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Technical Artist

The role, salary, software and skills of a technical artist in the video games industry

Technical artist job description

Technical Artists are hybrid creative and technical operators who liaise between the artist and the programmer teams. They require both visual skills as well as programming knowledge to understand both disciplines and problem solve between departments. 

A good technical artist will keep the artistic vision intact while working within the limits of the software systems used on a video game production. They work closely with the Game Designer, Lead Artist and Lead Programmer, advising on technical resources, researching new techniques, maintaining tools and pipelines, and preparing digital files of finished artwork to run efficiently without visual degradation.

Role and responsibilities

The role of the Technical Artist is to bridge the gap between the issues of the creative, programming and engineer teams in game development. They must possess an equal amount of knowledge about both disciplines to ensure all needs are being met. Because of this they tend to be all-rounders with experience working in the artistic and programming realms.

Innovation in gaming treads a fine line between creative excellence and technical brilliance, making the role of the Technical Artist key to the success of a title. 

Responsibilities of the Technical Artist may include:

  • Liaising between heads of programming and design teams
  • Researching and developing technical tools for a project
  • Setting up workflows of art production
  • Supporting artists and engineers in the 3D art pipeline
  • Assisting in asset performance and validation
  • Solving complex technical issues during development
  • Deciding on what software and tools are required for game production
  • Developing and maintaining resources and pipelines along with programmers
  • Porting finished art to the game engine
  • Ensuring final art runs to full visual resolution
  • Working within the limits of the game engine, curating file sizes, polygon counts and loading speeds
  • Enforcing standards as outlined by heads of departments
  • Developing tools and software to execute the needs of the game
  • Preparing and designing character systems such as skeletons, cloths, effect emitters and ragdoll collision
  • Optimizing environments and establishing physics barriers
  • Writing custom software specific to the needs of the game which will work with industry standard scripting languages
  • Researching and overseeing the implementation of rendering techniques
  • Developing performance of frame rate and memory
  • Resolving material errors and collision issues
  • Monitoring the performance of the game
  • Maintaining technical documentation

Software and other tools used

Technical Artists must understand the fundamentals of CGI, modeling, animation, special effects software as well as a solid knowledge of platforms such as C++ and Javascript to be able to integrate assets into the game at the highest quality. 

Technical Artists may be required to use some or a combination of the following software:

  • Houdini
  • C, C++, Java
  • Python 
  • Lua
  • MaxScript
  • Perl
  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Adobe After Effects, Photoshop
  • Substance Painter
  • Unreal Engine

Skills required

Technical Artists need to be expert in both the creative and technical fields, two areas which are usually at odds. It takes a particular mindset to be equally talented in both fields. 

Employers may look for the following skills in a Technical Artist:

  • High attention to detail
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Career training in VFX
  • A strong portfolio or demo reel
  • Solid understanding of art and animation pipelines
  • Familiarity with game systems and the game development process 
  • Scripting skills
  • Ability to identify the best tools and software to maximize game delivery
  • Rendering and post-effects experience
  • Understanding of rigging and animation
  • Experience in physics simulations
  • Shader development experience
  • High level artistic skills - proportion, color, composition
  • Creative mindset and ability to overcome technical challenges
  • Experience in digital art content creation - high and low-poly modeling, unwrapping, baking, texturing, level art, etc
  • Excellent interpersonal skills in dealing with differences between creative and technical teams
  • Knowledge of high-end coding languages

Average salary

The Technical Artist role is a mid-level position. The pathway to this role is usually to start out as a texture artist, shading/lighting artist, character rigger, animator or character artist. Acquiring a strong interest in and experience with coding and/or programming. 

The average wage for a Technical Artist is between USD $45,000 and USD $106,000 depending on studio size and location. *Source: Payscale

 

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