One of the main responsibilities of a Technical Director is to understand the latest technology, to find the best way of achieving the creative vision of the directors, creators and studios they work for.
I often say that, as Technical Director at the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada’s animation studio, my job is to find technical solutions to creative problems and creative solutions to technical problems. Because we have such a great variety of projects, using a wide range of techniques and styles (ranging from traditional 2D animation to Mixed Reality experience, and everything in between), I see myself as a kind of "Swiss Army knife" of technical creativity. This means that I have to know a lot of things about, well, a lot of things. People often ask me, "how is it possible to stay on top of ever-changing technology, especially when it changes so fast?"
“Technology goes beyond mere tool making; it is a process of creating ever more powerful technology using the tools from the previous round of innovation.” – Ray Kurzweil
Technical change is an evolutionary process. Learning a new technology is a lot easier if you know what came before it and if you have a deep understanding of exactly what it is used for (its purpose). That's why it is easier to adapt to technical change if you are well versed in the basics of your field.
I am fortunate enough to have worked in many creative fields at key moments of so-called major technical "revolutions.” I saw firsthand the art and industry of typography, typesetting, printing, design, photography, filmmaking, animation and VFX go through major technical transformations. What became clear to me over the years is that the tools don’t matter that much. What does matter? The physics, the rules, the history and the intentions.
For instance, it doesn't matter what tools you use to light a scene (real or virtual). What matters is that you understand how light behaves (the physics), that you know the principles of lighting (the rules), that you’re aware of where some of these rules come from (the history) and that you have a clear picture of what the end result should look like (the intentions). Equipped with that knowledge, learning a new AI-assisted lighting software or how to use the latest, most advanced LED Panel will be much easier.
This reasoning applies to pretty much any creative endeavour or job that requires learning or adapting to new technology. Whatever field you are studying (animation, design, VFX, architecture, etc.), focus on the basics of your craft and seek knowledge around these four main aspects (the physics, the rules, the history and the intention). If you do that, you will be able to evolve with ever-changing technology, despite Kurzweil’s "Law of Accelerating Returns.”
And if your plan is to be a Technical Director? Learn the basics of a lot of different fields and start making connections between them all. 😊
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