, Pantone Pens & Letraset working as a Designer/Visualiser/Artworker. My design career has taken me through the music, toy, t-shirt, packaging & print industry. I am now a freelance graphic designer (British) based in Spain with many clients worldwide ...now using Photoshop, Illustrator & InDesign on a Mac.
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To be honest I have never heard of a 'Stacked Image' ...so did a google earch on it and came up with this link... http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/image-stacking-fstop.htm ...not sure if that is what you mean but this link seems to give you an answer.
As above, I am purely graphic design and do not get involved in matte or digital painting so am not aware of courses in this subject. Sorry I cannot be of more help.
I design logos, magazines, marketing materials etc... thats what a graphic designer does. It depends on what you mean by digital painting ...if you mean creating a work of art with photoshop etc, that makes you a digital artist, of which I am not. As part of my design skills I do manipulate and retouch photos ...but all designers have to do that at some point in their career. I see many people say they are a graphic designer just because they own photoshop ...but they do not know how to design. I hope that answers your question.
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The way I do it is that I draw over the photo in illustrator so I have a vector version I can colour (see my profile pic). But the other option is to place the photo into Adobe Illustrator and use the trace option to convert to vector and then convert to live paint to manually change the colours. You may have to experiment with the settings in the trace option to get the look you require.
I am purely graphic design and do not get involved in matte or digital painting so am not aware of the difference or the software requirements. Sorry I cannot be of more help.
When I see recruitment adverts for graphic designers I see that a lot are asking for at least 2 - 3 years experience and some kind of degree. So they do help ...but at the end of the day it is your portfolio and creativity that will get you the job. Before I was freelance all the jobs I had I was never asked for my diploma certificate (I did have one) ...but it was my portfilo that got me the job. Hope this helps.
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