TouchDesigner / Interview with Jarrett Smith and Ben Voigt

By Audri Phillips, Published: 02/19/2013, Last Updated: 02/19/2013

This is the second blog I have written in which TouchDesigner is mentioned, but this time I have an informative interview with Jarrett Smith, system architect of TouchDesigner and Ben Voigt, product manager of TouchDesigner included. TouchDesigner is a very exciting and unique program. I have a hard time concisely explaining what TouchDesigner is as it has so many uses and  applications. It has a node based interface and is also open to programming. Python will be added to it as a language that can be used.  I will call it a platform from which you can according to the website create, interactive art production, architectural and environmental projections, pre-visualization, live character puppeteering, prototype environments, projection mapping, real time special effects, and VJ and in-studio performances.

My uses of it mostly falls within the VJ performance category.  I also create and render out images from it much as you would from any 3d program such as Autodesk Maya. I find it easier to do certain types of complex modeling in Maya so I import the model and material into TouchDesigner.  I should be able to import animation as well but have not yet succeeded in that. Of course as in most VJ programs I can import in movies and images and do compositing and other operations on them real time.  

I am excited about using TouchDesigner in the next immersive environment dome show I create. The mapping capabilities of TouchDesigner will enable me to map the dome and any stage sets I am using. Ideally I will be able to perform live visuals, video playback  and do real time animation which can also be controlled by channels in my audio. TouchDesigner has a module which will enable me to hook up to Kinect hardware so I can have performers interacting with the visuals and music. I wish I had done this for the "Blue Apple" dance performance in the dome I created the visuals for several months ago. There is also a Photoshop module in TouchDesigner I would like to try out. Audience members will also be able to interact with the visuals using controls on the the iPad, iTouch or iPhone using the TouchDesigner OSCemote app.  My hope is that in the future more built out modules for the most commonly used functions will be included in the TouchDesigner interface.  Doing this can will only increase the number of people who use the platform.

 Questions (answered by Jarrett Smith and Ben Voigt)

 What was the initial inspiration that led to the development of TouchDesigner?

 Our passion for music electronic music and performing live visuals alongside musicians and DJs was the inspiration. At the time, there we not many tools and we were hacking Houdini to become as realtime as we could make it. We saw the need for more specialized tools for live performance and decided to develop new tools to focus on realtime animation.

Was it a labor of love?

 Yes, the love for music, visuals, and technology.

Do you feel TouchDesigner occupies a unique spot in the market place?

 Yes, there are not many software packages that target live visual performances and the custom installation market the way TouchDesigner does. When you consider the level of customization TouchDesigner allows and the unique visual interface that constantly communicates with the user, that group is even smaller.

What were the initial goals for the development of TouchDesigner and have they changed?

 As technology has changed over the last 10 years, so too have TouchDesigner's goals. The initial goal of making visuals performed to music is now just one part of the bigger picture. Video playback has become a much more important cornerstone of TouchDesigner technology over the past 6 years. As well, the more recent rise of projection mapping and full show control/management have defined our development over the past few years.

What do you feel is important in interface design and what inspired the design of the TouchDesigner interface?

 When redesigning TouchDesigner's UI for 077, form really followed function. As a procedural node-based program, we realized the most time consuming thing when working was trying to identify where in the project something was taking place. How could you easily trace back where a certain effect or modification was introduced? By introducing an interactive viewer to each and every node, the user can now visually see where things change, follow their data flowing through the operators more easily. This was a breakthrough when compared to the previous workflow of loading each node into a single viewer or scouring through parameters to decipher where something was changed.

How has user input influenced you in the continuing development of the interface and engine?

 Our users have helped guide what features we have built into TouchDesigner, either through specific requests and unique project requirements or by popular demand. For example, Kinect functionality was something our users really wanted to experiment with, so we built it in. 

What do the majority of TouchDesigner users use TouchDesigner for?

 The uses are so varied and diverse that question is hard to answer. If we had to generalize, any form of visualization that lets you interact with it! More specifically, we've seen a large increase in people using it for high performance, large scale multi-display installations and live shows.

What has surprised you about how people are using TouchDesigner?

It always a nice surprise when we find out about a new studio or individual (who we've never heard of) doing amazingly creative work somewhere around the world. The TouchDesigner Vimeo group is a constant source of inspiration for us.
We'll never forget then time when TouchDesigner was hooked up to large trees to monitor the trees response to music stimulation!

Do you do personal projects using TouchDesigner? If so please describe..

 Yes, most of the employees at Derivative have also use TouchDesigner for personal projects. A variety of projects have been done from custom VJ video mixers, to art gallery exhibits, to large size prints, to oscilloscope rendering for a music video.

Any plans for the future of TouchDesigner you care to disclose?

 TouchDesigner 088, the next version of TouchDesigner, is currently in beta and should be released early next year (2013). TouchDesigner 088 includes the addition of Python as the default scripting language along with a number of other new features. More information on the beta can be found here:





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