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Thread: Finding/testing/training technical artists

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    Administrator Rob Galanakis's Avatar
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    Default Finding/testing/training technical artists



    Something that came up a couple times in private discussions was, how do you find a technical artist. It seems a huge number of job openings are for technical artists.

    First question, what do you look for at the senior level? How important is scripting/coding skill compared to experience and non-coding skills. I'm thinking specifically someone younger but with more coding experience than what I often see in lead/senior roles, that is someone who recently made the switch from a Lead position, for example. What do you look for, and how do you look for them?

    Second question, what do you look for in junior/mid-level TAs? Do you test them, and if so, what is your test like? What other skills do you look for, what constitutes relevant experience, etc?

    Third, where do you look for junior/mid-level TAs? Are you more likely to look in your studio at other disciplines, or hire from the outside? Where do you hire from?

    And fourth, how do you train TAs? How much freedom do they have to do what they want to do versus what they may need to do (say, the guy hired for optimizations who may want to write tools)? How fast do you throw junior guys into the higher-level mix of designing and writing tools and pipeline?

    With TA being such a hot job, especially at senior level, and that we're probably going to hire a junior TA, I was curious how other people handled this. I got a sample TA test from someone today and thought it'd be useful as well to see how other people are testing them (I know Seth mentioned Bungie tests applicants as well).
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    I hope you don't mind I make a fifth question :
    Is there a possibility for student who want to do his internship as an Technical Artist? Because I heared it is really really hard to get a position as a TA as a student.

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    I totally second that ;)

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    I Code Art djTomServo's Avatar
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    I had a few opinions about this myself at GDC, so let me elaborate a bit...mainly because i like to hear myself talk.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Galanakis View Post
    First question, what do you look for at the senior level?...What do you look for, and how do you look for them?
    Let's look at two points here: General Experience and Position Specific.
    In general, years experience is a big thing, but weigh overall experience vs time spent as a TA. This is an assumption, right now I think that anyone who's been a TA/TD for an appreciable length of time probably started out as an artists or engineer, just because 5-10 yrs ago, TA/TD wasn't such a prolific thing in games. In 3-5 yrs, this probably won't be true given the rise of TA/TD focused education in various. I've actually interviewed a few people that had 10-15 yrs in games, but only 1.5-2 yrs as a TA, and sometimes that tends to show through when you're asking the TA/TD specific questions. Not saying that the overall yrs experience isn't valuable, but i definitely don't let people rest on that sort of laurel (but that's just because i'm a jerk).
    Also i would give a little bit more weight to someone who's worked on different teams/projects/technologies. Personally, getting the opportunity to work with different teams and different technologies has been one of the most valuable experiences of my career just because you get the insight into "how the other halves live", rather than just being the Max/UE3 expert (altho given the state of the industry, that's probably not a bad thing).

    Scripting/coding experience is an interesting point and a good segue into the position specific stuff. Sounds weird, but i've worked for teams/studios where you actually do have a Technical Art Director who is more of an architecture designer/liason vs implementer. If you're talking about the former, it's probably good enough that they can at least speak intelligently about the constraints placed on engineering but maybe not necessarily have spent time learning how to actually type C++. If you're talking about an implementer tho, well...A little while ago i probably wouldn't have thought too much about it, ie, "have you written MAXScript or MEL? ok cool, that's good enough". Nowadays though it seems like everyone has touched Python and/or C# in some form or fashion, and that's the sort of thing to look out for. Just from talking to folks at GDC, it sounds like people are moving more and more to C# and Python based frameworks, so it seems to me a valuable thing to really KNOW the languages. One of the ideas that bugs me is that "knowledge of syntax implies knowledge of lanuage", which is just not true (ie. how many people have C# or Python on their resumes, but don't know what an Interface or __new__ is?). If someone at the Sr Level has a language on their resume, to me it seems like it's fair game and you should definitely try to gauge the depth of their knowledge, not so much to call them on it, but because you really want to know how useful this person is going to be. It doesn't have to be an extensive test, i mean i can think of a few really simple questions you can ask someone to gauge their Python knowledge, for instance.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Galanakis View Post
    Second question, what do you look for in junior/mid-level TAs? Do you test them, and if so, what is your test like? What other skills do you look for, what constitutes relevant experience, etc?
    This one i think is quite a bit simpler. In this case, I don't know if i would test someone, for this position i'm more interested in what you've actually done. The questions i'd be most interested in getting answered would pertain to how well this person interacts with discipline leads (takes direction), but also how flexible they can be once those parameters are established (thinks for themselves, can work unsupervised, etc).

