Technical Art Director
Bridging the technology gap between game artists and programmers, the technical art director is primarily concerned with the development and implementation of tools to efficiently facilitate the creation of art assets with computer software, and the porting of those assets through the pipeline.
Working closely with the art director and game development staff at all levels, the technical art director is ideally a jack of all trades; this person is an artist in his or her own right, but also a wizard with development applications. The TAD collaborates with in-house tools engineers to develop appropriate art pipelines, scripts, and plug-ins necessary to ensure high productivity of the designers, artists, animators, and riggers. The process includes participation in pre-production planning to address technical design requirements; the technical art director also writes specification documents that outline the particular features required for game art formation. Where new systems must be built, he or she will contribute to visual prototyping of tools, as well as research and development with system programmers.
Artists are hired with a foundation of knowledge in the use of industry-standard applications like Maya or MentalRay, but most studios supplement third-party products with proprietary software. Therefore, the technical art director is also responsible for training staff on the in-house tools and familiarizing them with the production pipeline. Continuous monitoring of the studio’s art applications and troubleshooting technical bugs falls in the lap of the TAD. Depending on the studio, this person may also be asked to occasionally contribute art to the game build, including modeling, texturing, animation, or visual effects.
Skills & Education
A diverse collection of skills and education is required to be a successful technical art director. A bachelor’s degree in game art, game development, computer science, or fine art is recommended, but a master’s degree in a related field is preferred. Coursework should include computer programming, anatomy, and traditional art. Other required competencies include mastery of 3-D art applications like 3ds Max, Photoshop, and Renderman; scripting languages including Java, Python, and C++; and the authoring of lighting/shading tools.
What to Expect
Most of the technical art director’s job is supervising the efforts of others, rather than the actual writing of code or creation of character models. However, when the need arises you must be willing and able to contribute. This senior-level role requires at least five years of professional game development experience, with a minimum of three additional years in a supervisory position. You should have three or four shipped products under your belt as an animator, character artist, or other related title, including previous employment as a lead in an art or programming department.
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