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Thread: Technical Artist job description at your company

  1. #1
    integer jhayes's Avatar
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    Default Technical Artist job description at your company



    This is something I, and probably others, would like to know. The Technical Artist role is a fairly new concept to the game industry. I believe that our roles have developed out of necessity as development of games have become much more costly and difficult.

    I'm sure each company has a different view on what a TAs role is, since it probably largely depends on the type and needs of the games the studio is developing.

    At Volition, we are focusing on developing open world games, and along with that focus comes a complexity of issues to deal with. So, our Technical Artist role encompasses many different roles. Here is a rundown of what we typically do:

    • Provide tech support to artists, and in some instances, the entire team. We are typically the first line of defense in diagnosing a problem. Whether it be debugging a crash in the game, or why 3dsmax won't behave properly.
    • Develop tools using MaxScript, Python and sometimes C/C# in support of a pipeline, feature, or to simply make the workflow of the artist easier.
    • We create the shaders for the game. If the shader needs to be optimized for performance reasons, this is usually when a rendering programmer steps in.
    • Work with programming, design and art to develop pipelines in support of a game feature. In some cases, we end up acting as a negotiator between disciplines to come up with a solution that all parties can live with.
    • Develop content creation guidelines and help enforce them through the use of tools and reminders when needed.
    • Optimize content for memory and performance gains.
    • Work with programming to develop risk/reward on game features.

    I'm sure there are more, so others from Volition can chime in and add to the list.

    So, what do you do at your company as a Technical Artist?
    Jason Hayes
    Lead Technical Artist, Rockstar

  2. #2
    Administrator Rob Galanakis's Avatar
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    Yeah well that about covers it :)

    Volition is a big of a mecca for TA's, or so it was once described for me. Going through your staff page, I can't believe how many you all have! But I think it shows, and one day I think people would be interested about what the payoffs are to having a good staff of TA's (maybe a blog post for the future).

    We only have 3 TA's plus an Associate AD who do technical work- well, actually two of us are technical animators (Ben Cloward is senior; and myself). And, you now, as I answer this, I realize more and more how hard it is to pin down what we do (this is about my fifth time I've deleted the description and started over).

    We do lots of scripting and tools for our animators, they are pretty spoiled. There are 5 animators, the lead, and 2 technical animators, so they get lots of technical love (though having lots of tools does come with the problems and bugs those tools can cause). We also do rigging and skinning, and Ben does the facial animation. Ben is in charge of morpheme, what we use for a state machine/animation blending, and does lot of game-side debugging and fixing, etc. Our lead does lots of higher level pipeline stuff, as well as tools for the character and environmental art teams. I'm not sure if having lots of work outsourced is a good thing or a bad thing as far as tools/pipeline goes (I guess that is partly determined by how much he likes flying). He also spends time optimizing stuff.

    We also do some shader work, but the programmers here have (what I think is) an irrational peeve that artists aren't allowed to touch the shaders. Considering we have the Ben Cloward "touching" the shaders, I find it a bit frustrating, but not my place to bring it up.

    Our pipe is still a bit immature and our tech team is small, so I'm sure our roles will continue to change and evolve as things go on.

    Nothing beats the days a TA just gets to come in and write scripts...
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    undefined JasonChildress's Avatar
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    I think Jason did a great job describing what we do at Volition. The only thing I can add to his post is that the TAs role changes through out the life-span of the project we're working on.

    For example, in the beginning of a project, TAs do a lot of R&D and assist the programmers while helping to design and develop technical pipelines. In the middle of a project we start ramping up on supporting other artists as the project gets more employees and rolls into a production state. During this time we also develop tools to improve artist's workflow. And by the end of the project, most of our time is spent supporting artists and helping fix hard to solve bugs.

    It's an ever changing position that keeps us on our toes. But that is also what makes it such a great job. :-)
    Jason Childress
    Senior Technical Artist
    THQ / Volition

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    undefined
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    My art director told me that the role of the tech artist was to make the pain go away. The more I think about it the more I kind of agree.

    But I often equate my job to being a lot like those guys the army sends in to clear mine fields before the troops march in.

  5. #5
    Stealthy Tea Monkey
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    Our company has no idea how to define our team into a box, so they just call us "the graphics team". I get lumped with the awkward job title of "Graphic Designer/Software Developer", when i'd be happy just to be called a generalist.

