What Is A Technical Artist & What Do They Do?
Have you ever played a video game and felt utterly blown away by the scale, and attention to detail, of the animations and effects?
If you feel compelled to inspire similar reactions in others and possess technical prowess combined with an artistic flair, a career as a technical artist might be for you.
What is a technical artist, we hear you ask?
Put simply, technical artists bridge the gap between artists and programmers during the production of a video game. Their ability to understand and respect the artistic vision plus the technical constraints of a project is what makes them so valuable. At times, their role and responsibilities can stray into, and overlap with, others but their main purpose is to streamline how art is made and put into a video game.
What Kind Of Things Does A Technical Artist Do On A Day-to-Day Basis?
The role of a technical artist is relatively new to the gaming industry.
With that comes subtle nuances in how their main duties and responsibilities have been interpreted by different companies. In general, though, you can expect to undertake some of the following tasks:
- Setting up and maintaining the workflow of art production.
- Deciding which art packages and tools a studio should use.
- Research rendering techniques and implementing them.
- Optimising art to make sure the digital files run efficiently.
- Ensuring designs maintain a high standard of visual quality which includes shader and lighting optimisation.
- Develop custom, in house tools such as shading tools.
- Preparing and/or designing character systems like skeletons, cloths, effect emitters and ragdoll collision.
- Collaborating with environmental artists to optimise gaming worlds.
Technical Artist Salary
The average salary for a technical artist in the UK is roughly £32,000. However, a junior technical artist can expect to start on £25,000 and, as they progress in their career, can peak at around the £46,000 mark.
How To Become A Technical Artist
Technical Artist Skills & Education
As a video game technical artist, you’ll likely fall under one of the following three categories:
1) You’re a video game programmer with some artistic flair and understanding.
2) You’re an artist, first and foremost, with some technical skill and ability.
3) You’re a combination of both.
Either way, most large gaming companies such as EA generally require a technical artist who has at least 2 years experience in the industry. That 2 years should entail both art and programming experience.
More specifically, the kind of expertise that is valued when working as a technical artist includes:
- Proficiency in using 3D graphics software.
- A firm understanding of animation pipelines.
- Skill in areas such as lighting and rendering, texturing, and graphics related programming languages such as shaders.
- Knowledge of art packages ranging from modelling to texturing and special effects
- Detailed knowledge of at least one industry-standard art package, plus an ability to customise art packages.
- Some understanding of C, C++, Python and Lua can be beneficial but is not always a necessity.
Technical Artist Courses & Degrees
People tend to become technical artists having worked in games for several years.
It is a mid-level position that requires some prior experience in the art department of a video game developer. To get into the artistic element of gaming, the following degrees and qualifications act as a good starting point:
- Art and Design
- Fine Art
- Graphic Design
- Computer Science
- Graphic Communication
- Games Animation
- Games Art and Design
Build A Technical Artist Portfolio & Network
When it comes to finding jobs within the gaming industry, it’s important to show off your capabilities to potential employers!
Get to know people in the industry by attending events, conferences and expos. Here, you’ll be able to meet people in this line of work and pick their brain, all the while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the industry.
Who knows, you may just meet someone who can forward you to the right person for a job or internship. If not, at the very least, try and make a good impression and keep in contact in case they come back at a later date with any opportunities.
Look Outside The Gaming Industry
Technical artist roles also exist in industries like animation and VFX.
Even if you’re dead set on working in games, there may be times when you struggle to find any work opportunities. With this in mind, gaining experience as a technical artist in alternative industries can act as a springboard for when the perfect games opportunity presents itself.
Technical Artist Jobs & Internships
At Wired Sussex, we regularly promote career opportunities in the gaming industry, including internships and paid projects, via our jobs board.
Simply enter ‘technical artist’ via the search bar to discover which employers are currently recruiting. Alternatively, if you remain undecided about which route to follow in games, why not read our recent guest post by David Amor (Director at mobile gaming company MAG Interactive) about working in the games industry?