Film specific tech art courses/resources, finding time to focus on theory?

Hello, at the moment I have been lost. In a silly way, I let my focus on becoming a tech artist take me away from animating and 3d modelling, and so I had no ideas after I finished a programming language tutorial for example, I had no clue how to lead myself. I also felt anxious diving into theory such as vector math and trying to apply it to a graphics language such as opengl as it felt I was being spread too thin, I am barely entering the intermediate phase of a traditional animator in the 2d or 3d pipeline, now I don’t know how long it will take me to understand vector math and what projects I would even apply it to in the 3d or 2d animation pipeline. It felt like there was so much to learn but I was not getting any closer to qualifying for any position to then fund my studies further. For tech artists, how do you feel assured that you know what path/what job title you are working for, while also finding time to just immerse yourself in theory without worry? For me it feels like the former must come before the latter, but when it feels there’s no line in the sand to say “this path will take me to being a tech artist, programmer or general animator in the animation pipeline” but I’m not sure how to let go of the uncertainty when studying in order to properly immerse yourself in abstract material without an application yet, my stress ends up short staffing my studies whether for pure theory or applications, when I worry I can’t study freely like a child anymore and have to make sure that my studies lead to a job somewhat. How does a tech artist clearly define their curriculum so they don’t feel all over the place when learning and not worrying if the theory is “irrelevant” because they know where they’re going?

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There are so much stuff to know and so much different subjects to learn that you can be certain of this: nobody knows everything.

My way is to learn stuff as I stumble upon it:

  • Find a problem you want to fix
  • Study the problem. What’s the cause?
  • What way can you think of to fix it, just with what you know?
  • Can you find other peoples with the same problems on the internet? What can you learn from their experience?

With all this, try to find a way to fix your problem. Chances are, you won’t have the perfect solution (it’s fine, you are a junior) but you probably learnt some stuff in the way: maybe you needed some vector maths, or to learn how to create a quick UI.
Repeat the process while making sure you remember what you learned, and everything’ll be ok.

Another good thing to do is to keep doing some artistic work on the side which use your talents: rather than just learning vector maths heory by heart, try to actually create something with vectors. Launch houdini, create two points, and play with their normals and position: that’s appplied vector maths, and it’ll alow you to understand vectors way more than if you were just reading a maths book.

Approaches to learning the trade are discussed in the thread What do tech artist paths often look like in postsecondary school?

I transitioned from animator to tech artist over the course of my career. I would be surprised If most of us here did not do the same. I found time to learn as I worked. I used my technical (and google) skills to solve actual workplace problems as they came up and at some point I was able to declare myself a technical artist. The key pivot for me was when I learned enough to package up my problem solving scripts as tools with buttons that could be passed out to other artists on my team.

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Thank you for responding, and I apologize for the late response. I wanted to ask a question about then how to sequence your learning so you don’t feel overwhelmed- oftentimes I may try to watch a beginner graphics tutorial, but it’s geared towards a different field such as game development, and I set it aside because I think I don’t have the time to be making games when my animation portfolio is not developed enough, and I certainly don’t stand a chance against people specializing in game development, feeling spread too thin to give any time to the tutorial. The question would then be to focus on developing my animation skills and portfolio that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable learning new things because I am already hirable, but does this point of confidence to dive into theory ever come, or the time?

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In my case, the sequence of learning was driven by a combination of on the job needs and natural curiosity . I spent the first decade and a half of my career as an animator / illustrator, but over time found opportunities and excuses to apply scripting skills. It was never really about finding confidence for me, I simply wanted to know how the stuff worked, and pursued that when I got a chance. Since I was already working, there was little opportunity cost, and I occasionally tooled up something that improved art productivity, so my employers were ok with it.

Studio size has a bearing on chances to learn and grow too. I started out in small studios where broad ( yet shallow ) technical art generalist skills are an asset, and opportunities to talk to more skilled programmers and learn are more frequent. Cinematic and large game studios can afford specialists, and have less opportunities to stretch out apply tech art skills, and the chance to interact with and learn from more technical departments may be less.

It’s unclear to me whether you’re studying on a (eg. university) course for 2D / 3D animation or working as an animator, and doing addition tech art related learning…? I’ve found in the workplace there are problems to solve within the scope of the limited tech art skills I had at first. A mentor and creative focus coach of mine makes the point that adult learning often works best with just-in-time learning that you can apply immediately. I observed that tended to be the case for me, that I’d studied some topics but not had any real-world application for them and over time forgot bits I’d learned, but other skills I’d learned and then applied, they stuck a lot better and often led to more learning and application of skills build on those earlier ones.

Try to find mindsets and techniques to ease your worries and anxiety. There’s a lot in life that can’t be controlled, including predicting whether study X will lead to job Y.

Having said that, technical skills are so in demand there is a much higher chance of anything you learn in the field being sought-after and leading to on-the-job opportunities to exercise those skills and maybe new job opportunities more in line with tech art ambitions. So there’s less grounds to feel anxiety than if you had your heart set on portrait painting or aesthetic colour theory or making comics.

Would it be so bad if your path takes you to being an animator or modeller for a few years and then into technical art further downstream? Sometimes there are a lot of outcomes that are actually good but we worry about choosing the right one. Maybe there are several “right” outcomes. Sometimes the outcome we want happens and it turns out to have lots of drawbacks we didn’t know about before. We can’t control these things, but we can make decisions that affect the likelihood of future opportunities. It can be a long game over the course of years, so I think it’s important to enjoy the journey.