Project Development vs Personal Development


#1

Hi,
I’ve been a TA for 5 years, currently working on a mobile projects that has me in Unity 80% of the time and Maya 10%. Primarily working on C# code, occasional shader work, and general implementation of art odds and ends/ VFX’s. I started out doing rig, cloths sims, and ragdolls on a pc title for a year and a half before the studio transition to mobile. As the project pressure slows down I have some time allocated for training, but I have been struggling to pick a topic. What I would like to look into is not what the project’s needs. Just Looking for general advice or thoughts.

Project Development needs:
• Shaders: I know enough to read and edit them, but there are some core fundamentals that could be stronger.
• Unity 2018: Getting familiar with all new features and what could be useful for that art team going forward.
• C#: studying more C# best practices and coding patterns
• UI and 2D mastery: getting more familiar with unity UI systems
• Perf / Graphical engineering: my studio has been without a graphics engineer for a couple of years and tech art has been doing the best it can, while holding down other responsibilities.

Personal Development Options:
• Catching up to industry standers on rigging, (facial, muscle deformers, texture blending)
• Maya Tool development/ python training (QT, Maya API, Pipeline refinement) I’ve built a few but it has been a while.
• Unity Tool development: I built a few unity tools early on in the projects but production needs have kept me away from this area.
• Catching up on current industry standers of art production and pipeline (Zbrush, Substance, Houdini)

The problem with the “project development” options are I feel pulling me more away from tech artist and more into tech designer territory. I just feel like I’m falling behind industry standards due to prioritizing the project’s needs.

Thanks for reading and looking forward to replies and thoughts.


#2

It sounds like you have a good understanding of the tensions you’re trying to navigate.

The two things to think about in this context are (a) how much do you want to tie yourself to Unity? and (b) how much do you care about being a TA in particular, vs doing what you do?

It’s always tough to balance the needs of a particular place, which often don’t travel well, and the needs to make yourself more broadly useful so you have a more portable career. You might want to think about how willing you are to move: if you’re in a city with lots of employment options, then you might be able to cultivate a reputation as a guru in some narrow field, particularly if you get out and socialize with other local TAs. If you’re in more of an outpost situation, where changing jobs means moving, you might need to focus on breadth first because you’ll want a broad safety net of options if you decide to move on.

If you want to be a Unity specialist, then looking into Unity tools dev might be a good place to start – it’s a place where you can help your artists be more productive while also learning more about the handshake between DCC tools and Unity so you can keep your out-of-unity skills in shape. Or you could flip the emphasis and spend more time on the Maya side with enough Unity to make good use of your cool ideas; that’d be a better play if you were thinking about non-Unity jobs in the future. So much of TA these days is about tools dev that doing either end of the pipeline there can’t hurt your resume.

Learning how to do proper graphics profiling is a big one, and a very worthwhile skill. It will be very hard to pick up on your own, however, most people pick it up by working closely with a graphics engineer. If there’s no inhouse expertise it probably will not be an efficient use of your time, even though it’s a very worthy subject.

And of course, everybody’s learning Houdini these days. It’s just going to be a year or more before it actually benefits anybody but you. However making the investment will probably be good for your resume down the road.


#3

Thanks for the feedback. It gave me a lot to think about.

I still would like to be a Tech Artist, building pipeline and in engine tools to help the art team. I like the Unity engine but I’m always willing to be flexible to a projects demands. I starting to think general will help me in the long run.

Thanks Again.
-JXM


#4

In my experience most people can develop deep knowlege in 2 areas, while being more generalist in everything else. Pick 2 areas that interest you and that will stay around for the near future. Generally I see 3 big categories where people fall into: people tying themselves to an engine, people who do DCC tools and pipeline and people who go into animation, rigging and related topics. There may be cross overs but there are also options that may not work out - for example being a Python programming wizard with deep real-time optimization knowledge. That’s just an impossible track for learning.

Also, I advise every tech-artist to learn about management - at least to the degree to professionally manage themselves and their own time. But likely you will end up managing others - e.g. interns, juniors, or even your own team at some point.
As tech-artist you are also in a unique position of understanding art, tech, and the pipeline as a whole - very few people have that overview! Many producers who should have it, lack art and tech skills. They can talk to discipline leads, but the leads’ picture will be focused on their own teams’ needs. But you as tech-artist, especially with a pipeline focus, can see the bigger picture. There are calls only you can make. You have to understand how to prioritize those issues, how to communicate them, and how they affect production as a whole, especially in regards to time constraints and game quality requirements.
I think some basic production understanding is valuable for any tech-artist who wants to take a pro-active approach to their job.