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Galanakis View Post
    Third, where do you look for junior/mid-level TAs?
    Yes...hehe no seriously i'd say look everywhere. Sometimes you get that artist in your studio who wants to move into Tech Art (god help them), so why not give them a little training and move them over? It might help with retention and you already have someone who's familiar with your pipes/processes. As i mentioned above, it's also getting easier to find tech art savvy folks in educational institutes (ETC and Digipen come to mind), so it never hurts just to put a call out and see who comes knocking...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Galanakis View Post
    And fourth, how do you train TAs? How much freedom do they have to do what they want to do versus what they may need to do (say, the guy hired for optimizations who may want to write tools)? How fast do you throw junior guys into the higher-level mix of designing and writing tools and pipeline?
    I think at the jr/mid-level we usually have an idea of what we need them to do, but we tend to leave implementation up to them, so it's almost like when you start, you're going to be expected to do some design, but we keep the scope limited. Recently we hired a contract rigger and while we did kinda just toss him into the deep end, it was all within his skillset as we perceived it. The whole Jr TA/TA Apprentice thing is definitely an interesting point...Formal training for TAs isn't something we've established, i think the understanding is if you can make a case to the higherups here that you need a certain class or training course, you'll be allowed to take it at least partially on the company's dime.
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    I Code Art djTomServo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nysuatro View Post
    I hope you don't mind I make a fifth question :
    Is there a possibility for student who want to do his internship as an Technical Artist? Because I heared it is really really hard to get a position as a TA as a student.
    Hmmm...that would definitely be interesting and something i know i'd support. I still think there's no better way to learn to be a TA than on the job. As i mentioned in my last post, we do hire jr contractors, which i guess you could think of as an internship/apprentice type thing, but i'm not sure we have a formal internship thing for TAs. We did at Crystal Dynamics, and it definitely payed dividends, so, yeah why not?

    I wonder if that would be good fodder for another T-A.org project...some sort of mentorship maybe even just at GDC or some kind of tutorial for folks wanting to get a leg up...i'd be down for that...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nysuatro View Post
    I hope you don't mind I make a fifth question :
    Is there a possibility for student who want to do his internship as an Technical Artist? Because I heared it is really really hard to get a position as a TA as a student.
    It has been my experience that right out of school you simply don't know enough about the game creation process as a whole to become an effective Technical Artist (I am sure that there are some exceptions but this has been my experience). I am now a TA here at Fire Sky but to get here I started as an world building intern, then I was an art intern, and then finally hired as a full fledged TA. This whole ordeal took about 2 years and I have to say that I learned more in my first week as a TA intern then I did my whole time at school(For the most part).

    If being a TA is what you want to do but your still in/right out of school, I would apply for an art internship and while your there pick the TA's brain about all things technical. Also, hint if not flat out say that being a TA is something that you want to do and you would like to help out with the TA's tasks any way you can. Generally (Again this is my experience) if the work is not outside your work load or level of understanding the studio will be glad that you want to help out and let you take on the extra tasks.

    Finally one of the biggest things that helped me out becoming a TA was that I never once stopped working with Unreal, 3ds Max, and Photoshop. From the first day I got my PC from the school till now and in most if not all of my spare time I continue to use these three programs getting better and faster at what I do. Becoming a great TA is a lot like training for a sport. The only way you are going to be better and faster than the other guy and gals out there is to practice more than they do.

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    I Code Art djTomServo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samsterdam View Post
    Finally one of the biggest things that helped me out becoming a TA was that I never once stopped working with Unreal, 3ds Max, and Photoshop.
    This is a REALLY good point...TAs should never forget that "Artist" is part of the title Another bullet point for jr/mid-level TAs is art portfolio. It doesn't have to be crazy like...Dominance War caliber or anything, but at least show that you know how to use the Art tools to make...uhh, Art.
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    Ah thanks. This is a big help for me. I will keep it in mind.

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    So we hire junior TA's and senior TAs, but do not actively seek midlevel TAs. Midlevel TA's are cross promoted internally, often due to their proficiency with engine specifics. We find that putting these people in a situation where the have more ability to spread that knowledge is beneficial. For junior TAs, we find people who have some area of competancy then ask them to be TAs for that discipline. For seniors, I have not been party to the recruiting, but it is mostly by referral only.

    Training is interesting, because we let TAs schedule their own time from prioritized lists. If they feel they need time to learn something for a task, they simply add it or the task gets reprioritized. We also try to pair TAs so knowledge gets passed between them.

    For internships, I have worked at two companies that provide TA internships. The sweet spot is to know an authoring package and have worked on something that looks like an art pipeline, which is why the ETC guys are awesome. We just can't put someone who doesn't know what goes into making art into a critical part of the pipe. External programming experience helps a lot. If you write a dead simple directX model viewer, or a flash game or something, that is probably more than enough to pass a code sample review.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lithium View Post
    which is why the ETC guys are awesome.
    Also agree...i don't think i've ever worked with an ETC student that we didn't hire or didn't get hired on somewhere after they interned with us, wherever it was...great producer and great technical art candidates up there in the cold midwest...
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    Srry if I ruin you topic Rob Galanakis

    But,

    What is an ETC student ?

