In your answer about technical designers, you remarked that technical artists are “special unicorns” — what sorts of things give them that status, and what does it mean for a technical artist’s career? Are there any other jobs in game dev you feel fall into the “special unicorn” category?

"Special unicorn" roles are generally similar in how difficult it is to find them combined with how useful they are to a dev team. Besides Technical Artist, there's also console architecture experts and Houdini VFX experts. While this list is by no means exhaustive, all three of these roles are in fields that are both difficult to master and extremely useful in most game dev teams.

Technical artists are the rare combination of being both technically minded and artistically minded at the same time. Somebody who is able to perform in both arenas at a professional level is rare, but the needs for people with those skills are enormous. Being able to build out and improve the tools and technology for other artists to create high quality visuals is in high demand because just about every team needs one.

A software engineer that specializes in game console architecture, for example, is incredibly useful to have on a team - every game on that platform will need optimization and having an expert direct those initiatives makes a big difference. However, game console architecture is both difficult to learn, lacks much public-facing documentation and material, and a constantly-moving target as firmware updates and such come. This also makes console architecture experts a "special unicorn" role.

Good-looking VFX are needed in most games. Doing really good VFX generally involves a good understanding of procedural generation and simulation. Many in the industry use Houdini to create the sort of VFX shots you see in TV, movies, and video games. However, Houdini is both incredibly powerful and difficult to master. Thus they also meet the criteria for "special unicorn".

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