Technically, an Artist

What is a Technical Artist anyway? This is a question I get a lot whenever somebody asks me about my job.

Is it an artist who draws assets? No.
A developer? Not really.
A mythical creature with a unique set of skills? Yes!

As far as I can remember, I always loved learning new things and acquiring new skills. When I was about 10, I started folding origami, later in elementary school I started editing in Photoshop and in high school I got into photography, video editing, juggling, magic tricks and probably a lot more I can’t remember now. By this point, you could say that I have a hobby of collecting hobbies. I even dedicated this whole year to making something new every week (often stuff I have never tried), and I write about it on this blog.

Now is the moment where you ask me what this has to do with the subject.

Well, considering all of this, you can see that I don’t have a tendency to specialize in anything but I’m more of a jack of all trades. 1

In these times, we often feel like we can’t do anything if we don’t pick a niche and master it. Even though I like to be a dreamer of improbable dreams, I started to believe in that.

I was freelancing in web development and searching for a full time job, when a friend suggested that I apply for a Technical Artist position in a company she worked for.

She said “you know Photoshop, you can do it”. Turns out, it had nothing to do with Photoshop, but fortunately it helped convince me.

And it took a lot of convincing, because I looked at the job posting and it had a lot to do with a bunch of stuff I had little or no experience with. Luckily, I got a chance to do a technical test, where I realized I could actually do this. Even though I had very little experience with Unity (mostly just looking into it out of curiosity), I found myself comfortably taking the test. All my previous experiences suddenly came together. All the different software I’ve used made it easy to work in Unity. Keyframe animation that I had done for fun was similar to animation in Unity, programming I learned in university helped me with coding in C# and making and editing assets in Photoshop was a breeze. I even managed to do some basic sound design, which is an area I had no experience in at all. And as you can presume from the fact that I’m writing this post, I completed the test well enough to get this job.

Once I started doing the actual job, I realized that this was a perfect role for someone like me. There is a place for jacks.

The saying we usually connect with is “Jack of all trades, master of none” and it has a negative connotation, but I prefer the full version—“a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

I could try to give some definition of what a Technical Artist is, but the truth is that this role means different things in different companies and their duties could drastically differ. So, what does it mean to be a Technical Artist where I worked? Even though Technical Artists often get mad if you call them animators, a big part of the job is animation. In addition to classic keyframe animation, I also do some animation through code. An important part here is working with legacy code. If you’re not working on a brand new project, you will have to know how to navigate through somebody else’s code. Alongside this, I work with shaders, take care of assets in the engine and many other odd jobs. Also, as we like to say, a Technical Artist is a bridge between art and development. Knowing about both sides, we can efficiently communicate with both.

All this being said, even at the company I worked for, not every Technical Artist has exactly the same duties. This depends on the team you’re in, the project you’re working on, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and a lot of other factors. For example, working on a 2D and 3D project is a whole lot different. The main requirement is to be flexible and be able to learn new things.

As my mentor once said, “A technical artist is not born, they are made”.

This is true, because people usually come to this role either as a developer who knows stuff about animation or an artist who knows something about coding. I happen to come from neither direction but I think that whatever the case is, you need to be able to be flexible and have an approximate knowledge of many things. People sometimes also say that a Technical Artist is the only person who can make a whole game alone. It might not be the best game, but our job often requires knowing a bit about every process of making a game. Well, I don’t deal with backend, but that’s fine with me.

Being a person who enjoys creative work and does a lot of it, I always wanted to be able to call myself an artist. Unfortunately, I know I’m not really one, so it feels really appropriate to at least be one—technically.

  1. Or Goran of all trades you might say


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