What is a technical artist?
Technical artist means something different to every studio. In short, tech artists solve technical problems faced by game developers, usually from an art or animation perspective. In my experience, there are a few categories that tech artists can be divided into: graphics, tools, characters, and vfx. I like to call these the “Tech Art Hats” that tech artists wear. There are a lot of tech artists who are generalists, wearing more than one or all the hats. This is more common in smaller studios, but can occur in large studios depending up the needs of the project. Usually, large studios want to have tech artists who are experts in wearing one of the hats, and can wear other hats as needed to support the team. Support is huge part of being a tech artist. Many have described it as being the bridge between other groups. It’s important for tech artists to understand the art pipeline so they can help artists and look for ways to improve it. It’s also important to know some of the low-level details about how things work behind the scenes, so that you can act as a translator between art and engineering, and also as an advocate for both sides, given that you understand the conversation from multiple perspectives.
Tech Art Hats
I call this hat “graphics” because it’s about more than just shaders. A tech artist focused on graphics should also know how rendering works in order to help artists understand how to achieve the look they want and how to optimize their work. Understanding the fundamentals of how assets become pixels on the screen is also important for assessing and improving performance, as well as interfacing with engineers on current and future graphics features of the engine.
Shaders are programs that receive input about something like geometry and output data about how to render it. There are a few different shaders, but the ones that receive the most attention are the vertex shader and the pixel shader. The vertex shader typically handles data about vertex position, normal, and more, and passes along this data. Once the data reaches the pixel shader, any reasonable number of operations can be executed, but most often in Physically Based Rendering (PBR), the shaders looks at textures to describe the surface of the object.
In order to be real-time, games have to process and render data quickly. Profiling is measuring performance using tools that assess what’s being processed or rendered, what commands were used, and how long it took.
Key Guides for Shaders
- Harry Alisvakis' ShaderQuest covers the basics of shaders in Unity and Unreal.
The Book of Shaders
- Gentle step-by-step guide through the abstract and complex universe of Fragment Shaders.
- This is a great way to interactively learn some of the key concepts and math used in shaders.
- Tutorials and articles of Inigo Quilez on computer graphics, fractals, demoscene, shaders and more.
- Inigo is a font of introductory and deep knowledge about shaders and graphics.
- General reference for HLSL functions and syntax
- This is a great overview of many of the challenges faced in video game art and many of the tools that are used.
- A review of rendering written by a vfx artist
- Interactive article explaining how cameras and lenses work.
- An overview of what happens to a triangle behind the scenes
- Some important math commonly used in game and graphics programming
The rest of this page is a work in progress. I plan to organize a number of resources for different tech arts hats as well as info for tech artists in general.