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Daily Drawings, Always Real-time with @smooth_isfast

There's something enormously compelling about following an artist's Instagram dailies - watching the progression, anticipating what they'll come up with next, wondering how they can maintain such a rigorous creative schedule... Each day a fresh new sketch encapsulating a complete idea, at once identifiable stylistically and yet different from the previous day's, weeks' and months' dailies. How does one do this?! If you've been following video designer Hugues Kir's exceptional @smooth_isfast account on Instagram then you know exactly what I'm talking about - it's impossible to not become smitten and transfixed by these fascinating daily illustrations made “always real-time” with TouchDesigner. We had lots of questions and Hugues was kind enough to speak with us about his personal and professional practice, his relationship and "journey" with TouchDesigner, life in 2020 and looking towards the future. Enjoy!

Derivative: Based on the dailies you’ve been posting on your @smooth_isfast  Instagram account one would guess - but could be wrong - that you have some rich graphic and motion design experience… Can you tell us a bit about where you are coming from -  your background experience and the things you like to do? Your studio, the tools you use, projects you work on, things that inspire and motivate you… many questions here!  

Hugues Kir:  So as a quick backstory, I’m a Montreal native and in 2013, I was done with a bachelor in theatre studies and entered the National Theater School of Canada in the production program with the means of becoming a lighting designer for theatre. 

Along the way I discovered Isadora from Troikatronix, Python and Processing. The world of programming was upon me and I started to specialize myself as a video designer. I’ve always loved the convoluted complexity of a video setup. Where some see troubleshooting I see puzzle solving. I think this paradigm shift in resolving problems is key to be happy in our business.

In 2016, right out of the gates from NTS, I started collaborating with the very young HUB studio. At the time, we were a very small team mainly focused on video design for theatre. Through time, HUB has evolved into a multidisciplinary creative studio designing installations, scenography and video design for live arts—all this through a theatrical approach.

I started my career as a video integrator with the VYV products. At the time, we were working —and, in some ways, beta testing—Tachyon (which is the standalone version of the Photon from VYV) on one of the largest projection venues in the world: Montréal en Histoires. From there, and always with HUB, I’ve managed to work with most of the major video servers (Photon, Coolux, Watchout, etc). 

I tackled TouchDesigner for the first time in 2018. Since then it’s been an uphill battle to open any other software.

My colleges are often mocking me because I do everything with TouchDesigner. You need pixel mapping for your LED wall, tweaking the highlights of a photo, making a schedule, projection studies, interactions studies? For me it’s all in TD (and yes I can hear my colleges giggling reading this). 



Derivative: In our conversation a few weeks ago you made some very interesting points and I was hoping you could expand a bit. You said “TouchDesigner becomes an instrument. And this is what I wanted to share, I now have a similar relationship with TD than with a musical instrument. I don't view as a program or an application but an extension of my process.” Specifically then, how is TouchDesigner like an instrument and what is that relationship, and how do you see it as an extension of your process?  

Hugues Kir: The thing with making these daily drawings is that you’re spending a lot of time in the software. I allow myself (most of the time) a 45 minutes window to create a drawing. Some are more complex and require more time. But I’m obviously always starting in a very similar fashion. By doing similar (but different) effects again and again, I realise that I’m troubleshooting some problems that haven’t occurred yet. This anticipation becomes key in a daily practice. Nowadays, I’m going straight for the drawing I’ve planned, but when I started there was a lot more zigzagging between ideas and approaches to a set of problems. This hesitation can be detrimental to the final product, since you often compromise your original idea and end up diluting your concept. 

It’s so non-original, but I feel like I’m rediscovering the wheel all for myself. I feel silly even mentioning it here, because it’s so obvious, but your skill level is directly related to the number of hours you practice a task. That’s what I meant when I said  TD is like a musical instrument: the more songs you know, even if you’re always using the same chords, the better you get. And Touch is great for that, of course. It’s easy to be jaw dropped by David Braun or the Gerritsen brothers from y=f(x), but the truth is that it’s super easy to do something quick and dirty that looks good in TouchDesigner. 

