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Technical Artist - Computer Games

The Technical Artist acts as a bridge between the artists and programmers working on a game. They ensure art assets can be easily integrated into a game without sacrificing either the overall artistic vision or exceeding the technical limits of the chosen platform.

The role is a relatively new one for the games industry, but is becoming increasingly important as consoles and PC hardware becomes more complex.

Despite their technical knowledge, the Technical Artist works part of the art team, and coordinates closely with the lead artists and the art director, as well as the lead programmers.

What is the job?
The main areas of responsibility for Technical Artists include setting up and maintaining the art production workflow as well as making decisions about which art packages and tools a studio should use.

Technical Artists are also charged with investigating new techniques and implementing them. The job often includes a teaching element, with the Technical Artist sharing their knowledge via training and mentoring sessions with other artists.

Technical Artists are employed by development studios, both independent and publisher-owned. As a specialised position, pay rates are higher than normal artists. The job can involve long hours however as well as being stressful, especially when dealing with problems during the final stages of production.

The Technical Artist typically works one step removed from the direct creation of game art assets. Instead they act in more of an advisory position, setting up the systems of production as well as dealing with problems as they arise.

One large part of the job involves keeping up-to-date in changes in technology, both in terms of console hardware, art packages and new techniques. The Technical Artist is expected to be able to create custom tools to improve the efficiency of their team. This is usually carried out using the scripting languages included in the main modelling and animation packages.

Technical Artists will also have an overseeing role when it comes to providing feedback or debugging complex assets such as character skeleton rigs and skinning systems.

The Technical Artist will research and oversee the implementation of rendering techniques such as normal and specular maps, particle systems and pixel shaders as well.

Typical career routes
This is not an entry-level position as Technical Artists are generally required to have between two to five years experience.

Involving both art and programming elements, a Technical Artist can come from either background but most tend to have been artists, who have specialised in a particular area of art production.

Detailed knowledge of at least one industry-standard art package, especially use of scripting languages, is required, as well as understanding of the limitations of console hardware.

Another entry route for Technical Artists is from a similar position in the film or special effects industries, where experience of high-end rendering techniques or complex animation are useful skills.

Essential knowledge and skills
As the role of Technical Artist is a specialised one, candidates must be able to show technical proficiency in areas such as lighting and rendering, texturing, and graphics-related programming languages such as shaders.

They should also have extensive knowledge of art packages ranging from modelling to texturing and special effects, and be able to customise them so they are as streamlined as possible for specific projects.

The ability to work well as part of a team is also important, while training and mentoring responsibilities require good communication and people management skills.

Key Skills include:

  • ability to work with minimum supervision;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • ability to think creatively to resolve technical challenges and limitations;
  • knowledge of console hardware architecture;
  • understanding and proficiency in using 3D graphics software;
  • ability to anticipate the needs of the artists so as to streamline their productivity;
  • knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures.

Training and qualifications
Most Technical Artists will have at least a degree in a relevant visual art or technical subject, but experience working on wide range of projects, both in terms of art tools and game hardware, is the most important prerequisite for the role.

Candidates should be able to demonstrate a well-developed creative background and sensitivity to dealing with creative issues within technical constraints too.

Much of the training for this role is carried out on the job, with regular conferences and technical training days available.

However, Technical Artists are also expected to carry out their own research and training. In addition, some short courses in specific tools and packages are available. Check the Creative Skillset website for up-to-date information.

Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Sector Skills Council for the audio visual industries. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, Creative Skillset Careers is the UK's only specialist media careers advice service; for detailed media careers information and advice, visit http://www.creativeskillset.org/careers/.

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