Who Technical Artist Is and Why Your Dev Team Needs this Role

Today, I would like to draw your attention to a very specific position on a development team - technical artist. The technical artist is a new concept and role in the IT industry. The term is used very broadly and normally means a specialist who fills the gap between tech and art. This specialist doesn’t have to be creative, work with existing art, modify or optimize it. Ideally, he or she has some experience writing some code and know how to model and texture 3D assets.

A technical artist will most likely be required on your team if you develop games (such as real-money games, social, casual, shooter, or any game in general) or applications with rich UI, like social games. When you don’t have a technical artist, other specialists on your team have to do tech art tasks. Our experience proves that it is not the most efficient way. In fact, we used to begin most of our projects without technical artists and were convinced to add them only after failing delivery due to quality or scheduling issues. So, in an effort to avoid such issues, we now prefer to start game-related projects with a technical artist on the team.

Technical Artist in Dev Team

Of course, if your team is small and you have a limited budget, you can do without a technical artist – it will be too expensive in this case, and, as previously mentioned, developers or artists with the appropriate skills can do the job. However, if you have a big project, or have a lot of games on your roadmap, a technical artist will save you money and time by freeing up the developers’ time.

When the technical artist role became an integral role in our game development teams, we tried to understand who fits this position and what skills are mandatory or desired. We asked ourselves many questions regarding technical artists. What type of person are we looking for to fill this position? What skills are mandatory? And, why can’t we just have our artists or developers complete tech art tasks?

After about six months of projects, we found our answers. (A big thanks goes out to Stanislav Pelevin, Gamedev Project Manager, who was the driving force behind this process and to all of the technical artists and their efforts.)

Based on our experiences with HTML5 casino and games, as well as Unity and educational games, we’ve compiled a list of our “must-have” skills for technical artists. This may differ depending on your projects, but we believe the skills to look for are:

  • 2D art drawing (Photoshop).
  • 2D animation (Adobe Animate, Spine, Adobe After Effect).
  • 3D modeling and animation.
  • Integration, including static art, animation, text, particles, etc.; resources optimization.
  • HTML/CSS coding.

In a few words, a technical artist is a person who:

  • Prepares his/her own art or takes it from an artist.
  • Makes animation from scratch or updates the existing one.
  • Integrates art and animation into the game/app and optimizes the resources.
  • Creates/updates “static” pages or screens.

So here is the main question – Why do you need a dedicated technical artist for these tasks? And, why can’t you have your artists or developers complete them? Of course, you can, but skills and motivation will be a trade-off in this situation.

In regard to skills, technical artists are just more competent in these areas than artists or developers and, consequently, more effective. This means that they spend less time on the same tasks and have fewer defects, which results in a customer paying less. The financial benefit is obvious and definitely a plus here.

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In regard to motivation, do you really believe that artists want to do animation in Animate or Spine? Or that they want to optimize art to be used in an app? As our experience shows – no. Furthermore, if you assign this kind of task to an artist, he/she will argue, find reasons to put this on hold or do anything to postpone or skip the task. Do you believe that qualified developers want to spend their time on this kind of task? Or do HTML coding? I would say no to both.

Many may ask: “What about Agile and cross-functional teams?” And this is an absolutely right question to ask. A team becomes cross-functional when you have a technical artist on board. Because if other team members are not flexible with their time, or as versatile in their skills, a technical artist is assigned to complete the task using his/her unique skillset. This is the reason why we do not have just integrators, but why we require our technical artists to be able to cover 2D and 3D art, animation, and HTML/CSS coding.

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