Technical directors (TDs) are generally responsible for technical processes and technical equipment, for example in software and industrial companies, theaters or TV studios. Technical directors are particularly important in film and game productions, especially when animation and visual effects (VFX) play a role. In this field, TDs are usually programmers who convert creative techniques into computer graphics processes. For example, they convert drawings and designs into geometric, animatable shapes. In film or game productions, TDs create the technical framework, for example through specific software developments or the adaptation of software applications, through which artistic ideas can be implemented.
For each production, TDs usually have to develop new solutions and processes and continuously improve them. If, for example, work steps in the generation of digital images and characters can be automated or simplified, they establish corresponding technological processes for this purpose. This happens with recurring backgrounds and landscapes or with movements and optical details of the animated characters.
As their field of work plays a role in almost all work steps and areas of a film or game production, the activities of TDs are extremely diverse. At larger production companies, there are often several types of TDs, each working with artists from different creative departments. They are often specialized in the respective work steps that are necessary for the animation or VFX in films or games (pipeline). Often there is a Shading TD. In the broadest sense, shading is the representation of the surface properties of objects and people using 3D computer graphics. A number of parameters and specific calculations play a role here so that, for example, photorealistic effects can be created. A Modeling TD, on the other hand, takes care of the basics that VFX and animation artists use to generate individual characters or objects in the computer. Here, TDs often specialize in details. A Cloth TD, for example, takes care of the representation of textiles, a Hair or Grooming TD takes care of the hairstyles of the characters. Rigging and Animation TDs, on the other hand, deal with everything that has to do with setting CG elements in motion and how they are brought together and coordinated in terms of their movement. Lighting TDs are also important, because lighting is often what makes computer-generated images look realistic in the first place and is a key factor in determining the aesthetics of the image. In addition, so-called Pipeline TDs ensure technically integrated cooperation between departments, for example in the final processing and exchange of created data.
TDs also deal with hardware decisions and define for example recording and camera techniques. They ensure the technical infrastructure that enables so-called Matchmoving, the correct optical positioning of computer-generated objects in rooms. To do this, they use 2D and 3D camera tracking methods that record or simulate the exact movement of the camera.
TDs currently play an important role in the field of virtual production, which is becoming increasingly important for the film and game industries. For a long time, game scenes set in front of computer-generated landscapes could only be merged with the computer-generated images after the shooting. People or objects were shot in front of blue or green surfaces and then later placed in the desired visual worlds. Meanwhile, directors can use a new real-time shooting technique for this purpose, which combines a computer-generated set live with real recorded images. This makes a virtual production process possible that makes it much easier to work with effective shooting environments and is almost like shooting with real images. Increasingly, high-resolution LED walls are being used in set design for this purpose. Technically, this requires a complex interaction of real-time camera tracking, game engines and numerous aspects of real-time image processing. Technical directors are responsible for the technological infrastructure as well as the processes and design of a virtual production, which means that their function is becoming increasingly important in many studios.
These are just a few examples of the tasks of technical directors in film and games productions. In production houses, their jobs often differentiate further or overlap. The specific job titles of TDs therefore vary from production company to production company.
Technical directors work at the interface between art and technology. Therefore, artistic skills are required in addition to extensive technical skills. As a rule, TDs in the film and games sector have a background in mathematics, physics, computer science or media informatics. They are proficient in common programming languages such as Python, C++, MEL, C# or shell scripting. At the same time, they should know about the uses of image and video editing software and be able to apply them creatively. These software programs include Adobe After Effects, Blender, Cinema 4D, Maya, MotionBuilder, Renderman, Nuke, 3ds Max, Houdini, Unity, or Unreal.
In addition, TDs should have a good eye for what makes good photography and cinematography, like a feeling for lighting, composition, and perspective. An understanding of basic mathematics and physics is also essential, as it is necessary for accurate and believable rendering of computer-generated objects and characters.
Since TDs must provide new ways to enable creative processes in the best technical and efficient way, problem-solving skills are also relevant. Likewise, TDs should have good communication and teamwork skills. After all, they are in close contact with many other people involved in the production and must provide them with technical training, advice, and support. To do that, it is definitely helpful if they can oversee all areas of the VFX or animation pipeline and master parts of it themselves, at least to a certain extent. After all, they should be aware of the challenges and problems involved in these processes.
In general, it is important to acquire the skills through practical experience in production companies. In addition, universities such as Filmakademie’s Animationsinstitut offer a practice-oriented postgraduate course for comprehensive training in technical directing. This course of study is usually taken by people with previous training in computer science, mathematics or natural sciences, but sometimes also by animation artists themselves. Students gain practical experience in projects at Filmakademie and gain insight into all technologically and artistically relevant processes. The program also offers numerous opportunities to gain a foothold in the international film or games industry.