Company Post

The Beauty of Nodes: Investigating TouchDesigner with Soyun Park and her Students


We’ve seen nodes and networks used in many logical, sometimes strange and even beautiful ways, to accomplish a wide array of tasks. However, what you will see as the results from Soyun Park’s students for their assignment “The Beauty of Nodes” is something we guarantee you have not seen before!

Originally from South Korea and now based in The Hague, Netherlands, Soyun Park is an artist, designer, educator and founder of the innovative studio, RGBdog.

As an educator, Soyun recognizes the potential peril in learning any type of tool, where the tool might overshadow the creative work. In her classes, technology is introduced to students as a tool for fostering critical thinking and poetic expression. Understanding what it means to use the tools is part of an open discourse. 

Soyun has shaped her course, ‘Designing Programs,’ at Design Art Technology Department at ArtEZ University to enable students to consciously regain user agency by scrutinizing designed software.This involves paying attention to the intricacies of how these tools are crafted to shape the user's experience. Thus, Soyun challenges her students to create works using software in ways not initially intended, with TouchDesigner serving as the first tool.

The results of this assignment manifest as differently from one another as can be imagined, taking the form of playful narratives, a visual clock, a species of nodes, an upcycling video and even... a bananabread recipe! Enjoy this diverse showcase of creativity and we hope you will think of nodes and their uses a little differently henceforth.

"TouchDesigner is a node-based software in which individual nodes have roles. The nodes have parameters that can be mathematically manipulated. Together in connection with other nodes, it executes logic. TouchDesigner networks are a little society with folders and boxes, living algorithms supporting existences together. As they are presented as visual elements rather than programming languages, we also visually perceive the system's structure.
While we care for the final execution of the ‘image’ or the mechanical ‘logic’, we treat the raw nodes as a ‘backend’, the part that is not supposed to be shown. However, without the nodes, the work wouldn’t exist.
What if these nodes themselves are as important as the outcome you present in the end? How would it transform the way you compound the tool?
Think of every component as a living algorithm and image.
Think of the connected lines, the order of the nodes, the folders and their contents, the errors, the lag, the autonomy, the texts, and the data tables… think of everything as part of your piece. What concept can you challenge through this exercise?”

__Soyun's assignment description for The Beauty of Nodes

Derivative: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, the things that inspire you and spark/sustain your interest?

Soyun Park: Hi! My name is Soyun, an interdisciplinary artist, designer, educator, and founder of the creative studio RGBdog. I’m from South Korea and based in The Hague, The Netherlands.

My work often revolves around curiosity towards the relationships between technology and the world. It includes politics, phenomena, society, humans, and further.

Derivative: Your studies started with print media, then interactive digital media and then graphic design - can you speak a bit about this trajectory? I'm also wondering outside of this "formal" education what influences your thinking and work.

Soyun Park: Growing up in South Korea in a working-class family, the norm that I had to follow among all the other teenagers was studying the national curriculum for 12 hours a day until I got accepted to a university in Seoul. As I was interested in drawing, I was happy that I got accepted to the fine arts (specifically printmaking) department while I didn’t know anything about it.

After the study, I generally had no idea what I wanted to do with the knowledge. So I decided to travel leaving everything behind. Living in Australia for 3 years doing farm and factory work with my poor English, I developed my personality and relationships with others. At the end of my living there, I took a short course on interactive digital media and was lucky to get a small job as a graphic designer.

While working in a large university as a small cog who didn’t have much room to provoke creativity, I started to question what design means. I wanted to develop critical thinking.

Studying Graphic Design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague shaped my professional path more clearly. I got to experiment with and research a variety of technologies and subjects and meet an amazing international community with passion. By producing a lot of processes without fear, I got to run projects that were larger than myself.

Although this formal education gave me opportunities to develop my practice, what influenced me the most was life experiences from different social groups. They provoke my curiosity towards politics, phenomena, and societies often revealed in my work.

Derivative: How did you encounter TouchDesigner and how has it benefited your practice?

Soyun Park: I wanted to create a visual show for the parties that my musician/DJ friends were making. I learned how to work with Processing before but I wanted more intuitive control for my video assets. Then, I got to know TouchDesigner through my peers. 

What I liked about TouchDesigner is that a person like me without a programmer’s background could create a complicated logic visually to achieve the desired setup, running in real-time. While you make a sketch with visual nodes, you also understand how this can be written in different programming languages.