The software has become an extension of my process because I create and imagine each drawing within the logic provided. If I was a Photoshop artist I would think in layers, if I was a Processing designer in procedural code.

With TouchDesigner I allow myself to encapsulate my ideas in neighbourhoods, using the network as a map.
The south/east will always be 3D SOPs, north/east CHOPs and out west it’s TOP land. This enable me to compartmentalize each problem and tackle them one at the time. 



Derivative: Back to your @smooth_isfast and “Always real-time @touchdesigner” Instagram, the first post was May 1st  - is this when you started learning TouchDesigner? And what made you decide to dive in? 

Hugues Kir: So I’ve been doing TouchDesigner professionally and full time for over two years. Since then I’ve logged a tremendous number of hours in the software. I started the Instagram account with no real purpose, except putting something out there. Through time I discovered some wonderful 3D artists, but I got to admit I have a soft spot for the terribly clean renders who come out of the accounts of Perry Cooper (@perry__cooper) or Clément Mazieres (@clemmzrs). Obviously these are offline rendered and this allows a way higher quality in details, but one would argue that this isn’t the only or even the main source of the quality behind their respective practices. I guess this is what I am now trying to mimic, a very idiosyncratic style that isn’t focused on technique.  



Derivative: You also said in email “I’ve have been doing dailies for now over 50 days." [Note: at the time of publishing Hugues is at 120 days.] "In those days I've done some fancy and simple things. But all through this process, TD is never the enemy, coming up with new ideas there is the real challenge.” I am very curious as to how you come up with such fresh new ideas on a daily basis. Can you please tell us a bit about your process and inspiration for these posts? 

Hugues Kir: This is indeed the real challenge of the daily practice. I do spend a lot of time actively thinking about it during the day. I spend some time on Pinterest and Behance, taking pictures of patterns or a fire hydrant when I walk around, but it’s mostly looking into the abyss. Some weeks the inspiration comes easily; some weeks it is a hustle. I try not to struggle too hard, pick a idea and commit. I would be more disappointed missing a day then putting out a non-satisfying piece. With the dailies I’m focused on getting something out there every day, good or less good.

Also, I never start without knowing the end game. This is a recipe for disaster and extremely time consuming. TD can become hazardous when you start knocking on every other door.

Despite this, I rarely have a drawing ready for the next day. I think being on the edge is what keeps me going. At the moment of writing this, I’m also doing my drawing for today, but have no idea what I will do tomorrow. At times it gets nerve wracking, but I try to surf on that slight anxiety and to trust the process. The whole thing is pretty low pressure, in the sense that I’m not trying to create a masterpiece. So if it sucks, well so be it, it sucks. Getting something out every day is the name of the game.  

Derivative: What else has come out of this pandemic in your experience and what you’ve seen or discussed with friends and colleagues during these last months? 

Hugues Kir: First of all, I want to point out that I’m in a very specific and lucky situation. My job was not compromised and my family and I have been in good health. So within these very specific parameters the pandemic has opened my schedule like never before. I’ve invested a great part of that time learning, perfecting my skills in TouchDesigner but also in other softwares. For the lucky few, this has been almost a blessing in the sense that it has created the opportunity to deep dive into our goals. Mine was to create a routine of daily TouchDesigner posts. 

Derivative: On the same topic you mentioned earlier (and obviously from your smooth_isfast account this is evident) “Focusing all our energies into personal/professional growth. Taking the time to think about our practice, learning new skills and enjoying time with our immediate family is now the daily practice here.” I’ve seen a great deal of this in our TD community and I imagine it’s the same thing in other communities. One very positive thing to come out of the pandemic has been the enormous amount of learning material, development and work put out by people who now have the time to focus on personal/professional growth and share what they learn with others!

Hugues Kir: Yes indeed. I think a lot of people, including myself, have discovered the joy of working from home. I myself have an 8 month girl, so working from home has been a blessing. It enabled me to be more present that I could ever have been. Hopefully we (as an industry) will be able to make the good parts of this new way of life into a “new normal”. Our studio is embracing the change, relocating our business in the heart of the city, rethinking our approach and our long time goals. Personally, HUB has been great in that regard. We’ve had terribly long and difficult, but necessary, talks on how we do things and why. I feel you don’t get a lot of these long reflexive moments in the lifespan of a company. 

