Northcutt attended the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Art Institute of Chicago, before moving to California to realize his dream of digital art. He studied under matte artist Chris Evans who worked on Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Speaking of Evans, Northcutt has said that he "could not have asked for a more skilled or more humble master". He then joined ILM in 2001, but not to work on Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, but Gangs of New York. He finally had his chance with Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.