Animation has come a long way since the days of plain white walls and two-dimensional cartoon characters. Today’s animation features deep, rich textures that make walls appear real, faces look lifelike, and even fantasy monsters seem like they could really be waiting under your bed. Much of this textural detail is thanks to the texture artist, also known as a texture painter, whose graphic art is used to define the surface qualities of a 3-D computer model. Most of the textures created by texture artists are used in video games, films, and television shows.
The texture artist’s main duty is to create photorealistic textures for mapping onto 3-D objects used in video games, films, television, music videos, or commercials—like wrapping a gift box in patterned paper. These textures will often be created from scratch, but may also be created from existing materials. Familiarity with the requisite software is required, as well as familiarity with the process of UV mapping. To create the appropriate finishes, a texture artist may scan photographs and then digitally apply the textures to objects and environments previously created by other members of the effects team, or they may create custom textures that go far beyond what appears in nature. As members of the visual effects team, texture artists must maintain a high level of photorealism in whatever surfaces they choose so as to enhance the 3-D environment and fit the requirements of the model pipeline and shading setup. Keeping textures diverse helps avoid repetitive and boring contributions to the video game, film, or television show on which they are working. Texture artists are just one element of the VFX team, and work closely with a variety of people, from modelers and shading/lighting technical directors to VFX supervisors.
Skills & Education
Though inspiration can come from anywhere, texture artists need to do more than stare at walls for their ideas. It is common for a texture artist to graduate with a BFA from an accredited art or design school, as well as have considerable texture experience evidenced in a portfolio. Familiarity with software such as Photoshop, Maya, Painter, Mudbox, ZBrush, CrazyBump, Body Paint, Deep Paint, and some proprietary software is crucial to a texture artist’s success. However, you also should possess strong artistic skills and grasp the concepts of detail, composition, color, form, and scale. Familiarity with other elements of the CG process can be beneficial to texture artists, including modeling, lighting, and shading. Working as part of a team is the norm, so good communication skills and the ability to work well under supervision will go a long way.
What to Expect
Texture artists work on projects that require a keen eye for detail and innovation so as to keep the 3-D environment from becoming stale or looking unrealistic. Compile a portfolio of your best work; studios need to know your level of experience and ability before handing over a paycheck to an unproven. Becoming a texture artist can eventually lead to supervisory texture positions (senior artist and lead), as well as other VFX jobs in the pipeline. Game studios and post-production houses are always looking for talented texture artists, and the companies you can work for range widely in size, scope, and nature of projects. While texture art requires experience, this is still often an entry-level position—it’s not the first rung on the ladder, but it probably won’t be your last, either.
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