Matt Aitchison, Technical Art Supervisor at Airship Images, talks about what it takes to be a Technical Art Supervisor, and even a bit of philosophy.
How did you get into games?
I studied at the University of Abertay with no real direction. I decided to be a programmer because I was good at math in school. After a few years, I got really bored editing code all day, but quickly fell in love with 3D art. I decided to go for a production-oriented degree, deciding that technical art seemed like a natural fit because it incorporated both art and engineering. Most of what I learned so far was just hundreds of tutorials on just about everything.
What is the achievement you are most proud of so far?
Become a Technical Art Supervisor at Airship Interactive. I started here as a junior as the company’s first technical artist, which, on reflection, was extremely fortunate. I was able to take on all the challenges I was looking for because I was the only one available to take them on at the time. It allowed me to take on more responsibilities and challenges not usually available to someone so new to the gaming industry, which allowed me to become a mainstay in this organization much sooner than expected. .
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
For me, the hardest part of technical art is the contrast between the disciplines of the work you do on a daily basis. You can start the day by setting up optimal lighting for a scene in Unreal and end it by setting a script to use in Maya. It’s hard to isolate a single challenge, as the most difficult is usually getting into the headspace of pivoting between current issues.
What do you like most about your job?
Being a technical artist supervisor is like being the goalie in a penalty shootout. No one will blame you if you don’t save every time, but you’re everyone’s hero when you do. My job is to make everyone’s job better, which I don’t think is valued enough when people are considering career prospects in games. I was first drawn to working on cool games, but very quickly found it much more rewarding to contribute and support the team that was doing the heavy lifting. People are always grateful when a problem is solved, and every tool I develop impacts every asset our team produces.
What is your greatest ambition in games?
My lecturer at Abertay, Iain Donald, shared a philosophy when I expressed my interest in making my own games, saying “people usually come into the games industry to make their own games, not those of someone else”. While I greatly respect the willingness to work on your favorite franchise, I believe the greatest privilege is being able to make your vision a reality.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do your job?
The technical art is all about problem solving, which means you need to be comfortable investigating problems on your own. The most instructive thing I did was to make games as often as possible; doing game jams, accelerators. Working on a product gives you great perspective on what matters in a production and how you can impact the end result. Companies always need artists who can script and know how to use game engines. Learn them and you will be fine.