If the game industry were to resemble a game of Dungeons and Dragons, the role of a Technical Artist would undoubtedly translate into a hybrid class. These talented individuals possess both the ability and creativity to sculpt and illustrate, as well as the technical expertise to create complicated software tools to aid their fellow artists in their work.
As a studio dedicated to producing digital entertainment based on some of the most renowned IPs in the world, Sparx* - one of several studios within the Virtuos Group – prides itself on retaining highly talented and motivated individuals to get the job done. Not only must one possess the skill to excel, they should also exhibit at least a silver of interest in games and film to truly feel at home.
In Trong Hoan’s case, that was no problem at all. Hoan spent his childhood days perfecting his skill with gaming classics, while cultivating an interest in art and technology. It’s paid off quite handsomely – these days, he’s an expert in anything from animation and rigging to crafting developer tools.
Check out the interview below to learn more about Hoan and what being a Technical Artist truly entails.
What were you working on before joining us at Sparx*?
Before working at Sparx* I was a Technical Artist at a small VFX house in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. I have also been an independent instructor, primarily of Artistic Anatomy, and of Rigging, Python Scripting and Digital Figurative Sculpting. Prior to my career, I studied abroad in the United States for 7 years.
Which project in your time at Sparx* was the most memorable one to you?
The most memorable project was a full-pipeline test I participated in, where I could see every department at Sparx – Modeling, Rigging, Layout, Animation, Lighting, FX, Compositing – come together to produce a finished sequence. I was very happy to witness how every team's contribution fit into a greater whole.
What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?
I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of exciting AAA projects at Sparx*, which has been a fantastic chance to grow. Personally the highlights of my career were the moments when I managed to gradually produce tools of higher complexity that artists actually use daily, and feeling somehow that the ‘dots’ I had been putting down throughout the years are now starting to connect with each other. It’s been a truly amazing journey so far.
Could you explain a little about what Technical Artists like you actually do?
The shortest summary would be that a Technical Artist is usually expected to wear many hats. Troubleshooting technical issues for artists, working with ITs to set up equipment for new projects, writing tools to speed up workflows, foreseeing potential technical pitfalls, researching solutions to problems, writing technical documents to spread best practices, reading technical documents, undergoing training for new tools/software… these are just some of the things that we do.
What’s the best thing about being a Technical Artist at Sparx*?
To me it's having the opportunity to work alongside my peers - other Technical Artists and Technical Directors, especially when they are far better than me in terms of technical experience and knowledge. I wake up every day feeling very inspired knowing that there are still plenty of new things to learn.
What’s a normal work day like for you?
It can vary a bit depending on our current projects. Some days I'd do some Rigging works, or provide some advice on Human/Animal Anatomy. My normal work day however has increasingly gravitated around coding – writing tools and fixing bugs – over the past years.
Do you think that artistic skills are more important than technical skills for Technical Artists, or vice versa?
Since the scope and definition of what counts as ‘Technical Art’ can be quite vast, the actual task at hand usually dictates whether the Technical Artist in charge should lean towards the artistic side or the technical side to achieve the best results. For example, aiding Character Artists to sculpt facial expressions that adhere to the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) would require more artistic vision, while providing helper tools for them to perform said task would require more technical input.
How important do you think research is when working as a Technical Artist?
I believe that research is not just an important step, but a vital one in keeping up with the industry’s pace. There’s also the constant demand to update and innovate within one’s field of expertise. However, I find that in order for research to be fruitful, a good foundational knowledge base is always required.
Tell us a bit about your personal life. How did you get exposed to technology and games?
I can still vividly recall a moment in summer 1998, when I gazed through a window at people at my elementary school having access to PCs, each using MS Paint to color in an image of the Statue of Liberty. I was mesmerized. Two years later my parents allowed me to attend a Pascal class filled with grown-ups who didn't seem to want to be there. Those two instances must have been my first exposure to technology.
I eventually got carried away with drawing and all the things related to it, like Architecture, Animation and Fine Arts. Now, I’m finally back to dealing with technology again!
What sort of interests do you have?
I enjoy reading, and also doing small DIY projects for my living space.
What do you like to do to relax after work?
Foraging for good Internet memes! Besides that, as ironic as it sounds, I regularly pursue personal projects after work to avoid burnout. The things I dabble with can range from Artistic Anatomy sketches and studies, to some minor software tools that I would write for fun. I believe that these personal projects help keep me sharp and would eventually feed back into my professional work in many ways.
Do you have a favorite game, or a genre of games?
My junior high school years were about 20 years ago, which I spent living in a rural town in Vietnam. My buddies and I would completely lose our minds back then with games like Age of Empires I, Warcraft 2, and Counter-Strike. I wouldn't be offended if someone were to call me sentimental; those are some of the fondest memories that I still hold dear today. Outside of video games, I also remember making simple toys by chopping bamboo and using rubber bands to make little catapults to play with my younger brother.
Is there anything you would like to say to anyone reading up about Sparx*?
Come join the Sparx* side! We can't always reveal what we’re working on at any moment due to the NDAs and secrecy surrounding our projects, so what we do might not always be too clear for someone looking in. But the mere fact that we’re being so careful about what we’re working on should be proof enough that we’re always working on something exciting at the studio.