Tech Art Q&A #1
Sometimes I get emails from students who want to learn more about Tech Art. Many of them are enrolled in a game development college program and are in need of extra advice and resources. If the student is ok with it, I edit out any sensitive info and post it on my blog. If you'd like to send me questions check out my contact page.
Hi Fernanda, I hope you are doing well. My name is [...] and I am a freshman at [...] studying Video Game Design. I found that you put your contact info on Joe Hobbs' advice contacts list*. I appreciate your willingness to help students like me and give advice. I am interested in focusing on Tech Art [...], specifically to do with 3D modeling, or at least that's where my experience lies so far. I was wondering if you could give some advice from an experienced tech artist to one who isn't as experienced? I firstly would like to know what kind of tech art you do? I can see that you have worked on the Galaxy of Heroes game and I'm interested in knowing your role and what functions you helped design? I'd also like to know about the hiring process for Tech Art. This coming fall, I will be going on my first Co-op, an exercise done by my university where over the 5 years of my enrollment, I will go work at a company for two quarters 3 times. I would like to know what is expected of an entry-level Tech Artist? I am trying to learn as much as I can in terms of Blender's Geometry Nodes and how to use Houdini as well, but I want to make sure that I have what it takes to get a job in this field in the first place. [...]
* This is a list of game developers who made themselves available for questions/mentorships/etc.
"Hi [...], thanks for your email!
>> I firstly would like to know what kind of tech art you do? <<
There are many types of tech art and lots of options to choose from.
I started out as a technical animator (basically an animator who knows how to rig and make rigging tools in Maya using Python).
My current team is very small so I recently transitioned into a generalist role. I do pretty much everything! I’ll go into more detail below.
>> I can see that you have worked on the Galaxy of Heroes game and I'm interested in knowing your role and what functions you helped design? <<
When I started at EA, I built my team’s modular rigging toolset in Maya using Python, as well as animation exporters and motion capture tools to speed up our animator’s process. Since most of our characters use the same humanoid skeleton, our animator just has to click a button and the whole character gets rigged in a few seconds! Thankfully, the rigging toolset is modular, so even if we get any unorthodox characters like IG11 or Admiral Trench, I can still make the rig very quickly. If you want examples of modular rigging tools there are some on my website.
Rigging aside, Galaxy of Heroes is a character collectible game, and a lot of times I’m in charge of setting up logic for new character abilities using Unity’s PlayMaker. PlayMaker is a visual scripting tool used to control behaviors for character abilities, environments, etc.
At the end of a character’s production, I’ll do a “final tech art pass” on it to check for performance issues in geometry, shaders, animations, texture size, etc.
I fix a lot of bugs! Most of them get pushed because I don’t have enough time to fix them!
A lot of my job relies on being able to communicate with different types of people. I talk a lot with our engineers, designers and artists to align expectations, research, tasks, etc. When I’m talking to engineers, they’ll usually explain things to me differently than an artist would; Sometimes, I have to translate what engineers are saying to artists and vice-versa! I think a good tech artist is very flexible in that sense.
I work a lot in perforce, helping resolve merge conflicts, making sure people are checking in their work in the correct workspace, helping artists setup new workspaces, etc.
I also use our build system (Jenkins) to setup characters in server environments so that our artists can iterate on them.
I write a LOT of documentation!
>> I would like to know what is expected of an entry-level Tech Artist? <<
This depends a lot on what kind of tech artist you are! Usually it requires some coding skills and experience with tool development. But specifics depend a lot on the job posting.
One thing that is universal is having a willingness to learn. Recently during a hiring discussion, I made the case that the mark of a good tech artist is not whether or not they know something, it’s how fast they can learn it.
I gave myself as an example: 2 months ago I wasn’t comfortable using PlayMaker at all, but circumstances in our studio pushed me to learn it as fast as possible so our team wouldn’t be late on deliveries.
If someone asks you something you don’t know, don’t lie! Be honest and say you don’t know, but make it clear you are interested in learning it.
When I’m in that position, instead of saying, “I don’t know how to do X ☹”, I always say “I don’t know how to do X yet!”
When it comes to students trying to break into the industry, my philosophy is that you should always strive for the best you can: do not compare yourself to other students and settle for less.
At the end of the day, you are competing with other tech artists in the industry, and companies will not give you that much of a break just because you are a student; many of my college peers and I learned that the hard way in our senior year.
You are already ahead of the game since you’re only a freshman and already asking these questions, good for you!
As far as I can tell, you seem interested in procedural pipelines. That’s awesome! Take a look at Anastasia Opara’s work, it seems to be right up your alley!
Let me know if you have any peers interested in Tech Art, or just send them my way! I love helping students, I know it’s a difficult time.