What is a Technical Artist?

Louai Extended Interview, Professional 0 Comments

I had become a technical artist before I realized they existed. I read about this mysterious new discipline while I was at working on a Nintendo DS game at Scholastic, circa 2006. I had just finished writing a simple XML exporter for Photoshop using ExtendScript and stolen my colleauges copy of Game Developer. An article talked about how very useful this new subclass of artist had become at varying studios.

Basically, they were lazy snobs. And filled with an unsustainable amount of hate that frothed into rage and an occasional bitterness. Anyone that’s done five seconds of game development knows the unbearable amount work there is to do in preparing art assets or coralling transformed data into a game engine. The ignoble tech artist hated doing anything more than once, hated inefficiencies, hated error prone work, and wanted to HULK SMASH any task that wasn’t creative. So…

…did I. In fact, my exporter served to turn Photoshop into a primitive level editor for an oscillating Venn diagram type arcade minigame. I was prompted to write it when a beefy XML document that defined leveling data was dumped on my lap with a request to “Uhh, I think these levels don’t really work and everything past level five makes the DS crash. Can you redesign all 30 levels? And make them fun. And the title goes to manufacturing in two weeks.”

Nothing about this frightened me other than “fun”. Make 30 levels fun? Designing any type of game that’s actually as fun as the marketing claims requires time, iteration, experimentation and creativity. Trying to get to fun while hand defining layout data in a giant XML document was a blackhole of realism. I would have been entirely ecstatic if only half the levels crashed by the ship date. So out came the Photoshop scripting reference and I clobbered together a workflow fast enough for me to design some interesting, fun and unexpected levels.

That’s the essence of the technical artist. Creativity is the pursuit, and technology gets us there faster, easier, with some sanity left to appreciate it. Being creative is uniquely human. So to spend our precious waking hours toiling with a workflow that’s slow, awkward, hateful and stupid, stupid, stupid, turns your crew into zombie misanthropes. Do you really want zombie misanthropes creating your game, movie, tv show?

These man made creatures of the dark are a big part of the reason why 90% of all products in those mediums aren’t fun, entertaining, or unique.

I say no! If you have to cross a gorge with a class VI rapid flowing through it, build a bridge. Don’t go swimming.

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