For me, it’s fascinating to learn TouchDesigner as a concept and systematic thinking tool.

When I plan a live show where automation has to happen (although I never make it so complicated to the point that I can’t handle it myself), I know that I can dig for some resources that make it possible in TouchDesigner. The accessibility and helpful community are empowering. And it opens up possibilities for the work to evolve.

Derivative: You started RGBdog during pandemic as a “a community-based studio for bonding technology”, can you describe your incentive and initiatives the studio has taken on to date including the fantastic Volumetric Interviews?

Soyun Park: RGBdog started off as an audio-visual production studio where we made social events introducing creative technology. The first event we made was BedroomLiveOut, in which we danced to generated and coded audio-visuals made with TouchDesigner, MAXMSP, and Hydra created by Fingacode, Jacob Sachs-Mishalanie, LaeLume, Berk Özdemir, Char Stiles, Krumme Visuals, Currency, and myself. It’s a crazy lineup if I think about it now- a pandemic miracle, I would say.

After a couple of events and social projects, I got an urge to introduce creatives who are building beautiful communities with meaningful use of technology. I wanted to simply show how fun and intimate technology can be, in the flood of economy-centred tech products. That’s how Volumetric Interviews was born.

Technically, Volumetric Interviews are pushing the genre of a documentary by intersecting traditional film and volumetric data from Microsoft Kinect.

We believe that the future of memory-saving is in volumes rather than 2D information, considering human history's yearning to capture our moments with technological developments.

For this project and further, I’ve been closely working with Leo Scarin, the creative technologist, artist, and educator who’s also my friend and a big part of RGBdog. He has been developing TouchDesigner and Blender solutions for playful and engaging expressions to be used in the film.

The current slogan ‘a community-based studio for bonding technology’ came into effect then. Since this project, we've been researching ways to facilitate get-togethers and encourage communities with a common element, technology.

Here, the technology is an expanded definition. It can be anything from digital, TouchDesigner, web, and server building to body and physical knowledge such as fixing a bike. We believe that this common element we explore creatively teaches us ways to share solidarity.

Derivative: You have been lecturing in the Design Art Technology department at ArtEZ University of the Arts Arnhem as well as various secondary schools in The Hague since 2022. What led you to wanting to become an educator and what has your experience been so far? It would be interesting to know too what students are interested in and stimulated by at both university and secondary school levels and what your approach to teaching is.

Soyun Park: Process and conversation-driven teaching has been greatly rewarding for me. I believe art education is the core of a healthy society and, further, the planet we share with other beings. Art and culture are not facts, therefore there’s no correct answer to them.

So one element of art education I find very important is the process of recognizing an individual’s curiosity and learning ourselves in relation to others. This leads to care and respect for a community, forms opinions and unique thoughts, and creates a safe space for discussions. With this belief, I aim to introduce technology as a tool for critical mind and poetic expression in my classes.

Students from the departments of art, and educational institutions I often work with are interested in interactive, new, or old technologies. Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic for sure, and TouchDesigner is phenomenal for its expandable nature.

However, the danger of learning any type of tool is that the tool takes over the work. So when I introduce them, I try to bring discourses and concepts around them to explore what it means to use them.

Teaching secondary school students is full of surprises. Their daily engagement with technology trains them to intuitively work with the new media they encounter. When it comes to technology, they are fearless fast learners. With them, I also try to create discussions before teaching AI image creation, for example. I introduce what the current disputes are, and throw provocative questions that we can all think about and converse together before unconsciously using the tools.

Derivative: This last semester at ArtEZ you had a course called ‘Designing Programs’ in which you came up with a very novel/experimental approach to introducing the students to software and for their first assignment brought TouchDesigner and called it "The Beauty of Nodes’. Can you please tell us about your intentions and how you lead this course?

Soyun Park: I’m shaping the course Designing Programs at ArtEZ to practice gaining back user agency by consciously investigating designed software. This means, paying attention to the details of how they are designed to design the user's experience. So I challenged my students to make works out of software in a way they are not intended to be used for. I chose TouchDesigner as the first tool.

This is my short description of the assignment:

“TouchDesigner is a node-based software in which individual nodes have roles. The nodes have parameters that can be mathematically manipulated. Together in connection with other nodes, it executes logic. TouchDesigner networks are a little society with folders and boxes, living algorithms supporting existences together. As they are presented as visual elements rather than programming languages, we also visually perceive the system's structure.
While we care for the final execution of the ‘image’ or the mechanical ‘logic’, we treat the raw nodes as a ‘backend’, the part that is not supposed to be shown. However, without the nodes, the work wouldn’t exist.
What if these nodes themselves are as important as the outcome you present in the end? How would it transform the way you compound the tool?
Think of every component as a living algorithm and image.
Think of the connected lines, the order of the nodes, the folders and their contents, the errors, the lag, the autonomy, the texts, and the data tables… think of everything as part of your piece. What concept can you challenge through this exercise?”

What’s important about this practice is taking control as an artist/designer who lives in an era of flooding technologies.

I didn’t only want to introduce TouchDesigner as a fascinating tool but also to provoke my students to form their own methodologies by hacking the intentions of the software.

Derivative: The works created by students where they literally used the nodes and design/structure of TouchDesigner to tell stories are remarkably unexpected and imaginative. Were you surprised by what they created and how do you think only giving them a cursory introduction to the software influenced what they came up with?

Soyun Park: I was also so surprised by all the cheeky results! There were students already familiar with TouchDesigner, but also the ones who hadn’t even touched it. To prevent making it too technical, I barely gave a workshop on TD (sorry for the students who might have thought they would ‘learn’ TouchDesigner). Rather, I introduced ways to look into what each part means, TOPs, CHOPs and such; the naming of operators and question why they are named like that; why there are program defaults like Feedback, Mapping tools, Point Clouds, how to investigate the structures of defaults and so on. We started by picking one node and writing down everything that popped up in our minds intuitively. See the esperiments of student Isaac van den Aker below.

It was very playful. I remember some of their first curiosities… One student said how nodes are connected and functioning looks like a supply factory chain (Mare), and one student played with many LFOs being displayed in the background with different rhythms.. (Isaac)

Then every week, I had conversations with each student digging into what inspired them from this limitation. As the assignment specifically asked them to include the ‘sketch’ with all the nodes in their work, it generated thoughts around systems, and topics outside the software, such as nature, living organisms, and critical views on technology. I was happy to witness that despite not going into detail about the technical aspects of TD, they managed to create original works strongly bound to their interest. Please enjoy their amazing works!

Species of Nodes - Isaac van den Aker

Isaac van den Aker: This TD-sketch is inhabited by a species of nodes.
The population of three are living inside, and born out, of the TD-ecology.
Their anatomic network is based on different wave-nodes and logic-organs, their brain consists out of a DAT, providing them the behaviour and an image of self. Their behaviour and body are interlinked, the muscle-operators moving and shaping themselves by small algorithms. Their inner workings are obscured and enclosed by this body, and only by observing one can try to understand them. To observe them, an observant can enter the TD-biosphere by operating the mouse-controlled operator1 by externally moving and zooming.
Through wire-tentacles, this operator is able to connect with the species, if close enough. Brief, unstable connections project their waveshapes onto the operator, giving a glimpse of their inner world. But also a visual and behavioural study can be applied. Studying their movements and shapes reveals their algorithm. The species of nodes are somewhere floating around in the TD-biosphere. Open-up their sphere file, run their DATS and search for their presence. Starting from the base settlement, move around to find them. Don’t be afraid, observe, interact, and experience their autonomous being.”

do you even speak gaussian? - Kaan Pişkin

Kaan Pişkin: In “Do you even speak gaussian?”, the artist Orkan-Kaan Piskin tried to challenge the idea of using a certain program for its certain purpose by making use of the framework of the node-based visual programming language for real-time interactive multimedia content called TouchDesigner. Since its original purpose in the artist's eye is video and signal manipulation, he tried to articulate its sound-producing potential by making an interactive Installation which lets you manipulate parameters that alter both the sonic and the visual outcome of the sketch. The visual outcome is a representation of the internal visualization of sound frequencies, closely tied to common waveshapes. The artist tries to invite the user to interact with the installation by making use of the knobs and faders of the controller without giving further context about what the controls are used for in order to break free from the high entrance-barrier affiliation with the creation or modification of sound.”

The Visual Clock - Misha van Rooij

Misha van Rooij: I was interested in the clock chop inside TD, because it’s a whole functional note on itself. I had the idea to make this nonvisual clock visual and chose to use all nature and living footage. This is contrasting well being only playing inside a digital program. The viewer can see the time “ticking” through the videos that play at a specific time sequence. The ticking clock is the clearest visualization of time, with the hands of the clock moving every second. But using videos of nature as clocks, the more literal side of time disappears. You now have a visualization of the calm and rough beauty of nature, inside a digital program.

Upcycling Video - Goeun Lee

Goeun Lee: Upcycling means creative reuse. Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality. Since I studied film, there were lots of videos that I made myself or participated as a staff member. However, the films made in university still remain on the hard disk despite spending a lot of time and money. I thought I could create something new with these videos.
So I suggest upcycling the videos so that the videos I made with my efforts are not wasted. In fact, a lot of things are used and thrown away for filming. Video upcycling may really help the environment.
If you have any kinds of videos and as long as you find commonalities between the videos, you can try anything. Upcycled video may tell a new story and deliver a new message. Different videos are put together to produce a new story by themselves. As if we have something in common as human beings, ad each of us with different personalities can be friends.
There is nothing “new” in the world anymore. There is only an attempt to get closer to something new.

|\| () |) /-\ |_ by Sep van der Spiegel

Sep van der Spiegel: Node-based bodies crawl around like organisms in a digital ecosystem. Some flock together while others prefer to be left alone. Their characters are based on parameters in mathematical formulas. They dance with each other or try to escape from their wired and linked bounds. Are they aware that they are? Their bodies are made up of nodes and operators. But who is the operator in this world? I created this digital landscape, but am I still the master of it? Did I pass on ownership to them? Like living beings they own their territory and their anatomy. Try to alter the parameters that make up their bodies and see how they protect themselves by moving away from the cursor.

The Digital Chrysalis - Niels Nicola

Niels Nicola: The Digital Chrysalis, a tale about a single LFO living in TouchDesigner, is a result of my personal case study of the possibilities of interconnectivity between different nodes in TouchDesigner. I wanted to see my limitations and options within this program with almost zero prior knowledge, and within a week or two this story came forth of that research. I narrowed it down to one specific node that got me the most interested and tried to make it grow in different chapters. Throughout this story, you will experience the basic ability of this node, to propose what it can become with influences from different aspects of the program. The digital Chrysalis is aimed at all people, not only at those who work with TouchDesigner. The story uses AI text-to-speech for its narration, and in fact, the story itself is a collaboration with Open AI and the artist.

BananaBreadRecipe from TouchDesignerNodes- Mare de Boer

Soyun Park: Mare made a banana bread recipe TD sketch in which her sisters must bake with it without communicating with words. As seen in the video, the intended excecution and the activated excecution conflict by uncertainty of the system she created. :) Mare brought the final banana bread to the whole class so we could all taste it in the end. It was scary, but surprisingly edible.

cybernetichomeostasis - Maroua gaddur


Who is Julia - Varvara Pekhota

Varvara Pekhota: ‘Who is Julia?’ is a short movie set within the interface of TouchDesigner. A node-shaped entity (ies?) are being accused of a mysterious unspecified crime, and it seems like it was julia who’d done it. But what does it mean? Who takes responsibility? Julia will have to look into the very core of her unrendered pixelized existence. Despite being primarily utilitarian, the interface can become an environment for a playful narrative. It shapes the dialogue with the viewer and generates miscommunication. This awkward position inspires us to question the existing cliches of the software, such as — who is julia?

Derivative: What did you take away from your experience as a lecturer this year and how do you see it influencing future courses and projects?

Soyun Park: During the first year of my long-term teaching, I found the importance of questioning and listening to students with curiosity as a tutor. It’s very rewarding to see my students growing their thoughts, and paying attention to things that were not touched upon before. The assignment The Beauty of Nodes was a good start and quite liked by them I believe, so I will run it again this semester. Iterating the assignment by focusing on some other technicalities of TouchDesigner could be done in the near future.

Derivative: What’s on your horizons now and next?

Soyun Park: TouchDesigner has been a great community introducing other DIY technologies to me. This means a lot, as I’m trying to get out of the subscription-based cooperate design tools in both medium and subject. How can we collectively and sustainably live in this transforming society? How do we reflect on our destructive habits of dealing with technology and shape a communal future? I'm interested in researching and materialising these questions artistically and educationally, in diverse forms of cinema, virtual/physical installations, and performances. Looking forward to sharing them in the near future.


Follow Soyun Park: Web | Instagram
Follow RGBdog: Web | Instagram