    But as to my role, I basically "program the stuff that makes development easier" when i've got time between modeling and animating. :)

    Quite often my job in TA is kind of organic. I usually develop tools as we need them or as I feel necessary, rather than as a directive. I can honestly say i'm not a full blown tech-wizard as my role is split across so many areas.

  6. #6
    Lead Technical Artist Joe Sanabria's Avatar
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    Good post, Jason.

    It's definitely is a hard position to define as there aren't too many folks with an art background and tech know-how around. But hopefully with more sites like this, that will change in time.

    The description is pretty close to my current post but in addition to all the stuff you have; we also define engine/game features.

    The engineers do the actual coding but they look to us for guidance on what the engine will support.

  7. #7
    Technical Artist
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    I am an artist (modeler and texture artist) AND a programmer. That's how I use the term Technical Artist. But I also do what Jason stated. I think Technical Artists are the 'jack of all trades' kinda guys. I honestly cannot decide if I want to program or do art so I just do both :) It gets to be too much at times, but I love to be busy and also have my hand in every stage of development. It keeps your options open, lets say we are short on programmers, well, I spend more time programming. Art gets behind? No problem, I pick up the slack.

  8. #8
    Technical Artist
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    Default Some Tasks under TA's belt

    Another part of TA's job is to deal with outside vendors like in case of outsourcing Artwork,

    Things like,

    1. Setting up Pipelines on vendor's side
    2. Setting up Art and Tech. QA process
    3. Solving tech. problems which external company can not handle, and make the whole procedure easy

    other than this, routine work involves "Thinking ahead of Artists and Engineers, to come up with answers(mainly pipeline), which makes everyone's life easier, and still meets deadline"

    Not every problem requires some code to be written from scratch,

    Another part of job could be, being up to date on Third Party softwares, because with evolving pipelines and new Games having new challenges, need to integrate new packages or writing inhouse code becomes a trade off,

    any ideas on these?

  9. #9
    Manic!
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    Another term that could be used to describe TA's would be "duct tape."

    I do much of the same: write tools for other artists, write shaders, crawl through a mire of old engine code to find out if some parameter is still even used, or the usual model/texture/rig routine. Its very organic, as Erilaz mentioned.

    I do know I enjoy the hell out of it. I pity those guys with jobs dedicated to just art or just programming :) I think my sanity relies on switching between the two when I get bored or sapped of inspiration.

  10. #10
    string
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    Jason pretty much nailed it in the first post...

    SamiV.

  11. #11
    float
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    It is very difficult to describe the role. I suppose my job is to make sure the character artists (including myself) find it as easy as possible to create the characters, that we have as much automation as possible for setting up rigs and shaders, and that the assets get from an artist to the game without breaking anything.

    Lately I've been working mainly in pre-production for the character art for the next game. As well as rewriting all our scripts this includes things like deciding on new rigs and how many bones we can have, sorting out new shaders and proving coders with iterative test data for new tech.

    I really like the "Duct Tape" idea.

  12. #12
    undefined
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    In our organization Technical Artists run quite a gamut, however, the main aspect of out jobs is supporting artists with the various content creation tools, pipeline and acting as the bridge between the programmers and the artists. We manage content budgets and best practices documentation as well.

    From there some of us are more "artsy" and tend to produce technical content, and some of us are more "programmery" and tend to write tools to improve workflow and/or pipelines. One of the only constants within our Technical Art team is that we seem to be the only people who aren't afraid to use the F1 button (In fact the first question I ask of potential tech art recruits in their interview is "What does the F1 button do?")
    Last edited by JonAdkins; 08-19-2008 at 01:14 AM.
    Jon Adkins
    Technical Art Director
    Next Level Games
    jon@nlgames.com

  13. #13

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    We have quite misty and undefined job roles (that sounds bad, what I mean is that we are all flexible and multi-skilled, yeah) and everyone usually does a stint of tech art at some point in a project, but recently there is more of a leaning towards some specific people who do more of this stuff than others. I think we even hired someone to a position with the title of junior tech artist not too long ago. (in fact I'm sure of it but I like to create some mystique and intrigue for some reason, and then spoil it by explaining. aah well.)

