Dandi Does It streaming on Twitch. Note, this is in first person from Matija's POV, but with close review by Dandi, so it's reflective of our shared opinions, just the voice is 'Matija'
Derivative: Can you tell us how The Dandi Line came about?
Matija Erceg: Our housemate and good friend JoMoSenpai had been a streamer for a couple of years when he suggested that Dandi try streaming as an experiment. Initially, she tried streaming a psychedelic fitness show with a bit of green screen FX and some dancing to make it stand out. The idea was that people might follow along (how naive of us). I added some basic video feedback effects and basic branding.
We noticed that viewers got the most into it during the dancing, but it still lacked a sense of structure, and we didn't want to rely on the well established and video-game centric tropes of the average Twitch stream, so we took a couple weeks to come up with a concept.
Dandi came up with the notion of playing a different clone of herself each show, and after some purpose and value-system workshopping, we developed a fictional world and some lore to house all this.
To pull it off I learned After Effects and OBS, and the first version of The Dandi Line was born, starting with the first clone of Dandi, Dandi #2.
Derivative: How a Live Performance Video Game work?
Matija Erceg: In our opinion, an LPVG is a livestream of a performer in a fictitious XR or AR gamespace, where all its viewers have an interface to interact with the gaming elements of the gamespace and the performer(s) therein.
Derivative: Is this a full-time occupation? Certainly looks like it!
Matija Erceg: We're getting there, not because we have a 9-5, but because we also run another business: a sun protection apparel for kids and adults, called Friendship Unlimited
Although we put daily hours into the project, we are very limited by our time, which is why we're asking around for help, especially with Touch dev. Unfortunately, the Touch community in Vancouver is tiny, so now I'm looking more broadly.
Derivative: So that's where the outfits originate! What other things were you both doing before The Dandi Line?
Dandi: many years of art and performing music around the world with a band, making music videos, then costuming and fashion.
Matija: many years of IT, graphic design, front end web, and a year or two in a digital marketing firm. Also @seriousdesign on insta.
Derivative: It’s clear that the show is evolving and really filling out but can you give a short synopsis of the main storyline or premise?
Matija Erceg: The year is 3021, FTL travel is possible, and other species in the local cluster of galaxies now mingle. Capitalism is alive and well, and The Company has basically acquired all other companies. One of The Company's branches deals with the production of clones, called 'Offsets', and The Dandi Line of Offsets is one such project.
The Twitch users roleplay a sometimes-ambiguous role in the fiction, but most of the time they are Quality Assurance testers for the Dandi Line, and they observe each iteration of Dandi, and pass or fail it based on their performance. Passed Dandis go off-world to their destiny. Failed Dandis are decommissioned.
As a side note, we are extremely grateful that one of our community members Michael has been archiving all our sessions, and helping me reflect on things that have passed.
We believe we're making an anti-capitalist satire. Some themes/ideas that come up a lot:
People as products
Ethics of cloning
Company employees having control over Dandi's fate and body
Pre-pregnant clones (as we're now writing Dandi's IRL pregnancy into the lore)
Corporate propaganda and brands as cults
Derivative: How does the show optimize the Twitch environment and the audience?
Matija Erceg: We try to use native features of twitch, and just dress them up a little bit for the worldbuilding: subs are 'promotions' for example, and viewers are 'testers' and never just 'viewers'
Twitch is the most conducive platform for us as it has channel points, subs, bits, chat, gift subs, and twitch extensions. Other live platforms don't offer as much. Twitch is also already game-centric, so the cultural leap isn't as great for the average passer-by.
It's worth noting that Twitch has a pretty problematic TOS regarding apparel, where women are not allowed to show sideboob, underboob, or upper thigh, unless they are in the 'Pools and Hot Tubs' category. We got suspended once due to the breach of this TOS. So… we use a liquid filled tube in one scene, and a small pool of water in another.
A constant struggle is finding a balance between flashy features and just being a comfortable place to hang out: when you spend hours making a new feature in Touch, and you reveal it to the world, people go 'ooh' and 'aah' for 10 minutes, and then it's already not new anymore. The staying power (for many Twitch channels) comes from the communal feel you attain by spending time in our game. So while the nerd in me just wants to bedazzle with tech, we know that the core reason people hang out is our vibe and energy, and perhaps a value system and sense of humor that resonates more subtly.