    Btw thanks guys. you give me hope when I read this.

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    Pipeline TD Aylwin's Avatar
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    ETC: Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center


    Can you guys talk more specifically what ETC students do in the program in terms of curriculum? I am pursuing a traditional bachelor of arts degree along with my C.S. to pave my road to being a TA. But I feel like our art program lacks substance when in comes to using modern tools and technology.

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    They get together, form small groups and deliver a complete project, game, mod, or short film as a team. Their last semesters are targetted at internahips and they come out of the box maybe not having made the best thing, but have made something, and know a great deal about the sacrifices that need to be made. The value of having finished a project with a team can simply not be understated. You don't have to go to the ETC to be great out of school, just like you don't have to go to Art Center to be great at art, but they do some things very right at that program.

    Aylwin, in regards to your double major, you'll be fine, I'm sure. If you want to have some fun, you can use tech to make art, or make very pretty comp sci projects, both work well to broaden your horizons. That's what I did:). In fact, these days there's a pretty big community at processing.org that does just that.

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    Originally Posted by Nysuatro View Post
    I hope you don't mind I make a fifth question :
    Is there a possibility for student who want to do his internship as an Technical Artist? Because I heared it is really really hard to get a position as a TA as a student.
    we have an apprenticeship program where we bring on a handful of people across the different dept's, and have them work in production for 6 months under a mentor. we were lucky enough to have 2 riggers this past term (last year), one of which had just graduated and was looking for his first job, and the other was still taking classes at a local college.

    while we aren't a game studio, the responsibilities of being a TA (myself being one previously) is very similar to a production environment. coding/scripting, rigging, problem solving, communication with artists and other TDs - it's all the same. so that kinda leads to what I/we were looking for when we were deciding on which 2 candidates to bring on for those positions. we most certainly didn't aim to get the person with the best reel, but we wanted someone that had potential and a good drive to learn and develop their skills. we probably put at least 50% of the emphasis just on communication and competency in their work (reel) during the interview, and not focused too much on the content. though, don't get me wrong... an artist/TA needs to know what looks bad, enough to not put it on a reel.

    were they sure of themselves, without seeming like there's an ego?
    could they answer questions about how they accomplished what they did on the reel?
    could they talk about working in groups on projects, any collaboration with artists, helping others out in school, etc?
    could they talk about how they approached solving a problem?
    were they humbled enough to say what they can't do, what they couldn't solve?
    were they easy to talk to?

    our last mid-level char TD hire was a previous TA at an EA studio. that was a super easy hire because he came way recommended from a friend. he was confident, and you could just tell he knew his stuff. he also had(has) a big drive to keep learning stuff that isn't in his job description. his experience on multiple titles helped, his reel helped, and his interview was great. i'd say the recommendation and the interview sealed the deal... the reel/experience just confirmed our decision.

    as for the senior guys... thats a tough one. last year we were looking for one to help me out, and we looked ALL year long without getting anyone. got close to one, but he didn't accept, and then it turned out that was a good thing (reasons which i shouldn't go into). probably the biggest thing we were looking for was experience and diversity in skills to compliment the team and I. i'm not sure why, but we just never found the right one... and then the economy situation hit us to the point where we didn't need to fill that anymore. possibly later this year we'll start that again, but then again... i can see our midlevel person going senior already.

    hope that helps even though its on the commercial/film side of the industry :)

    -josh

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lithium View Post
    They get together, form small groups and deliver a complete project, game, mod, or short film as a team. Their last semesters are targetted at internahips and they come out of the box maybe not having made the best thing, but have made something, and know a great deal about the sacrifices that need to be made. The value of having finished a project with a team can simply not be understated. You don't have to go to the ETC to be great out of school, just like you don't have to go to Art Center to be great at art, but they do some things very right at that program.
    That is pretty much what we do here as well, we form up in teams of four and we build a game. Either from scratch or with some engine. You can define your own roles and we have to do everything ourselves, from concept to final product. We are working with xna atm.

    I'm happy you view this as a good trait, and i think it is myself.

    Good thread!
    Last edited by Gungnir; 04-10-2009 at 06:39 PM.

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    Can someone post a sample test that TA's take? Three places I applied for said I was more of a technical artist than an artist (which I found both insulting and encouraging). I want to see if this is an avenue I can explore.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lamont View Post
    Can someone post a sample test that TA's take? Three places I applied for said I was more of a technical artist than an artist (which I found both insulting and encouraging). I want to see if this is an avenue I can explore.
    Well first off don't be insulted Teach a man to art, you feed him till the project ships, teach a man to tech art, he feeds himself till he gets tired of being in the games industry!

