What types of technical artists are there, and how do they structure their education?

-Translating vague ideas into projects, then fields to study? In a field somewhat of a subcategory within both technology and art itself, what questions do you ask yourself to find out what technical artist you want to be?

Coming from a high school background, I vaguely discovered the title of technical artist on a desperate whim from behind the scenes documentaries on cartoons, and still lack substantial knowledge on it’s facets.

Truthfully, I was already being pushed into pursuing technology and throwing animation to be something I did on my free time, but frequently underwent burnout and lacked tangible progress. I didn’t feel anything for the traditional software products of websites and apps and had no ideas for them when the problems I felt motivated to solve were related to visuals and storytelling in cinema. I don’t mean to burden this post with personal anecdotes, but the uncertainty I wanted to express was the idea that i felt my goals were still too specific to be a technical artist, much less a programmer, as I figured that the people who program for movies or make software used for the 2d and 3d pipelines had a prerequisite passion in the process of problem solving for software regardless of what said software was, happening to have landed jobs requiring software engineering for traditional cinematic production rather than a specific desire to invent tools for these fields would be too niche of a fire to fuel. I didn’t like games, I didn’t feel the accomplishment of seeing a social app come to fruition or simply seeing a problem get solved, but the invention of cameras, drawing tablets and computer graphics sounded interesting? How did the study of computers grow to provide another medium for animation? This is another silly analogy, but I’m not sure I have the terminology to describe this well at this aspirational stage. These felt more co-incidental, that these were things made by ‘real’ inventors that happened to be useful for artists.

While I’ve learnt this to be false, as I try to find any sort of experience for ‘technical art’ I find myself in roadblocks of what I will and won’t need to learn on a technical basis, much less what I can create.

-Getting the right experience for your goals?
In general discussions of learning programming, besides learning the theory from computer science, you got better by creating projects related to the field you wanted to work in. In technical art, I didn’t know what that would be a good place to start.
For example, I was told that pursuing game development was at least a field where graphics were relevant but as I tried to get experience I felt I was filling more boots than I needed, as the experience of making a game would call upon more game developer specific topics such as game mechanics, and truthfully I didn’t want to be designing the functionality of an inventory system.

I tried to stick more directly to my previous ideas and try learning scripting for traditional animation/art software, but got overwhelmed with the concepts of API when I couldn’t even say I understood a language, thinking that there would still be too big of a gap having a curriculum be computer science videos online and but when I tried to think of projects I could do within source languages, I struggled to make even a bouncing ball loop with c++ and SDL2.

A big stressor is combining all of my studies for projects, as my parents load me with math courses to be competitive for a traditional CS program and say the real programming can begin once I’m in college so I should just study, but will I even know what to program in college? I’m caught in a time and knowledge limbo as I’m not even sure what programs to make using API I don’t understand, I have little chances of using the math formulas I’m cramming for tests into some automated pattern for a mesh, and even this is an ignorant simplification of how I think technical artists use math. I haven’t even had the possibility to console what order technical artists develop their skills and their relevance in the jobs of various technical artists.

While this has grown to be a big question, from the experience level of a high schooler who just wants to find out the careers and studies of the people who study the technology for visual storytelling?

I’m going to link back to another post that aggregated some links from a similar set of questions.

But my primary advice is don’t stress yourself out trying to learn everything at the outset identify what the fundamentals are for where you want to end up. If you want to do programming, math, logic and some basic coding skills are the best ways to be able to hit the ground running.

If long term Tech-Art is place you want to be, you’ll need to work some time in there to actually learn you some Art skills. You don’t need to go deep on these, but you’ll want to go fairly broad, basically be an aggressive dabbler, this serves you well because 1) you’ll understand the existing pipelines and workflows well enough to identify spots to improve and 2) it allows you to learn the language, so that you have a common ground when speaking to your eventual customers (artists).

But most importantly what you want to cultivate for yourself is the ability to learn in the first place. Because one thing I’ve found in my decade+ of TA work is that I am constantly put in a situation where I have to learn a new task, a new tool or a new codebase.

1 Like

Hi Apple, Instead if regurgitating a video I already created, just check out the video: https://youtu.be/y8IbCWAHdtk. I think it will answer your querry. Please get back if you have any additional questions.

Cheers

1 Like

The essence of this field is actually continuing education. You’re never “done.”

The tech artists title covers a lot of ground. The only thing we all share is willingness to learn – or, when necessary – to invent the tools that help us solve the problems which confront us. Sometimes it’s a clever piece of tech, and sometimes it’s a clever piece of artistry which just sidesteps a tech problem. Sometimes its serious engineering and sometimes it social engineering. The fun and challenge of tech art it is that it’s a big bundle of poorly defined problems dumped out on the table for a bunch of folks who like figuring stuff out.

Good programming practice and solid math skills are very useful tools in the problem solving toolkit. However most of us don’t compete directly with our engineer colleagues. They specialize in closed-form problems, we are there to deal with more ambiguous challenges.

In a lot of ways we’re a microcosm of games or film production as a whole – we do a little bit of everybody else’s jobs because we’re the ones who tend to tie the disparate pieces together. Our meta-skill is acquiring skills on the fly; somehow or other I started out as a modeler and texture artist but have ended up doing stuff like sql databases, custom electronics and machine learning alongside shader programming and tools – but I’m still fond of cracking open Maya and busting out a model or doing a little game when I can. This is a field which rewards tinkerers.

So – it is what you make it; there’s not a set formula (the other thing we all share is a tendency to argue at length about “what is technical art”).

I know this is a bit of a non-answer. The fact is there’s not a single agreed-on path to the field, or a single job description, or even a consensus on whether you can learn the skills in school or if you have to pick them up by experience. Tech art education is still very much in flux, it’s only begun to really solidify in school curricula in the last 4-5 years and so far there are no slam-dunk TA diplomas which guarantee the holder a job. It remains a wild-west field.

So – welcome to the club. And it is a club, not an Ivy League school – we’ll take anybody who wants to hang out with us.

4 Likes