The term Tech Artist is being thrown around a lot now but it’s used a lot as a catch all. There is as much, if not more, Tech Art sub disciplines as there is 3D artists ones, Characters, Animation, Performances, R&D, VFX, etc… While it’s really good to specialise into a topic it’s even better to have a solid understanding of basically anything and everything 3D because a tech artist’s job spills in all aspects of game making and the graphics are ultimately in made possible in no small parts by them.
It’s the Tech artist’s job to preach good/better practices, to improve pipelines, to find solutions to make the seemingly impossible, possible. But above all, it’s the Tech artist’s responsibility to be an enabler for it’s field’s artists. A good tech art is oil in the machine, it’s a bard in a fighter’s group. It’s a role that ping pongs constantly between leading, supporting, and mentoring.
They are the ones that make sure that the artist can work in a way that feels good to them, and that the programmers are satisfied with the methods and techniques pushed forward to make sure performance targets are met, while ensuring that we have effective turnaround so that we get good financial ROI on art production. You find a way to do all that and you will never lack job offers.
Here’s the nitty gritty though. A lot of companies don’t understand tech art, and position them as fire fighters to squash bugs. That’s a real problem because it prevents the tech artist to do his job. (Which is to put process and tools on place to avoid those fires). Another issue is that many places have used Tech Artist as a way to promote skilled artists that didn’t want to become leads. This lead to the very wide gap in tech art where some are 90% artist and 10% technical (or the opposite) and they just happen to know Houdini (for example) a bit.
For me, being a tech artist or equivalent for the past 10 years, my own personal art level has suffered a bit but that’s ok. It’s no longer my job to make great art. It’s my job to make good enough art to showcase and enable our artists to follow me in and make even better stuff than I could, better stuff than they could have without my help/shader/mentoring/workflows etc … it’s my job to foresee walls before we smash into them. It’s my job to follow up with programmers and test new features and make sure it’s production ready. All that so artist can do what they do best: make great art.
It’s a long journey to tech art mastery. But it has been a very fulfilling one for me. I’d advise that if you find yourself sitting in between the two chairs, give it a shot. Especially if you get a lot of enjoyment out of knowing that you’ve enabled people to surpass themselves.