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Advice for wannabe technical artist's career direction?

kaisla
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kaisla polycounter lvl 4
Hi everyone! Thank you in advance for any advice you may have for me.

I graduated in 2017 with a degree in 3D art, and have been working in mobile game studios ever since, up until 5 months ago when I was laid off due to the company's financial difficulties. I have reached that awkward stage where I can't really apply for junior positions, but I also don't think I'm skilled enough for job postings for intermediate artists.

I'm a little unsure what to do in both short and long term to help advance my career goals. Ideally, in the future I would like to learn more about technical art, particularly Python/C++, rigging, and making things look pretty in Unity and Unreal, whatever that entails? While maintaining a strong foundation in 3D modeling, texturing, all that. However, right now my knowledge in all areas of technical art is rather elementary, so I imagine I'm better off looking for 3D artist positions while continuing to learn.

Are my career goals too broad? Or too narrow? I'm based in Finland, where most studios make mobile games, but we also have a few AA and AAA studios that make PC and console titles. The reason I mention this is that I'm really unsure about how wide range of skills I need to have a stable career; with most studios being smaller in size, generalists tend to be valued over specialists.

So what I really need advice in is 1) defining my career goals better, 2) what steps to take in long term to reach those goals, and 3) what to do right now to help me find a new job. Either in Finland or anywhere else in Europe, probably UK/Germany, with end goal of working in Finland after some years. What does my portfolio need right now, and what should I focus on in long term?

Here is my current portfolio: https://www.artstation.com/katisalminen

Thank you!

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  • Meloncov
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    Meloncov greentooth
    First, you can totally still apply to junior level positions. Applying to junior positions is completely reasonable if you've got less than two years experience.

    As for tech art, you're probably not focusing tightly enough. I know smaller studios like generalists, but it's better to be good at one thing than bad at several. At least initially, I'd focus on rigging or pipeline tools in Python or shaders or proceduralism (Houdini, SpeedTree, etc.).
  • kaisla
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    kaisla polycounter lvl 4
    Thanks for the reply! I thought about it a lot today and you're right, I should probably look at junior positions. It might look a bit funny on my CV to go back to a junior position, but I think it's ultimately the right choice.
    I'll also need to think more about the tech art stuff.... I really enjoy rigging but realistically, it won't be very important for small studios. So probably focusing on shaders would be the best bet at this point. Thank you!
  • poopipe
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    poopipe high dynamic range
    don't get too hung up on 'junior' as a grade - different studios use different words and have different criteria for reaching different grades. If the pay fits and you like the sound of a job, take it

    WRT tech-art 

    Specialising in anything is probably unwise at a junior-ish level. 
    It's not the same as being a junior artist where they hire you to do one thing over and over again. Tech artists exist to make the artists more effective at doing one thing over and over again - you don't have to be an expert in a given application, instead you need to be able to translate the requirements of the people using any application into tools/procedures that enable them to work more effectively.
    As a tech artist you will almost certainly never be given a list of timeboxed tasks to complete (if you are, go work somewhere else)

    With that said most people do end up developing an area of expertise/specialisation over time - most of our senior tech artists are the go-to person for one thing or another - but that's a natural development based on development experience.

    I guess its important to point out that..   
    Shader development is a separate discipline.  I don't mean pissing round in node based editors, I mean doing things that interact with engine code (eg. writing an atmospheric lighting system) - you'll almost certainly need C++ for that as well as GLSL/HLSL/equivalent
    Rigging / technical animation  is a separate discipline.

    anyway.. portfolio 
    Your portfolio shows that you have experience of building models / games etc. so from that perspective it's all nice to see - you might want to triage what you have on there a little as some parts are a lot stronger than others. 

    To move it towards tech-art you need to demonstrate problem-solving and communication skills.
    Perhaps you came up with some processes during your career so far eg. some method to make your characters faster or processes to make them consistently styled etc.? Document them and explain why you did things that way 
    It's a good idea to make some tools using code (python usually ..) - exporter scripts, tools that live on a shelf for maya/max, scripts that automate processes or pass data between applications etc. Again, make sure you explain what they do and why you made them - that's the interesting part.  
  • kaisla
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    kaisla polycounter lvl 4
    Thanks a lot for the in-depth answer! This is really helpful, I'll definitely take it to heart. I'll try not to rush ahead with the technical art stuff, it all looks very interesting but also overwhelming.
  • poopipe
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    poopipe high dynamic range
    I wasn't trying to put you off if that's how it came across - just trying to give you an idea of what I would be looking for. 

    In my experience tech artists are hired for what they could do in future, not what they have done in the past - that's certainly how I look at it.
  • sharsein
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    sharsein polycounter lvl 7
    The tech artists in most demand or those who have a degree in Computer Science/Engineering (including Computer Graphics classes) but also have taken 3d art classes and have made indie/hobby games in their spare time. Of course, people like that are qualified to be pure engineers, especially graphics engineers, who get paid more and have more options outside the games industry. Which is why they're in demand. 
    The other route is to get hired as an artist by a startup that's either a games company or does 3d. In a small company, there's not as much red tape so there's plenty of room to learn about other disciplines and solve tech art problems that will arise.

    A warning about shaders/rigging: these skills are the easiest tech art skills to find classes for. Today there are plenty of autorigging programs out there and now even Unity 2020 has integrated node based shader editors.  Which means it can be very tempting to spend time reinventing the wheel. There's still value in learning these disciplines; but you really have to understand the problem space, know why off the shelf solutions won't work for your project, and be able to modify an existing shader/rig if possible rather than build from scratch (though building a rig/shader from scratch once is a great learning exercise). 
  • kaisla
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    kaisla polycounter lvl 4
    poopipe said:
    I wasn't trying to put you off if that's how it came across - just trying to give you an idea of what I would be looking for. 

    In my experience tech artists are hired for what they could do in future, not what they have done in the past - that's certainly how I look at it.
    No worries - I'll still definitely keep looking into it!

    sharsein said:
    The tech artists in most demand or those who have a degree in Computer Science/Engineering (including Computer Graphics classes) but also have taken 3d art classes and have made indie/hobby games in their spare time. Of course, people like that are qualified to be pure engineers, especially graphics engineers, who get paid more and have more options outside the games industry. Which is why they're in demand. 
    The other route is to get hired as an artist by a startup that's either a games company or does 3d. In a small company, there's not as much red tape so there's plenty of room to learn about other disciplines and solve tech art problems that will arise.

    A warning about shaders/rigging: these skills are the easiest tech art skills to find classes for. Today there are plenty of autorigging programs out there and now even Unity 2020 has integrated node based shader editors.  Which means it can be very tempting to spend time reinventing the wheel. There's still value in learning these disciplines; but you really have to understand the problem space, know why off the shelf solutions won't work for your project, and be able to modify an existing shader/rig if possible rather than build from scratch (though building a rig/shader from scratch once is a great learning exercise). 
    Thank you for this insight, I'm definitely on the opposite end where I'm an artist looking to learn more about the tech side.
    I've definitely been guilty of reinventing the wheel myself even with modeling, it's satisfying starting from scratch when you could be reusing assets either you or somebody else made :) So this is a very good reminder!
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