Mighty Bear’s Tech Art Toolbox
6 software essentials for the aspiring Technical Artist
As a Technical Artist, I and my team act as a bridge between Game Artists and the technical aspect of their work, preparing all concepts and assets for use in the game engine. As in every other role in the games industry, we need to be fully equipped with the tools required for us to do our work. Listed in this article are the tools that help me do the best work I can as a Technical Artist!
Proficiency with at least one 3D application is almost always a requirement for any Game Artist today. There are many to choose from, but my personal favourites are Blender and Maya — both of which have their own important role to play.
Maya is my go-to for basic 3D applications such as modelling and animation. This choice of software is mainly a matter of personal preference, but I find Maya’s smooth learning curve to be a strong argument in its favour. The extensive documentation on their API also makes writing plugins a breeze.
Blender is a free and open-source program known for its vast suite of features, of which my favourites are the ones that help with rendering. One of these rendering engines, Cycles, can be run on the GPU and combined with an intuitive shader editor — with it, I was able to get the look I want for my renders in a very short amount of time. Cycles can also be used to bake in information such as textures, which makes this a powerful tool for out-and-out Artists as well.
This is arguably my second-favourite software after Unity. It’s no overstatement of its flexibility to say that you can do everything mentioned in this list within Houdini. (Given an infinite amount of time!)
Houdini is used extensively by game studios across the world for various purposes, from FX to tool development.
Its procedural nature also allows artists to generate more content more quickly. I’ve briefly explained proceduralism in game art in another article here.
For my part, I’ve mainly used it to create tools to speed up the workflow of our Artists and used these tools to generate content in a matter of hours that would’ve taken days in other programs.
However, it should also be noted that Houdini has an extremely steep learning curve and mastering it requires a bit of programming knowledge. That said, for anyone looking to be a serious Technical Artist, there is no excuse for not at least considering integrating Houdini into your pipeline.
You can get Houdini here.
Substance is similar to Houdini: more software that uses procedural workflow to produce content. The main difference, however, is that Substance’s focus is mainly on textures.
The 2 main Substance products, Substance Designer and Substance Painter, are used extensively throughout the games industry today.
Substance Painter can be described as “Photoshop for 3D”, allowing artists to paint materials with certain properties directly onto their 3D models.
Substance Designer is the tool used to generate these materials: with it, you’re effectively “programming” images through a node system and using them as textures.
Here, I’ve tried to recreating the photo of the M87 black hole in Substance Designer to celebrate the achievement of capturing the first image of a black hole.
You can check out and buy Substance here.
Picking your game engine is a whole other can of worms, but Mighty Bear’s choice has historically been Unity. One advantage of this engine is the huge trove of plugins and tools found in its Asset Store. The following are some Unity plugins I cannot imagine working without:
Amplify Shader Editor
Amplify Shader Editor is a node-based shader creation tool. Unity has also come out recently with Shader Graph, and while both tools are very similar in terms of functionality, but to me Amplify feels much more polished, stable, and customisable.
Amplify also provides very solid customer support on their Discord, where the devs interact with the entire Amplify community and step in to help almost as soon as you ask.
You can get Amplify Shader Editor here.
If you are working with custom editors, Odin Inspector is an absolute must-have.
With Odin, you get a whole range of attributes and functions that helps authoring your own inspector a much less tedious task. Creating custom editor windows have also never been easier than with this program!
Check out Odin here.
That rounds off my list of the must-have and personal favourite tools that form the foundation of my work as a Technical Artist. I hope article goes some way toward helping you develop your own workflow — if there’s anything else you’d like to ask or add, please let me know in the comments!