    So the tech art test/interview for us goes something like (and this is just on the Maya side):

    basic 3d knowledge ie vectors, matrices, vector and matrix math/definitions (ie what's a dot product, what are the parts of a transform matrix)

    animation related stuff (since we animate in Maya): fk/ik (definitions/examples of use), eulers/quaternions, etc

    Maya specific stuff ie describe the Maya transform stack, describe Maya under the hood (DG/DAG), etc

    Then we move on to specific knowledge, which includes:
    Maya problem solving, we give you an issue we might be tackling or have tackled and ask how you would solve the problem in Maya.

    MEL Algorithms, we give you a problem and ask you to describe a MEL solution (yes, we expect you to be able to do MEL away from Maya).

    If it's on your resume, we'll ask you about other languages, Python for example:
    some basic language questions ie what do certain reserved methods do

    debugging, here's a code listing, fix it. This is NOT a syntax questions, so it won't be change this line of code, it will be more what's missing from this listing to make it work (think inheritance bugs, etc)

    Algorithms, one of my favs is, here's functionality or an operator for instance that's built into another language, how would you simulate it in Python.

    And then whatever other random stuff we feel like asking you, probably some rigging questions, maybe some shader questions, then you get an opportunity to impress us with some of the work you've done. Pretty straightforward
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    Spartan JayG's Avatar
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    I'm one of those guys who kind of meandered into being a tech artist. Started out as an animator, and still am, but ever since I offered to help the tech team with some basic scripts I've kind of been absorbed into their team. :D

    I've gotten proficient enough to be helpful with everything we do at in house, but my skills at the moment don't extend much farther beyond facial rigging and working with and helping construct the tools our artist need for our pipeline and workflow.

    It's cool to read about what other guys do, and the stuff I would potentially need to know if I were to branch out further into being a technical artist at a larger studio.

    Do you guys ever run into applicants who have very specific/niche knowledge in a certain area but aren't as skilled in some others that you would consider need-to-know basic stuff?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JayG View Post
    I'm one of those guys who kind of meandered into being a tech artist. Started out as an animator, and still am, but ever since I offered to help the tech team with some basic scripts I've kind of been absorbed into their team. :D
    Hehe you'd be surprised how many people have similar stories. I got into CG myself to be an animator, but somewhere back up the road i missed the left turn at albequerque...

    Do you guys ever run into applicants who have very specific/niche knowledge in a certain area but aren't as skilled in some others that you would consider need-to-know basic stuff?
    So that's an interesting question. I can think of 3 different types that sorta fall along those lines (and i'm not saying these are the only types out there, these are just the types i've run into most often when interviewing folks for TA positions):

    1. People who are skilled at doing one thing one way, ie the character td who can only build osipa style face rigs

    2. People who are skilled at doing many things one way, ie the technical artists who finds the one "safe" way to deal with problems and employs it everywhere. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the narrower their scope of thinking, the greater the chance that they'll run into a problem they can't solve.

    3. And the obvious last one people who are skilled at doing one thing many different ways, ie the character td who sees rigs as more than applying ik handles and control shapes to a joint hierarchy. This is the kind of insane person that comes up with something like xRig (kidding, much love, D).

    I think i definitely prefer to work with the third type of person for a few reasons. I've found that this kind of person a) has a very easy time expanding their scope of expertise and b) usually wants to! Judd mentioned this in one of his posts about using a task or a problem as a way to learn a new language or a new paradigm, and personally i think that's a great way to go. This is the sort of thing that that third type of person would do, ie, they would actively seek out different solutions to a problem just for the experience. Probably the coolest example of this is people that go from using MEL to Python, just that realization of what object oriented development opens up to you, i mean you can just see people get excited about it. It's a little daunting at first, but i don't think anyone would argue that it's not worth it in the long run As a man much wiser than myself said, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you're looking at change as well." Crazy...alright then i'm starting to veer of course, so enough inane rambling for tonight.
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    It's funny you should mention about Animators turning into Tech Atists, Seth.

    We have a guy here who definitely knows his rigging/animation, but for the past few years has more than just dabbled with MEL, the API and XNA. His background was a bit of code, which moved to animation and he's now one of our senior animators. But he loves to problem solve... I guess math features heavily in animation and it's a natural progression to try and resolve problems through scripting.

    As an environment artist turned character artist, I find very little need to write tools other than for exporting objects and tracking point orders. Preserving naming conventions is definitely something for both animation and environment art, but more so for animation.

    Seth, I'm curious if you find TAs you interview do come from animation backgrounds and pick up the API/shader stuff as they progress rather than from a programmer background.
    Last edited by whw; 04-17-2009 at 02:51 PM.

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