Can this Technical Arts program from BCIT be a good choice for starting a new career path?

Currently I am working in a 20 people mobile game team as an Assistant Lead Artist. As a next step in my career I wanted to go more into the technical side and have been accepted to Technical Arts program from British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). I was wondering if this is a correct move, the program will cost about $11,000 (15,000 CAD) everything included. BCIT Technical Arts program will last a year with full-time studies on weekENDS only, which would allow me to continue working full-time.

During that program I will learn Python, Maya scripting, Houdini basics, Substance, Unreal. Projects will include a procedural terrain generator, top down shooter game (in unreal), a character taken from concept art to modeling, texturing, rigging, and animating, an autorigger for construction vehicles, a script that creates a folder structure that allows importing and publishing assets, UI that animates objects based on music, UI for applying materias and connecting the nodes, a destruction scene in Houdini.

On my work I have tried making shaders with node system creators as well as writing them (from tutorials). I do a lot of simple pipeline stuff, like creating environments in Unity and setting up assets so they work in the game. Lead work takes a lot of my time and we are not as large of a company to really need any automation tools. I have never programmed in Python or C, but I am pretty confident I can learn it on my own if need be. The main purpose for me for this program is to get some contact with the industry (teachers are current tech artists) and spend my weekend the most effective way.

It seems the prolific idea about tech art is that you should learn it on your own, and I wonder if it could be as effective as going to such a program.

So from the 2c that I can offer, the answer is that “It depends”

The big question that you should ask yourself is How do you learn best? and Why do you want to learn it?

Do you want to learn something because you saw a job description that needed a laundry list of requirements? Or in your work have you identified a need to solve a problem, and that is going to be solved by learning tech x or Y? like they are both valid reasons but maybe a course like that isn’t the best answer to what you’re trying to achieve.

If it is because you want some kind of formal credit? I can say pretty comfortably that no educational credit has ever landed me a job, and it’s through examples of my work that people have been able to assess my worth as a potential candidate.

I think it’s also somewhat of a misconception that you think that technical artists have to learn for themselves. It’s more of a legacy issue that there really was never great Tech art specific training available to most people. And maybe too, t’s more of a personality type of tech artist that I see a lot, as it’s usually the people that are driven by solving problems, which leads to investigating problems, which leads to trying to solve a lot of problems, and failing A LOT, and then learning something new.

This is a very long winded way of saying that if you feel like it will help you, then like most forms of study, you will get out what you put into it. I have done university courses and also private tuition for specific skills as I needed them. A lot of the time too I learn entirely from scratch. The constant for me is that there was a skill hole I had, so I went to fill it. If this solves your problems, then go for it!

I’d def agree that it depends how you learn best.

I certainly needed to go to my course to get a good basis for things (as I was coming straight out of no where, no programming or art really other than some high school classes)

I agree with most of the stuff from LoadedDice for sure. There’s lots of stuff to learn and I’d really say it depends on what “branch” of Tech Art you want to get into as well.

One thing I would most certainly say is that you have a good opportunity while being in a company and even if you didn’t go to a course to pick up TA skills, you could “try” to use some time there to check into things. Try building a little tool or some scripts to fix some holes in a pipeline you have or just to get in the mindset of “how can I make this take less time”. If you have access to a TA in the company I’d say give them a shout and see if they’d be willing to chat about stuff (I know I love trying to convert artists to the TA-Side :stuck_out_tongue: )

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Hi Tamara, Joining this conversation late.

Ooops - accidentally hit the ‘return’ key. Anyway, it seems you are already doing TA type work with your company. This is great! Get into the habit of creating a tool for any task you do more than twice.

There are 5 areas where a technical artist can focus: Pipeline, Rigging, lighting/materials/shader writing, VFX and the mythical generalist. Your program is preparing you to be a generalist which is fine because they want to prepare you for any of the 4 other areas where you might end up. Also you may not know where you want to specialize, (You get to play in all the areas!). However, NO ONE is a generalist out of school, unless you start your own company. Generalist are those rare individuals who did pipeline for a handful of years, then rigged, wrote shaders and then did VFX. Generalists usually have 12-20 years of professional experience.

If you want to continue doing lead type work and facilitating the pipeline, then you probably don’t need the generalist approach and your time would be better suited studying python and leadership and using your skills to make for a stronger, faster, leaner art production environment.

While it is true a TA should be able to learn anything and everything on their own in order to get the job done, having a program, like the one you have, will help speed up the process and make your learning more efficient and focussed. There are no task related skills the program can teach you couldn’t learn off the internet. However, when you’re on your own, you don’t know the order, sequence or progression of learning. Nor do you have the holistic perspective to understand how everything fits together. This is where a program can really help. Plus, you will have a support staff to go to immdediately whenever you have questions. Which is like always.

To answer your question directly: if you love your company and are going to stay with them for a long time, improve your Python, tool building and leadership skills. If you just love tech art and you know you are going to be doing it for a long time, then your program is probably the best bang for your buck.

The other axis to consider is how long the payback period would be. A degree is useful if you’re just interested in learning for its own sake. If you’re looking at it as an economic proposition, however, it’s basically a way of helping you land the first or perhaps a second job – after that, people hiring you will be far more interested in your work history.

So, if you expect to see a noticeable pay bump by switching to TA work, paying for the course makes sense. If the gap is smaller you might want to consider the cost and how long it will take to make back the initial outlay in the form of higher earnings later.

If you can get your current employer to subsidize your learning – a lot of companies will do that formally or informally – that’s the best option of all, they get value from your new skills and you get a more valuable position with your current company. It’s often a good deal for both parties. Another option is to get into a training program within an area company – I think EA Vancouver has something like this. The tech art director for EA Vancouver is often on the slack, you might try asking there to see if they have any programs which make a good fit.

In the end, though, a couple of TA jobs on the resume matter more than a school credential, no matter how good.

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Thank you everyone for your advice! After a lot of consideration, I have decided to go with the program after all. I think it would be beneficial to study on weekends and learn something new, while working full time would allow me to dive deeper into real application on the job (@Tool ) . I will see what the program has to offer in the first trimester, and judge if I want to continue it from there.

I am not going into it to get a formal qualification. I will continue learning stuff online and in addition go to this program. Hopefully this would give me a clearer and straighter path for learning (@RudeyPunk).

@LoadedDice I agree that people who like to investigate problems are the ones that are more driven to this industry, and I think I will try to dig deeper myself into the concepts and tasks on the course.

@Theodox from what I gathered about wages in the industry, it seems like technical artists are paid generally more than 3d artists, about on par with lead artists or more. Of course as a junior tech artist it would probably mean I would need to be flexible with my salary expectations, however in a ‘long run’ of 2 years based on my estimations it should pay off.

I love learning, and am very excited to start the program! This is definitely a turning point in my career and I am looking forward to get some challenging problems to solve, haha. Thank you everyone for your advice!

If anyone would like to keep in touch, feel free to reach out to me via https://www.linkedin.com/in/tjorlova/

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Good luck, and don’t hesitate to ask for advice here or on the slack channel as things come up.

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