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so, you want to be a game designer?

EA (Electronic Arts) reached out to BCIT in 2017, asking if there was a video game design course offered at the polytechnic school. When EA determined that there wasn’t anything like that at BCIT, the two organizations agreed to work together to develop a course that could prepare students for the industry. BCIT worked to create a very industry-involved program with the assistance of other studios like Capcom Vancouver, the animation studio DHX, and Sony Imageworks. “They told us exactly what they wanted students to know going in,” says Ramin Shadmehr, Program Head of BCIT’s Technical Arts Program. “The program really is one-of-its-kind because of that.”

So, what is a technical artist? Turns out, it’s a pretty broad title.

“Imagine a painting. The artist needs supplies like paint, brushes. The technical artist supplies the canvas.” says Shadmehr.

So how does the metaphorical canvas get built?

To sum it up, technical artists monitor the game’s performance through development and apply art assets to the game engine. That Duke Nukem sprite, for example, had to be converted into code. They design character systems and establish the physical boundaries of the game.

Technical Artists work in 3D with tools like Autodesk Maya (a 3d computer graphics application) and 3D Studio Max. Both of those programs were used to create Resident Evil7: Biohazard. They use common coding languages like C++ and Python, which can create tools like dialogue trees or AI behaviors (like in The Sims).

A technical artist basically makes sure game designers can put things into their game as easily as possible. That dude at Rocksteady Studios that spent two years working on nothing but Batman’s cape in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum probably needed all the support he could get. The cape has over 700 animations and sound clips.

A project team of about 80-90 people should have 4 or 5 Technical Artists, according to Volition’s Jason Hayes. He adds “game development today needs to be far more efficient, able to produce high-quality triple-A titles with team sizes comparable to those seen in the last hardware generation.” This is because technical artists can end up working in shading/lighting, with texture artists, with animators, with character riggers or with character artists. Shading/lighting could be deciding how bright a room is and how dark is too dark. Texture would be designing images to be laid on top of models, which are designed by character riggers. Character riggers design a character’s animations – how they walk, how they talk. The actual character’s appearance is overseen by the character artist.

Eric Chadwick, Lead Technical Artist at Blue Fang Games outlined, in 2009, a document detailing what should be expected of a technical artist. He thinks technical artists should have an understanding of:

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.

As this field expands, people learn new techniques and pass those onto colleagues. The Principal Technical Artist at Insomniac Games, David Santiago, gave a talk on designing the open-world pipeline of Marvel’s Spiderman, called “Procedurally Crafting Manhattan for ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man.” Seattle’s Undead Labs’ technical artist Matt Heiniger presented “Low Cost Facial Scanning Using Photogrammetry in ‘State of Decay 2’.” It focused on 3D scanning faces with one camera and minimal equipment.

We’ve talked about a lot of studios out of Vancouver – but we’d be amiss without mentioning CD Projekt Red and their work on Cyber 2077. Sure, William Gibson wasn’t a fan of it, but there’s a lot to be excited about. The game studio has a staff of 400 people working on this one game. Vancouver-based Digital Scapes is working closely with CD Projekt Red on development tools, assets and cloud computing.

“We are both excited and honoured to work with CD PROJEKT RED,” says Digital Scapes studio head Marcin Chady. “Their incredibly creative and accomplished team of developers have been pushing narrative-driven, role-playing games to unprecedented levels. We look forward to helping them create the very best video games on the planet.”

And they’re actively hiring out of Warsaw.

The BCIT program isn’t for everyone, though—Shadmehr says students going in should already know programing or have a background in graphic design. The courses run 12 hours a week for 7 weeks and students will come out of it with a demo reel. They also get to work one-on-one with mentors in the industry.

I asked Ramin Shadmehr what he was most excited about.

“The start date.” 

You can learn more about BCIT’s Advanced Diploma in Technical Arts at the next Info Session: March 4th, 2019 at BCIT Burnaby Campus, Building SE02 Townsquare A & B.