Company Post

Blobs n Fluff Generates Bioluminescent Superbugs with TouchDesigner

Alexia Blobs & Fluff is a Paris-based French visual artist working on all kinds of personal experimentations which for the last year have involved TouchDesigner. These experimentations gravitate around computer-based patterns, biology, cycles, bioluminescence, procedural generation and to our delight, brings a whole other (and infinitely better) meaning to the concept of TouchDesigner BUGS!

Also apropos, Alexia's first project with TouchDesigner was an insect generator called "Superbug" where people could change an insect's proportions, colors and shapes with a midi controller. We're hooked, and Alexia has been kind enough to take us through the experiences and workflow that have resulted in these prolific and divine creatures!

Derivative: Alexia, your bioluminescent bugs and creatures are whimsical and beautiful and we've never seen anything like that made with TouchDesigner ;-) Can you explain your process please?

Alexia Blob-Fluff: This series of creatures started because I wanted to learn more about curves, and how to use them to drive small pieces of geometry.

I created a small project with one fin being instanced in all sorts of ways, and played around with the curves' shapes, just to see what happens and to understand it better. So it's basically a single geo piece which is instanced on its translation, scale and rotation with curve patterns like sines or ramps.

D: You seem to have experience with a lot of software tools as well as more 'traditional' animation. So how did you encounter TouchDesigner and identify it as a tool that could be useful to your practice?

ABF: I studied 3D for animation movies so the tools I learned originally are from the animation pipeline, with pre-calculated rendering, and compositing. At some point I discovered Houdini, which is a more procedural-oriented 3D software, and really liked the concept of generative shapes and patterns.

Procedural exploration creates this full universe of possibilities, shapes, and surprises. You create your own rules and dive into it to explore the results like a miniature personal world.

At the same moment I heard about TouchDesigner and it was really exciting to discover realtime coming from pre-calculated softwares, where it can take a day just to render a sequence and output a movie.

Superbug Generator

I started to work on a personal project, an insect generator called Superbug, which is an animated biology board where people can change an insect's proportions, colors and shapes with a midi controller. This first project was a lot of fun! So the process is a set of geometry nodes created separately, with joining positions (points) such as head-thorax, abdomen-thorax etc. All the parts starts with a line, which is transformed or "noised" and then revolved to create a 3D shape.

The midi controller is full of potentiometers, each one of them connected to something - like the color, the global pattern, UV position, leg length, abdomen length and so on, or the period of the noise, number of copies of the antennas etc. In the end everything is put together though a Render TOP.

Some of the elements, like the eyes, aren't procedural. I made a dozen different maps for them, and on top of it I added a Transform which makes an acceptable number of different versions of them. The version I am currently working on, I would like to be more like a "biology sheet", a Haeckel-like presentation if you will.

The images from the development folder are all the stages that came out from the experimentations I did with the TouchDesigner project. I gave them names during the process and saved some of the versions I like. They all come from the same system, but with different parameters (mostly the shaders).

The Automatis Voisinus is one of the stages, the animation in the gifs is what it looks like when you play with the controller. The "bugsofbugs" animations (gifs below) are samples of errors and accidents I got (or tried to get). 

I've been working on it on my spare time for almost a year. Since then I've being using more and more TouchDesigner, for more and more projects. I haven't been using it for that long, so I'm still learning and discovering its possibilities.

D: What has your learning process (and experience) been, what has been helpful resource-wise in terms of learning, what could be useful that does not exist?

AB-B: I had some people around me that knew about it, so I was able to ask around and combine it with the examples that people share on the forum. After this I found lots of resources on the internet, and I'm really glad there are so many people wiling to take time to make tutorials and videos. Recently I've watched some of the videos from the Berlin Summit and found them really interesting, and about topics that are not so well documented, like GLSL for example.

D: Would love to know more about your attraction to miniature bioluminescent marine creatures…

AB-B: I've been interested in marine creatures since I started doing computer visuals. When I learned 3D graphics I got really curious about transparent properties, transparent materials, translucency, refraction and all this fleshy gelatinous matters. The jellyfishes and other marine creatures have very specials colors and shapes, it's a lot about layers being added on top of the other, extreme darkness combined with bright luminescent organs.

The two images above show species created for another GIF jam event. Depending on the hour of the night, they became to mutate horribly, with more and more noise and deformations.

I just got interested because I was attracted by it's aesthetic, but I think it's so rich and complex, full of lights and colors I just never got tired of it. Still now I spend some time looking at marine biology articles and videos, because there are so many new species discovered every year, it's amazing.

The nudibranches for example, are extremely colorful seaslugs, and there are thousand of different species and colors, like the result of a powerful and psychedelic generative generator. Nature is such a powerful and psychedelic procedural tool, it's a great inspiration. Insects and mushrooms are really cool too.


AB-B: This project (above video) is a small performance I did for a Vjing festival, the Lille VJ Fest. When I got back I decided to make a recording of it on a music piece by artist Benoit Dechaut (Benito de la Vega). I recorded almost everything in a single video, with some small amount of editing. But it was very gratifying to make the visuals evolve with the music, to be able to create animation live without having to go through this very long process of animation/rendering/compositing.

I think this way of creating content is getting closed to what it's like to create music live with samples and controllers: it's much more by the instinct and the feeling and less calculated and prepared, I really loved doing it!

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