On a typical workday, Bugi Kaigwa, a technical artist for Visual Concepts Entertainment in Novato, Calif., creates character rigs for the vastly popular sports game NBA2K, which is a series of basketball simulation games. It’s “like being a puppeteer to 3D characters, making them moveable in animation,” he says. Most technical artists work in the video game industry and work as liaisons between computer programmers and artists working on video games. According to PayScale.com, the average salary for technical artists in the U.S. is $63,803 a year.
Kaigwa took a nontraditional path that led him to this role, beginning with a finance degree and graphics work as a freelancer to later attending Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, Calif. As a student in the technical program, one of his earliest classes was Introduction to Python (the programming language). “Without this tool in my arsenal, I would not have this job as a technical artist; it is our daily bread and butter,” he says.
Kaigwa also learned the whole gamut of programming languages (C, C++, Java, OpenGL), which taught him “how to navigate problems like an engineer.” His Graphics Programming class opened his eyes to how math and programming can be used in rendering pictures on screen in 3D. On the flip side, he also took a few life-drawing classes that have been elemental in his understanding of anatomy, which is indispensable in his rigging work.
His career advice: while the role takes on a blend of problem-solving, art, and even psychology to understand what will best resonate with players, he urges future technical artists not to underestimate the importance of solid math skills. Linear Algebra, in particular, is essential to his job as a technical artist as it “involves moving points within space and gives a solid foundation in the understanding of vectors.”
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