Creative Assembly’s Jodie Azhar, technical art director on the Total War franchise, explains the core skills needed to become a technical artist and the variety of tasks it comprises.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work?
I’m the technical art director for the Total War series at Creative Assembly. This involves looking after the technical art team who support and enable artists to get their desired visuals for all the Total War games. We work closely with the graphics programming team to ensure visuals render correctly in game, we help create new in-game systems for art and animation and also streamline art pipelines to improve the speed and quality of creating art while reducing potential for bugs.
Part of my role as a director is having an overview of what each project wants to do with its art and ensure improvements in the engine and tools my team creates work for as many projects as possible in order to have a big impact for the artists and on the quality of all the games we release.
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job?
Most technical artists will have a degree in an art or programming related subject. Technical art is becoming an ever more common role, with more studios hiring people to focus on this exciting area between art and technology. However, while entry-level positions for technical artists do exist, they don’t occur as frequently as most other art roles and are often only found in large studios. Technical artists often start in an art production role where they gain hands-on experience with the art creation process and working with other artists. This helps develop their understanding of how artists think and what their processes are in a work environment.
In this role at a larger studio, you’ll rarely make any art that goes into the game, but everything you do will influence some part of the final visuals. In smaller studios there may not be a specific technical artist role, so projects will rely on artists having some technical knowledge to get their art working in game, creating positions that are both hands-on in creating art and solving technical problems. Experienced technical artists are very sought after, so if you have an interest in this area and game development experience there are always job opportunities available.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for?
It’s difficult to specify exact requirements for all technical artist vacancies because different game projects pose different challenges. However, there are four skills required for every technical artist. Problem solving is the core of our role, so candidates need to demonstrate that they can identify problems and describe how they would solve them. Teamwork: we need to be able to work with others in a range of different roles to identify and solve problems. Understand the creation pipeline in at least one area of game art – we need to understand artists, how they think and their processes when creating art in order to make solutions that make sense to artists. Know a programming or scripting language – we use this to build tools to support artists.
What opportunities are there for career progression?
Technical art is a really versatile area of game development. You can specialise in a particular area such as animation simulation, mesh manipulation, pipeline development, or texture generation, to name just a few. Or you can gain knowledge in multiple areas of art and work on a variety of problems.
Technology is constantly evolving so new challenges will always arise, making the job exciting and engaging. Each company will have different challenges, so it’s possible to find a studio or project that matches your interests and allows you to continually learn and grow. For those who love collaboration, being a technical artist is a role that allows you to create something greater than you could alone by working with others.