What a Technical Director in Visual Effects, Animation and Games actually does?
Technical Directing is still a relative new role (the industry is quiet fresh) and it's often unclear of how to become and be one. No worries! We're here to give clearness to this future career opportunity.
1. What is a Technical Director?
A Technical Director is the bridge between an artist and a developer. They combine the understanding of the artistic and the technical side and merge them together. They allow artists to create art (film, games and installments) by removing hurdles and creating technical solutions. To develop something on time and on budget, it's essential to streamline the process and that's where Technical Directors shine.
The Role of a Technical Director is to support their team with technical solutions. As John Lasseter famously said: "The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art."
"The bug stops with the TD." - Paul Kanyuk (Pixar Studio), 21 Artist Show
2. What is the Role of a Technical Director?
Your job as a Technical Director is to find technical solutions to technical problems. For that it's hugely important to understand the artistic side and have a variety of tools to help. A typical example is to support the 3D Artist in troubleshooting: Maya/Nuke/Max/Houdini/... crashes, get stuck, applications no longer open or do not do what they supposed to do. Virtually everything technical that hinders the artist's work. Another task is to find technical solutions to creative problems. For example, as a Lighting TD, you can develop template scenes with the vision of Lighting Lead which are used by the entire team. Or you illuminate a technically tricky scene that needs a great understanding of the shaders and renderers to keep the render times reasonable. Additionally we often develop applications to help our team cope with their tasks.
Thus, the job of a Technical Director is versatile and often adapts to the requirements of the project and team, which is why it is important to have a broad understanding. There can be a specialized Technical Director for each department:
3. How important is Python? 🐍
Python is a great gateway, an integral part, an impactful skillset and a huge asset in any Visual Effects, Animation and Games production and Technical Artist and Director career. Suddenly you are able to create helpful and complex tools on big budget movies and games that make your and your team's workflow faster and easier.
“What happens if there is someone who is cheaper or can push the buttons better than you?!” - Allan McKay (VFX Supervisor), 21 Artist Show
This graph shows the different roles in a production defined by the level of support versus the contribution to the final product. It also highlights the amount of Python that is needed to be a successful Technical Artist, Technical Director or Developer in more complex productions:
The benefits of working as a Technical Director often come from the stability that technology positions provide.
🎯 Responsibility & impact: Meaningful influence on the team.
🆕 New Technology: Stay current with the latest technology and knowledge.
⏰ Time & work flexibility: Enjoy more freedom regarding your time and jobs.
🕊️ Task Freedom: Work on your own ideas and side projects to help the team.
🤝 Best of both worlds: Connect with people from multiple departments.
💵 Well paid & job security: Enjoy a stable, well-compensated career.
The most important part of becoming a Technical Director is to enjoy the work. You have to love problem solving, making things easier, being able to fail and to communicate your vision. Be a good artist first and slowly transition into the new field while educating yourself in the technical and scripting field. You can either learn how to push the right buttons and hope that it will be enough in the future or learn how to create your own buttons and understand what's behind them.
One of the reasons that I set out to teach the ways of the Technical Director is that I believe that it's one of the best jobs that you can have in a film or game production. It's a role with scope that allows you to branch out into different directions and decide the right balance between artistic and technical work.
Hopefully this introduction helps you to understand the role of a Technical Director better and to plan your own path. Sign up for our Free 7-Day TD Bootcamp: Technical Director for more content.
Thanks for reading,
I'm Alexander, an Award-Winning Technical Director & Coach in Visual Effects, Animation and Games. My skills are solving technical problems, simplifying workflows and mentoring career goals.