Fresh TA looking for advice regarding expanding my skills set


#1

Hello TAO,

I’d like to ask your opinion about on what should I focus my personal/career growth.
I’d the kind of guy that starts a lot of stuff but hard to finish or focus on one, so maybe getting some help from you will help me be more focused.

Some context/background:
Background in QC/QA, self learned 3D and eventually ended up in TA role after problem fixing/firefighting in general studio wide issues. (p4v, max/maya, tools, engines etc).
Since I always want to improve and learn new things I’m having troubles figuring out what will be the best in the long run, focusing more on expanding knowledge in another DCC package other than 3dsMax (I’m conflicted between Maya and Blender) or focusing on more technical (Houdini or improving Python).
Recently started looking into Python and managed to get some basic scripts up to help with some repetitve work during our closing of the project, I start to like it more and more but not sure if i will ever be great at it.

Current tool set and experience

  • Python: 1/5
  • Unreal: 2/5
  • 3ds Max 4.5/5
  • MaxScript 1/5
  • Maya 1/5
  • Blender 0/5
  • Substance pack 2/5
  • Houdini 0/5

I know this is a very broad and subjective question but hoping will get some insights.

Thanks!


#2

From a purely careerist perspective, being able to demo work in both Max and Maya is very useful. Blender is still not common enough that having in on your resume makes a difference.

Another question to consider is how you want to focus your career. I don’t think there’s a solid consensus on exactly how many kinds of TAs there really are, but on a very general level you have people who specialize in tools and pipelines, in animation (rigging and technical anim) , in graphics (shaders and effects); there are plenty of interesting ways to combine these subsets but on a crude, industry level perspective I think that’s a fair summary.

If you are down the tools/pipeline route you want to improve knowledge of DCC tools and your skills as a programmer, so presumably Python since it’s useful in and out of particular DCCs. Houdini will be a good addition here, but from a getting-hired perspective you’ll still see more people using Max|Maya as a filter for now.

If you’re in the animation space there’s room to go deep on 3d math, rigging tech and also in C++ dev since so much top-end rigging work requires custom code for performance (especially in film /TV). There’s also a lot of work to do in UI/UX. If you’re in animation it’s particularly important to be conversant with Maya, there’s just more jobs in animations support in Maya.

If you’re in the shader/fx space there’s a lot to learn – at the very least you should brush up on 3d math and learn to write shaders with HLSL or some equivalent (GLSL, etc). Node base shaders are a good handholding tool but serious work will outgrow them.

You might be able to make a case for a fourth specialty supporting modelers and world artists – that would be a place where Houdini and Substance both come in handy. However if you go that route you might want to also brush up on actual modelling skills – production folks tend to be very suspicious of procedural magic, and demonstrating that you know what really top notch art is like and can make it by hand gives you some clout when you demo your cool new procedural solutions.


#3

As for never being great at Python, I would not sell yourself short. I started out doing what you did. Basically, I had some really boring tasks that I didn’t want to do, so I automated them. Granted, at the time, I was using Perl and tcsh, but programming is programming.

I have been using Python for around ten years, and I still find out things about the language that surprises me. That’s because it’s a healthy language that is used by a wide variety of people. I would just continue to plug away at programming and try to tackle bigger and bigger challenges. As you become more comfortable with Python, you might want to look at other languages.

Good luck!


#4

Hello

Thank you @Theodox for taking your time for such a thorough reply, super useful!
Have one question regarding one of your answers on DCC tools:

From a purely careerist perspective, being able to demo work in both Max and Maya is very useful. Blender is still not common enough that having in on your resume makes a difference.

You mean having Blender on my resume will make a difference or not? the phrasing makes it a bit unclear for me.

As for never being great at Python, I would not sell yourself short. I started out doing what you did.

@cspears2002 Thanks! I do enjoy solving problems and it does feel super rewarding figuring out python scripts that save a lot of time, will definitely continue improving.

Thanks both for the awesome replies!


#5

Right now Blender is not a hiring criterion for most jobs – it’s great to know but if you’re only worried about the job search, Max and Maya are the things employers care about most. In VFX/.film there’s more Cinema4D (especially in Europe). Houdini is catching on fast


#6

Great breakdown by Theodox on different disciplines within TA!

I would add that being comfortable with databases will serve you well, especially in a pipeline capacity. postGreSQL, shotgun, filemaker are all databases I’ve seen used in production and it’s looking like big data is only going to play bigger roles in CG production. Managing big data sets will be a useful skill.


#7

When this topic comes up at the GDC round tables, the general consensus on technical skills is at the minimum:

  • Experience with at least one standard DCC app (Maya / Max)
  • Experience with at least one programming / scripting language (Python, C#, mel, MaxScript, C/C++, etc…)
  • Experience with some kind of game editor toolkit (Unity3d, UE4, Frostbite, etc…)

The other big ones are the soft skills

  • Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Self motivating

From there its all about targeting one (or more?) of the broader categories that @Theodox mentioned above. The real trick is not spreading yourself too thin, but also still being familiar enough with all the realms of TA-ness that you can still jump in and help on a problem even if it isn’t from your immediate wheelhouse.