    Anyway, much like many of the others here our TAs 'make things work'. i.e. create all the niggly bits inbetween that lovely model/thing in max and it actually functioning, as well as doing whatever background work is necessary to facilitate smoother workflow for any/everybody. Also heavily involved in r&d/iterations for programmers, prototyping systems/tech and all that good stuff.

    our 'ta dept' have written exporters (still not sure this was really quite correct but hey, they work), shaders (yay!), general tools and plugins for max, workflow automation stuff, scene cleanup/tidying stuff, all kinds of useful bits and pieces. At the end of the day the goal is to make the game work and help as many people do more and more easily on the way.

    I've found the script distribution thread elsewhere really interesting because one thing i've noticed is that not everyone is always up to date and not everyone knows about all the tools. We're going to remedy this more wholesale next project so all those ideas are very useful. :)

    phew, sorry for the rant. :D

  14. #14
    untitled
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    Jason, just saw your article on gamasutra/gdmag, surprised you hadn't linked it.

    The Code/Art Divide: How Technical Artists Bridge The Gap

    Some of the commenting is worth a laugh.

  15. #15
    I Code Art
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Buchhofer View Post
    Jason, just saw your article on gamasutra/gdmag, surprised you hadn't linked it.

    The Code/Art Divide: How Technical Artists Bridge The Gap

    Some of the commenting is worth a laugh.
    This showed up on slashdot too, ditto about the comments. It's funny, i guess i think because i work on games i just assume that everyone understands how content comes together and it's not so cut and dry as "oh well artists and engineers just need to communicate better". . .ah well.

  16. #16
    Co-Founder Rigging Dojo
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    What is funny is that if this was talking about film... and the need and importance for technical artists there would not be any argument.

    Only in games do people still not understand why you would have a tech artist and the comments are right in line with that, the last one, a programmer saying that you just need a programmer that can learn a few art tricks and you don't need a tech artist!

    Maybe we need to push the Art, in tech Art, with part of the this site to help people understanding why you can't just "teach the art stuff" to a programmer for a lot of what we do?

  17. #17
    untitled
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    Hey a tech artist is just an artist who noticed that he was doing too much repetitive shit in the name of art and decided to find a way to fix that, we are by nature the laziest (and paradoxically the most determined) of arty people on the job ;)

    we just like to share our newfound shortcuts with other people.

    That said, is there much of a difference really between a gaming centric Technical Artist of whatever 'genre' they may be in, and the equivalent TD in film/commercial? (Be it a lighting TD, animation TD, general TD etc..).

  18. #18
    I Code Art
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    Default YES! There must be ART in Technical Artist!

    Quote Originally Posted by bclark View Post
    Maybe we need to push the Art, in tech Art, with part of the this site to help people understanding why you can't just "teach the art stuff" to a programmer for a lot of what we do?
    That's a great idea, I think I can definitely say that the small amount of time i spent as a production artist helped/helps me greatly understand how to approach technical art problems.

    This actually brings up an interesting point of discussion: Technical Art degrees. There was a post on gamasutra/gamescareerguide you may have seen a few months ago about Art Institute of San Diego offering a Technical Art degree. If not, some info here:

    AISD Adds Tech Art Degree (gamescareerguide.com)

    Reading through the description, my first thought was. . .that sounds more like a tools programmer to me. No mention of Art at all. What do you guys think of this approach? Personally i'm not saying that a tech art degree is a bad thing, i just think the curriculum needs to include a bit of ART as well. Crazy i know

  19. #19
    Anonymous Lead artist
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    Question for the tech artists/script/tool guys:

    Who's your manager, i.e another tech artist or the AD or a lead artist? (or, horrible thought, a producer?)

    For my most recent project, we hired tech artists, and for the most part I was their manager, even if I'm a lead artist. I feel it went really smooth, I was able to spec out our scripts and tools properly for them to perform their tasks, but when it comes to the quality of the actual scripts I could only judge the quality of the results - not the execution, since it's all about the results/functionality and timely delivery, I felt.

    Any opinions on this?

  20. #20
    if clause
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    The manager of the tech artists here is the lead animator for the technical animators and the art director for the straight tech artists. We also work together within the tech art group to share functions, etc. The manager of that effort is the lead tech artist.

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