Reasons for a coordinated Tech Art Department


#1

At my studio the tech art “department” is non existent:
we are broken down into teams by discipline (character modeling, weapons, environment, vfx, animation)
most teams have a few technical people who help tools communicate with the pipeline, though some have none and must reach out.

I intuitively feel that some kind of coordinated Tech Art department might be more desirable,
but I’m interested in how to sell that idea upwards.

What are the advantages of coordinated Tech Art departments?


#2

I worked for years in an essentially “rigging” department. With the demands of production, workflows grew stale and productivity gradually slowed. Even worse, we had some teams developing workflows that differed from others. This meant that there was always a question as to how things were going to get done when a new production spooled up. Unfortunately, any time we wished to improve, production reared its head and squashed that desire due to lack of time and different priorities. After all, we weren’t a software company. We were a production company.

Finally, things got so bad that a pitch was put together to dedicate a handful of individuals to improving workflows and supporting them. Examples of the initial work this team would do was also laid out. The studio green-lit the plan (mostly due to the proposed ROI of the endeavor) and the team got to work (I was on it). Production teams were then able to lean on this Tech team to help meet new production requirements while the Tech team also worked on new toolsets and workflows, pulling the best ideas from any existing procedures. Artists interested in joining were even able to roll into this team as productions ebbed and flowed which provided fantastic technical experience.

It took a couple years, but ultimately the numbers came in. I’m no longer at that studio and therefore can’t get them, but I distinctly remember our Manager stating that required production time requirements had been severely slashed and that the studio was sitting up and taking notice and looking at other departments for the same treatment. It was a win all around. Did the studio need to pony up a budget to support this Tech team? Yes. Luckily, the cost of production seemed to justify it because to my knowledge that team is still there and chugging away. Artists were now able to focus on the art rather than stumbling through process or re-learning when they rolled onto a new project. The same tools were being used from production to production, data was standardized, conventions were established, training could be prepared, etc.

Now, more than likely the team will need to be a bit bigger starting out, but over time the needs calm down. How long that is is of course up to the scenario at any studio. I wholeheartedly advise every studio to have a setup like this in some fashion. TD’s and TechArtists can make production artists’ lives so much easier as well as allow them to make changes far quicker than they would without that infrastructure and support.

TLDR: A TechArt team is a good idea and with the right people the ROI will speak for itself.


#3

It’s really imperative to have a dedicated Tech Art dept that is there to help support artists and the overall pipeline. TA’s are really the backbone to the art pipeline and are a critical role to the success to the team and the project. The hope is that artists only need to focus on content and let the technical dept handle issues/workflows/blockers that bring down the efficiency of production.

Now I’ve worked in productions where there was no real pipeline in place. There is that big up-front cost to production to get this process up and running and it does take time. But once it is, it keeps artists focus on their tasks AND they are more likely to stay on longer cause they don’t have to deal with all the technical issues that probably plagued production without a technical dept.

Anyways, this is how I’d sell it.


#4

Thanks for the responses. I’m wondering If anyone has had experience with the cat herding involved in bringing together a group in an attempt to form such a department? If each person comes from
a different department, they will have a different priorities an views. Any thoughts on how to balance everybody’s priorities with an overall direction? Heck, how to formulate an over all direction in the first place?


#5

There’s a long-form summary of my feelings about this in my GDC talk from 2015: