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Bileam Tschepe on Teaching and Learning TouchDesigner

Bileam Tschepe aka elekktronaut is a Berlin-based artist and educator who creates audio-reactive, interactive and organic digital artworks, systems and installations in TouchDesigner, collaborating with and teaching people worldwide. Bileam first began using TouchDesigner in 2019 and started making short tutorial videos as part of the process of learning the software. These tutorials struck a chord with others seeking to learn TouchDesigner and 2.5 years later Bileam has become a driving force as a TouchDesigner educator with over 20K subscribers to his Youtube channel and produced a staggering 84 tutorials as well as 17 Patreon-exclusive videos. Chances are if you are reading this that you've watched at least one of these. Bileam has also produced 2 online workshops, 2 four-part TouchDesigner beginner workshop series, a couple of workshops IRL, seven meetups and is also now teaching at two universities. Below is our talk with Bileam about his experiences learning, teaching and building community.

Derivative: What specific areas are you trying to help people be better at?

Bileam Tschepe: My focus has mostly been to get people started with TouchDesigner, especially people that have little to no experience with programming. I myself come from a design background so I’ve basically been making the tutorials and workshops I wished I'd had when I started out. I’m also trying to focus my videos a lot on the artsy and design side of TD and to create fun little visuals and projects that aren’t always super technical. Plus, I am working quite a bit with the connection of audio and visual systems in TD, which helps musicians to start using it too.

Derivative: How did you learn TouchDesigner and what tutorials were most helpful to you?

Bileam Tschepe: I basically learned by watching tutorials myself and experimenting. The tutorials were mostly Matthew Ragan’s and some other smaller channels, not all in English, some with no spoken explanation at all, a lot of them were really tough to understand in the beginning. There wasn’t a beginner course or anything, so much of it was just collecting tutorials from different places and somehow connecting what I learned.

I think most importantly, I just kept at it and tried to experiment a lot (trial and error), somehow attempting to realize my own ideas or replicating other people’s work.

I did have experience with Ableton and Processing, that definitely helped for some concepts to make sense a bit more quickly. An important part of learning TD was to actually record videos myself! When you have to explain something, you have to at least understand its basic principles and always recreating and explaining my projects in the videos really helped me understand them better. Another thing I’d like to mention is TD’s documentation, the Forum and the Help Group. All of these really helped me out a lot as well, a lot of time was spent skimming through posts of others', asking questions and reading through the documentation of specific operators.

Derivative: What are some of the insights that you gained through doing workshops and making tutorials?

Bileam Tschepe: I learned that people (at least in this field) are very grateful. So many people have written to me just to thank me for my work, it’s very sweet to experience. I also learned to keep being fascinated by “simple” things. It’s easy to lose the excitement of small things like creating a pretty instancing network when you’ve done it a hundred times. Working with absolute beginners can really help keeping yourself excited by these small things. This sounds like I’ve worked with TD for ages (I have not) but even after two and a half years, I notice I do wish to push the limits of the software more and some basic techniques and outcomes don’t seem as interesting anymore. Another thing (and this isn’t really an insight but more of a confirmation): it really doesn’t matter where you’re from, what age or gender you are, what your background is etc. – everyone can program and everyone can make cool art.

Derivative: How do you think people should work with the tutorials that you and other people make? How should they work with them and tie them together or essentially use them to learn more and grow their skills and knowledge?

Bileam Tschepe: When I watch tutorials on TouchDesigner I almost always try to take the outcome further and not just stick with what is shown there. I personally have the feeling that when I don’t add my own “style” or at least a bit of variation, I don't really achieve anything. But that’s just me :) My advice would be to add some variation, fuse different tutorials, make the project interactive, add a video device, add your own style! Look for how you can apply techniques in different ways. I’m often surprised by how little people just google stuff. As soon as I’m stuck, I google until there’s nothing left to google for. If you don’t find anything, ask in the Forum. Or skim through tutorials until you maybe find something that works similarly to what you need. Or write to someone directly.

A big part of learning and expanding is research!

Learning programming is tough, it’s not just following step after step, it’s about being motivated and focused enough to somehow find the needed solutions and to spend hours just learning annoying stuff. It's messy. And it’s so worth it!

Derivative: Do you have a list of tutorials you want to make in the future or are you kind of working based on what interests you and timely things that come across your radar?

Bileam Tschepe: I do have a list, but I’m mostly doing whatever feels right and fitting at the moment. That can be anything really, sometimes I work on an idea for a long time, sometimes I’ve got an idea and record a video the same day. That’s what I’ve done since the beginning and apparently people like that!

Derivative: How do you come up with your next tutorial?

Bileam Tschepe: The actual content is a mixture of internal inspiration (images while listening to music or while meditating) and external inspiration (nature and natural patterns, other people’s works, techniques I learn etc.). Also, sometimes tutorial ideas simply sort of appear while I’m working on personal projects and all of the sudden I think: “I could use this as a video!”

Derivative: Can you talk a little bit about your technique or your style in tutorial making?

Bileam Tschepe: Well, it’s really quite free. There isn’t a concept behind it, it rather comes from the inside, just sharing whatever comes up, doing what feels right.

This is generally the approach I’m aiming to have in my work, simply going with whatever comes and sharing it with others.

Sometimes inspiration comes, sometimes it doesn’t. That said, my basic process is that I work on some project, either an idea I had, a request or a replication of someone else’s work. And usually, I end up with something quite different from what I started with, so the process of making a project is very fluid and flexible. Then, at one point, I decide it’s ready and I record. In the beginning, I barely cut the video at all, now I have started to cut way more of the millions of “ehms” and other weird noises and screw-ups.

Derivative: Are there any (newer) tutorial makers in the community that have impressed you with their teaching materials?

Bileam Tschepe: It’s amazing to see so many people starting to record videos now! I love it, it also keeps pushing me forward. Some of my favourite teachers and artists are Noto, noones img, exsstas, paketa12 and Function Store.

Derivative: What are the fundamentals that would make a good TouchDesigner professional?

Bileam Tschepe: I think what’s most important is the accumulation of techniques and the knowledge of how to apply them. In other words, knowing what tools you have and how to use them. And if you don’t know the right tools and how to use them, knowing how to find the right tools and how to learn them. Basically, TouchDesigner is programming and programming is finding solutions to problems, which again creates new problems, so new solutions are needed and so on and so forth. What I feel like being a professional is, is basically being confident with your tool(s) to find the fitting solutions to the current problems and not losing your mind while doing so.

Derivative: We have really been enjoying the monthly TouchDesigner Meetups via Music Hackspace that you have been curating and MCing. We’ve never had these regular online meetups with the breakout rooms which seem very beneficial in getting people to talk and share their work/ideas. From your perspective, what has your experience been with programming and the format of these meetups and how do you see this furthering community and learning? 

Bileam Tschepe: It’s really a great way for people to share their works and to get feedback and questions on it. I noticed for myself, when people ask questions about your work, you have to question it yourself, which can really push you forward and reevaluate certain aspects of your projects.

So the meetups really help people to both question their own works and to be inspired by other people’s work.

I feel like, working in this field, sometimes it’s quite difficult to get inspired or to even know what’s possible to achieve with your tool and knowing the limits of it. And seeing other people present their works and giving some insight can definitely help with that as well. Another aspect is simply the gaining of the knowledge that there are like-minded people out there. I’m lucky to live in Berlin where there’s actually quite a few TouchDesigners, but I hear from a lot of people worldwide that these meetups help to finally get in contact with other TDers, often accompanied by a surprise of how many there are, which can also motivate you to keep going.

Derivative: What has your experience been like with Patreon and how has it affected your work?

Bileam Tschepe: Patreon has been an absolute game-changer for me. I started using it in the beginning of 2020 and it’s been growing eversince. Basically, people from all over the world are supporting me financially every month to keep doing the work I do, which includes mostly tutorials, but also my artworks and other projects like the AV software algorhythm I’ve been working on for a while now. Patrons get benefits like extra videos, files and the Discord server where they can receive help from an active community and where we do monthly challenges, share works, inspiration etc. I’m absolutely astonished by this concept of work and I am deeply grateful for all the support I’m getting for the work I love doing. 

 

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