November 3, 2022

Technical Art and What’s Behind the Curtain

3 min read

It might sound like an oxymoron joining two words that are so different in their semantics: “technical” and “art”, on account of the freedom of creation that is usually associated with the latter. Nevertheless, you might be surprised to learn how highly complementary they actually are. 

Animations are complex pieces of art, where many scientific, mechanical and artistic elements interfere and support each other, and many times, one cannot coexist without the other. This interdependence between different elements is what makes the process of creating animations a serious art, full of technology on the one hand and, and full of fun and experimentation, on the other hand. 

Building the right textures and shapes, and ascertaining the saturation, with the goal of approaching the most realistic environment possible, cannot exist without the technical facets behind the art. Every object has its own texture, contrasts, and lights that enable it to look real and this is one of the multiple factors that contributes to an immersive feeling.

Grunt work must be carried out behind the theatre scene in order for all the elements in a game-based learning module to look functional and as close as possible to reality. This not only applies to tangible objects but also to weather phenomena and other natural elements, such as clouds. Let’s find out more about the technique used.

Shaders. What are they?

The shaders are special programs that calculate the right levels of contrast between the elements: light, darkness, colour saturation, during the rendering of a 3D scene. These are usually meant for films, video games, image rendering, and more, and are employed in order to produce a series of effects.

The development of shaders over the years has been impressive and has evolved from basic to very advanced functions, aiming to customise the effects of a scene and enlarge the capabilities of a simple object. 

The colour of an object and its saturation level, together with its texture from a rendered image can suffer alterations when algorithms from the shader are applied to it. These, in turn, can also be modified by external variables from the shader program.  As can be seen in the image below, there are many algorithms derived from maths calculations that lie behind the art of textures and colours:


Image of textures of different windows on the right an codes on the left side
Lots of codes and algorithms (right) lie behind the shaders’ creation, working together to accomplish the most realistic textures (left). Image from Unreal Engine


Putting together textures, shapes, and colours, can easily be compared to a puzzle that has to work out perfectly to accomplish the artwork, and this involves experimenting and playing with surfaces, structures, and shaders to reach an artist's goal.

It might seem like a magician’s work seeing how a grey object suddenly becomes red, but in fact, it’s all the algorithms behind it that make the artist’s work easier. When given a certain instruction to an object within the executing engine, it can easily change colour and texture to approach the needed effect. Nevertheless, the codes behind it, generated by the technical artist, are the ones that instruct the system to behave in one way or another. These are the ones that also enable an object to be wood or metal, so the correct setup is crucial at this stage.

What are the stages of shader creation?

If we were to make a basic comparison, an object without shader modifications is like a body without a soul or energy.  That is why it is of high importance to be able to combine those algorithms and codes behind the shaders correctly, in order to attain the desired effect on a specific object. Therefore, if there were no shaders, we wouldn’t see anything. The system needs the shaders in order to display the object and all the textures on it.

The user cannot really start playing a game without having the skeleton ready-made for him and this consists of basically counting on a solid technical art process adjoining the visual structure that the player finally gets to enjoy.

Just like all thorough artistic pieces of work, there are generally 3 main stages of creation when dealing with shaders: 

  • Finding or creating a reference texture. This will become the artist’s goal point for the new object that will come to life.
  • Setting up a shader with the desired textures and parameters for the aimed object. That is where maths comes into play.
  • Applying the shader to the desired object. And… ta-da!

Even if the 3 steps seem simple enough, the reality is very different, on account of all algorithms that make it happen. These assure the system performs correctly, providing all the optimal visual effects. Textures flow naturally and contribute to a high immersion of the user into the learning space.

Image of a ball changinf textures
Changing textures might seem like magic, but there is a lot of coding that contributes to reaching a realistic effect.

What’s the biggest challenge for a technical artist?

Technical art is fascinating for a passionate technical artist, as it can convert lots of objects that are impossible to create just by means of standard 3D techniques into totally new elements. These elements depend on many different variables. We could mention nuances or the behaviour of the water when other objects are around it. Once all the variables are set by the technical artist, the 3D artist’s job becomes much smoother and easier to carry out. 

The collaboration between the technical artist and the 3D artist is crucial. Without technical art, there are few parameters the 3D artist can adjust to fit a certain visual goal. Providing the 3D artist with such flexibility through shaders represents a great edge that boosts creativity and freedom of expression that then gets translated into richer visuals. 

The biggest challenge in mastering technical art is the maths component that directly influences all the textures, contrasts, colours, and behaviours. A solid understanding of maths helps the artist provide correct instructions to the system, such as reflections and space orientation, optimising visual effects so that the user can easily be immersed in a facsimile of reality or even in an imaginary world that has nothing to do with the real one. All the efforts put into the technical artist’s job have the same goal throughout the creation process: to make the 3D artist’s work run smoothly and to be able to achieve the desired visual results. At this stage, the tight cooperation between technical art and 3D art represents a vital piece of the puzzle that promotes a high-end product. 


Image of different windows and wall textures
The shader stages can be compared to assembling a puzzle that must match to perfection at the end of the creation process. Image from Unreal Engine

When the technical artist finds himself stuck in a process, which can of course happen, the best solutions are to ask experts and other professionals on different social channels or forums especially dedicated to the subject. When it comes to issues that seem hard to fix, asking the right questions on Google or YouTube can also provide the right answers and help elucidate the problem. For technical matters related to Unreal Engine, a good place to seek help is the community it has especially dedicated to thorough investigations: This offers tutorials and lots of useful materials to learn from. Nobody was born a savant and all the programs evolve in their own way. Therefore, sometimes, it is only a question of stopping, taking a deep breath, and asking other experts what their take on the matter is.

The best part about technical art is experiencing, testing, researching and continuously adjusting details of the games to approach perfection, while never forgetting to have fun throughout the journey. These are the keys to successfully creating the best gaming and learning experiences the user can benefit from.

Check how you can create your serious game and enjoy the benefits of simulation in your own theatre play.
Get in touch
David Sandland Bråthen
3D Generalist
David is a 3D Generalist at Apprendly. He loves technical art and has the drive to create environments. David spends his time finding new ways to approach 3D art and improve his professional techniques. In his free time, you might find him researching technology and space.