Technical Artist GuidelinesIn 2009 as Lead Technical Artist for Blue Fang Games I crafted a document detailing what would be expected of our Technical Artists, working in feedback from the other Technical Artist and the rest of the studio.
Blue Fang Games
Technical Artist Guidelines
This document is designed:
to help the rest of the studio get the most out of their Technical Artists (TAs),
as a template for judging potential TA hires,
as a guide for how TAs should work on a daily basis,
and to help managers review TA performance.
What is a Technical Artist?
Technical Artists help Artists and Designers get their content into the game with the least pain possible, and help Engineers and Artists communicate fluidly.
If you are an Artist or Designer and you have a problem with your content or your tools, the Lead Technical Artist is the first person you should go to for help. If you're already working with another Technical Artist then certainly continue to do so, but new issues should always go to the Lead, for the quickest solution.
If you are an Engineer designing a new content feature, it's a good idea to solicit feedback from the Lead Technical Artist, for how it will fit into the content pipeline.
Technical Artists at Blue Fang Games are expected to have a common set of core skills, plus some optional elective skills.
Artist Support and Advocacy
- Technical Artists serve as both an advocate for the Art department as well as the bridge between Art and Engineering.
- They must know what a healthy art pipeline "looks like" and must help make sure that content creators have the tools & support necessary to do their jobs.
- Technical Artists are the first line of defense in diagnosing any software problems artists/designers have, and in helping to debug them.
- Continually be on the lookout for technologies that can improve our game content creation process, researching the "next phase" of pipeline development. Evaluate upgrades to DCC software currently in use by artists in the studio, and completely new software packages, with an eye towards keeping the pipeline running smoothly.
- Identifying process bottlenecks and working on eliminating them is something all people on the team should consider a priority.
Optimization & Performance
- Know what healthy art assets look like under the hood. Work with Design, AI, Art Director, and Engineering to develop content creation rules. Document them and if possible include real-world examples.
- Teach best practices for content creation. Enforce, remind, and revise as needed. We don't allow broken code, we shouldn't allow broken content either.
- Develop warning systems for content creators, to inform them ASAP if their content will cause game errors or performance drops. But make sure to design it to avoid tune-out: use a consistent warning UI, show warnings in parallel not serial, prioritize them, make them contextual, etc.
- Review content to make sure it's efficient. Use performance testing tools, develop custom perf tools as needed. Optimize inefficient content, and help content creators learn how to fix it themselves.
- Seek out opportunities to communicate both formally and informally with the team. We need to keep the lines of communication open and easy.
- Periodically solicit feedback from Artists about how their pipelines are going, what areas they might be having trouble with, what is going well, any new tools they've tried recently, "wouldn't it be cool if." etc.
- Periodically check in with Engineers about what tools they are developing, what future systems they are considering, how TAs might help Engineering with their objectives, offer risk/reward assessments for new features, etc.
Experience in Art Disciplines
Technical Artists should have an understanding of each of the major art disciplines. Ideally this knowledge would come from experience in creating art for each discipline. TAs can't provide support or tools unless they understand the process.
- Concepting, designing, prototyping, blockout.
- Modeling: including characters, morphs, props, environments.
- UVing and texturing.
- Rigging and animation: including characters, props, environments.
- Effects and particle systems.
- Lighting and cameras.
- User interface art and animation.
- Be educated about physics best practices, and the Havok physics system.
- Create physics setups.
- Review physics done by others, and fix as needed.
- Educate others in physics best practices.
Technical Artists must be good problem-solvers.
- Identify the problem, including how the problem might intersect with multiple disciplines, what the intended results are, and how the solution will help reduce the complexity of the task.
- Plan possible solutions. Review them with the Lead Technical Artist and the Lead in the affected discipline (Art Director, Lead UI Artist, Lead Animator, Lead Environment Artist, etc.).
- Develop the solution, with an eye to fitting the solution into the current pipeline, reducing the complexity of the artists' tasks, and producing an elegant easy-to-maintain solution (time permitting).
- Test the solution with the Leads. Solicit feedback and revise as needed. The solution cannot be released to the team until the Leads sign off.
- Roll out the finished solution to the team, providing instruction as needed.
Technical Artists should be fluent and comfortable in one or more scripting languages. They should implement code within Blue Fang's coding standards, with an understanding of both Technical Art best practices and Engineering best practices.
- Document tools and production pipelines, both via in-line comments, and via the Blue Fang wiki.
- Wiki contributions should be made throughout the life of a project, when the knowledge is fresh. The resources need to be kept up-to-date.
- Documentation must be readable from an Artist's or Designer's perspective. Images and examples help greatly, as does brevity.
DCC Software Fluency
Technical Artists should be comfortable, preferably fluent, in Blue Fang's core art software packages:
- 3ds Max
- Bug databases (FogBugz, DevTrack)
Technical Artists should elect one or more of these additional disciplines, according to what they want to learn. These are not required for every Technical Artist, though Blue Fang should have at least one TA/Engineer/Artist experienced in each of these disciplines.
- Educated about rigging best practices.
- Educated about the CAT system, Max bones & hierarchies, the Skin modifier.
- Able to rig characters, props, and effects pieces.
- Collaborate with animators to design rigs that best fit their needs.
- Review rigs done by others (animators, other TAs).
- Fix others' rigs if needed.
- Educate others.
- Understand how to speed up slow rigs, simplify complex rigs.
- Refine and communicate performance restrictions, like how many bones we can use.
- Architectural coding
- DCC and tools integration
- Pipeline maintenance and expansion
- Make the whole process as easy as possible for the team.
- Improve the pipeline based on team feedback, and future planned features.
- PC, Wii, 360, Mobile
- Shader optimization (with a rendering engineer)
- Photoshop Batch/Actions
- Palette management
- Asset management
- Dot products
- 3ds Max SDK
- Havok SDK
Further Reading on the Subject
The Code/Art Divide: How Technical Artists Bridge The Gap
A great Gamasutra read about TAs
Next-Gen Content Pipelines: A Study of 1st Party Titles
(powerpoint + audio from Gamefest 2008)
In-depth look at pipelines used by Rare, Ensemble, and Bungie.
Technical Artist job description at your company
Tech-Artists.org thread with TAs dissecting their roles
Growing a Dedicated Tools Programming Team: From Baldur's Gate to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
BioWare tools dev info, great read.
Effective 3D Exporter Design: How to Make Artists Love You
I wish we could schedule the time to do this properly!
A Software Process for Online Game Tools Development
Turbine's system for MMO dev tools.
Technical Artist: The Keeper of the Pipe
Ross Patel's pass on the role of the TA.
Why Game Development Sucks
Software practices vs. game dev practices, some good notes in here.
Game Unified Process (GUP)
A dissection of agile iterative development.
The Development Abstraction Layer
A Joelonsoftware classic. Technical Artists are fundamentally a Development Abstraction Layer for the Artists and Designers.
Written by Eric Chadwick and Ryan McClure for Blue Fang Games, October 29, 2009.