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What does it mean to be a technical artist?



WHAT IS TECHNICAL ART?


Technical art is a combination of art and programming, and technical artists/tech artists are "rare creatures" that every gaming company wants more of. :)


Tech artists do many things and have very different tasks every day, which is required by almost every artist in the company.

Tech artists model, make VFX, build interfaces, UI, websites, shaders, lighting, animate, build tools for artists, streamline the game creation pipeline, make game exporters, rig characters, file structure, make implementation easier, version control support, automation... and much much more.


Although this may seem like a lot, they usually do some of the above parts in which they are specialized.


1. MANAGING THE PIPELINE


When making games there are thousands even hundreds of thousands of files that are being used and edited by people every day even at the same time. And tech artists need to manage how those files are organized and not accidentally deleted or misplaced or overwritten. For this, they use version control software which saves all the files in a game, all of the previous versions of the file, notify you if someone else is working on that same file at that time.

Naming the files can be a problem too when working with loads of files and you wouldn’t want to have your files named Hat_01, Hat_Final, Hat_Final_2, Hat_FinalFinal...

Tech artists find conventional names, organize them in the correct folders and places, build tools that help with naming and mass renaming of files, and so on.


2. IMPLEMENTATION


Before putting all the assets in the game engine they require some sort of implementation like naming them correctly, creating connections between files, deleting unneeded parts within the file, and so on.

But how can the tech artists help with this? Well, they implement tools that save time. Imagine having to press accept, confirm, yes, agree to the same thing every day. Pressing it doesn’t take a lot of time but doing it hundreds of times every day can add to a lot of time saved.



3. SHADERS


Shaders are more on the technical side they are used to generate different colors, materials, and effects on the model. They can be very complex and very powerful being able to shape a whole world to your desire. Let’s look at a snow shader made by Joseph Caddell and how it was made in Substance Designer.


In the picture above you can see so-called nodes and each of them has sliders that you can play with and make creative unique custom shaders. Some very common things the slider’s effect are base color, transparency, metallic, normals, height, roughness, and so on. These shaders can be combined or used to paint on the terrain and create a lot of variation in the environment.


You can create wood, stone, rocks, grass, magma, sand, and even toon shaders like Borderlands has to outline the characters to give an interesting effect. Now the tech artists sometimes write the code for the shader but most of the time they work together with an engineer to help figure out what the shader needs to do to get the look that the game is going for.



4. SIMULATION


Simulation has a huge impact on games. In short, it is simulating how materials meshes and effects react. Stuff like how a hair, capes, and other types of cloth would move with real-life physics, car crashes, an avalanche, water, milk, jello bouncing, and so on.



5. RIGGING


Probably one of the biggest specializations for tech artists is rigging. Rigging is putting the bones on a character mesh to give it the ability to move and be animated.

Here is an example of a rig by Space Ape Games.

In the picture, you can see the rig and the controllers that make it easier to anime the character.



6. CREATING CUSTOM TOOLS


Creating custom tools means customizing software such as Maya, ZBrush, Photoshop, Unreal Engine, and others to the artist's liking.

But often artists look for tools that are bizarre and unnecessary.

So tech artists are asking this very important question, "What are you trying to do?" If tech artists think that this tool is necessary for good creation, they can customize the programs and save everyone valuable time.



 

Start your career as a technical artist through the Academy Year at M3DS Academy.


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