It is clear that a some point every part of the creative and entertainment industry will restart full throttle. When this happen, I can only hope we can remember that this big humongous machine also has an off switch. Finally the world has shown itself that the snake can un-bite his tail.  

Derivative: You mentioned that recently in Montreal things are slowly starting to retake their shape? How do you think things will change in this new …”   “ not sure what to call it ! “World order” seems a bit intense but we are pretty far from where we were 6 months ago. 

Hugues Kir: If I only knew… Theatre and every other form of live performance seems to be down for some time. However initiative from the community seems to be slowly but surely emerging. In Montreal this summer, tourism is going to be (mainly) Montrealers, so we’ll have to figure out a way  to rediscover our city, to create wonder where there is familiarity and celebration where there is routine. As creators, it’s our role to find this middle ground where public art serves a narrative but also distraction. 

With all the new measures we’ve seen appear in the last few months, the day to day narrative is so overbearing that I find myself craving for more contemplative artistic activity. If I’m going to stop watching Netflix and get off my couch, it better be satisfactory. 

Derivative: Can you again please expand on this nice statement? “My journey in TouchDesigner has been a real game changer in my professional life and my artistic life, and I would be glad to share it with our community.” 

Hugues Kir: TouchDesigner has very much been a teacher. The more you get into the intricacies of the software, the more you understand some low-level computing manoeuvres. I like to take the blending modes as a example. Once you understand that the ‘add’ mode is this very simple arithmetic relationship between each overlapping pixels, you can deploy this basic knowledge to conceptual uses. Touch forces you to understand things that you wouldn’t think you need. 
Especially in TOP world, where you’re basically doing node-base GLSL. As you advance in your comprehension of TD, you reckon that some obscure concepts are in fact pretty simple and may be great allies. In the recent month I’ve been doing most of my 3D sculpting with the CHOP_to SOP. Funnily enough the relationship between a sine and cosine curve allows me create with more precision than primitive SOPs. This is high school trigonometry that is accessible to pretty much anyone who has an interest. I guess what I’m saying is that working with TD debunks a lot of fears related to creative coding: most of the math you’ll be doing is very easy, but surely take a little time to get accustomed to.  



Derivative: It’s always thrilling to see someone use TouchDesigner the way you do – so graphically and about lines/shapes/simple motion and CLEAN! How do you find TD lends itself to your style and second part of this question, what in your opinion is missing or could be improved upon to improve your workflow? 

Hugues Kir: I guess part of the answer is that I’m not good enough to be on the level of the top individual of our community, an issue which I’m extremely comfortable with. There is no way I can compete with the skill level of some Vincent Houzé or Paketa12, so better do my own stuff. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Finding my style was a non-issue, I discovered it literally one day at a time, iterating on what seemed to be successfully the day prior. So putting the raw power of TD toward some simple (and real-time) animation is quite satisfying in the sense that you can improve as you go, without render or cook time. 

To me it’s the SOP world that would gain the most from upgrades. The camera in the geometry viewer is somewhat hard to control. I would love some kind of offline TD to create the asset that could be then used in real time. I would love some kind of offline TD, where there is no ambition of being real-time. An editing/modeling platform where you can create assets that could be baked and rendered. In other words a tool to export to obj. or .fbx geometry COMPs. Obviously I can only imagine the complexity of creating such heavy computing tools in a real-time environment. In some CHOPs and SOPs nodes some Bezier handle would also be super helpful. A lot of snippets are missing and they are so convenient. I would love to see more online tools (tutorials from Derivative) for “model geometry”. I love nodes, but I wonder if we could move away from them for some specific design task. 
Derivative: Many thanks Hugues for taking the time to share your experiences and insights with the community and for this very fine "wish list"! One thing we can confirm at this time is that the the geometry viewer camera has been completely overhauled for 40k (with more still to come), so hopefully that will be less difficult to control. And to our readers be sure to follow Hugues' dailies at @smooth_isfast on Instagram.