Something of a hybrid between an artist and a programmer is the video game technical artist. This person works under the direction of the art director and technical art director, and is responsible for the systems and tools associated with creating and porting art assets.
Completed art assets such as character art or environment background are delivered to the technical artist, who is tasked with optimizing the art to ensure that the digital files run efficiently within the memory and load speeds of the engine and console, and that the designs still maintain the high standard of visual quality. This includes shader and lighting optimization, and technical artists may be asked to develop in-house shading tools. Particular attention is paid to file size, polygon count, and how those variables affect render time. The technical artist is also responsible for preparing and/or designing character systems like skeletons, cloths, effect emitters, and ragdoll collision. He or she collaborates with the environment artist and physics programmer to optimize environments and establish physics barriers. When art is ready, the technical artist ports the assets to the game engine. It is his or her job to monitor the performance of the assets within the engine and set standards for workflow through the production pipeline. If the technical art director outlines the specific standards, the technical artist enforces those policies. Additional duties may include developing tools and scripts for the art department and cooperating with staff to solve complex visual asset problems.
Skills & Education
A bachelor’s degree in game art, fine art, or game design is recommended. Coursework should include classes in traditional drawing and painting, as well as the use of 3-D tools like Maya and 3D Studio Max. The technical artist must have a firm understanding of art and animation pipelines, be familiar with the constraints of different game consoles, and be able to quickly learn proprietary software tools. Proficiency with rigging skeletal systems, art optimization, modeling, and texturing is required. This position demands a talented artist who also enjoys and excels at technical tasks. Some knowledge of C, C++, Python and Lua is beneficial, but not a necessity. You must be detail-oriented, capable of communicating with developers at all levels, and able to work efficiently with little supervision.
What to Expect
This is a midlevel position that requires some prior experience in the art department of a video game developer and at least one shipped title to your credit. Employment as a texture artist, shading/lighting artist, character rigger, animator, or character artist is the standard path toward a job as a technical artist. Experience in film and television animation is helpful, but this role does require someone who is familiar with game systems and development processes. With at least three years of work history under your belt as a technical artist, you may have the opportunity to advance to a lead position and eventually work your way up to technical art director.
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