The most incredible thing happened earlier this year: we'd booked LUVuLovesYou (an incredible musical duo, check them out!) to play for a particular evening, and little did we know that community member MakeMistakes organized what could best be described as a flash mob, where at a certain moment, he and dozens of other viewers logged into their alternate Twitch accounts and roleplayed a 'mass hacker attack' on the show, while LUVU (who was in cahoots with them) played appropriately dark music, until the hack was averted by a sizeable donation. We were absolutely shocked. It took them weeks of planning on a sacred Discord server. It was bonkers, and we were so grateful, but also felt a deep affirmation that what we were offering to the world was not only accepted but reciprocated. I wish I had more time to do an unpacking video on that whole event. Our YouTube is sadly neglected, as we lack the hours in the day..
Derivative: Have you noticed any streaming fatigue from your audience after these many months of pandemic?
Matija Erceg: Yeah, we have a pretty noticeable viewer turnover. The regulars one month may differ quite a bit from another, give or take some very dedicated fans (whom we love!!)
On the other hand, many people have messaged us to thank us for making their quarantine easier.
Speaking of fatigue, Dandi is getting sick of some of the DMCA-free music we've had to use to avoid a copystrike, which is why we're working on developing a procedural music system that can play house and disco style music for us based on our and audience input (know anyone?)
Derivative: Is there a sustained or growing appetite for the kind of engagement and play you guys and others eg. Sushi Dragon are producing?
On the whole, as people are more exposed to this new type of live entertainment, and the LPVG idea is normalized, the appetite is also increasing. LPVGs are a natural evolution of existing genres. The trick is finding a model of continually producing LPVG sessions sustainably without burning out. Developing gameplay, writing the story, and performing is wearing a lot of hats between just two people.
Derivative: How do you continue to develop your “sci-fi universe? There is so much artwork, so many products, ideas, all the calm, gentle and soothing vibes and so on. You really have created a whole world and it looks like it’s a lot of fun coming up with the show content and developing this universe.
Matija Erceg: We have weekly meetings with our longtime friend and collaborator Zach Lipovsky, who is a movie and TV director and writer. He helps us organize all our ideas into a seasonal outline and roadmap.
It's very important to us that the show has a wholeness, which comes from consistency and attention to certain details. A lot of stuff comes and goes, but the core elements haven't changed too much since the beginning.
Dandi and I push each other, and a lot of creative development spouts from that.
We're artists first, and are always trying to delight or evoke an emotion.
Oh, another example of the audience reciprocating is beloved community member Cyrus Black who regularly creates 'counterfeit' DENDI Line (with an E) merchandise in the style of knock-off overseas toys, and we've edited some of those assets into the show via bumper videos (we can share some of these images if you like).
Derivative: What made you start using TouchDesigner?
Matija Erceg: Really, it was Dandi who'd become very interested and been following many TD creators on Insta since 2020. She kept asking me if I thought that iterating would be easier than with OBS. It was the body-shape-reactive and BPM based stuff that captured her imagination the most.
Eventually, a fan of our channel Chris Hall (aka PatchyProjects) convinced me to let him demo TD to me. One two-hour session and I was immediately hooked! It was obvious just how much more appropriate of a tool TouchDesigner was to our vision.
Derivative: How did the show and your experience of building it change with that?
Matija Erceg: I was able to think more about the concept rather than the tool.
With OBS, we had to push it past its comfort zone, and anything 3D was just asking for pain. With TD, if something's not running well, it's more likely just something that needs a bit of optimization. With OBS, I'd often think about how 'I wish I could do that, but alas..", and with Touch I often think "I love this program..". Ask Patchy, it's true, I gush.
I feel more playful inside of Touch because nothing has to be baked in, everything is real-time and parametric, which makes it easier to 'jam out'. With OBS, I had to have a clear and concise goal, and then twist its arm to get it to do that, often with plugins like StreamFX (which are amazing for their purpose!) With TouchDesigner, I more often find that I just need to know my starting point, and the finish line is something I figure out along the way. The flipside of that is that I'll lose track of time and spend too long on a feature with so many to-dos on the pile..
To be clear, I absolutely LOVE OBS and the plugins for it. They are a godsend for streamers, and as a simple compositing and 2D fx solution, or broadcast mixer, there is nothing better for most people. And it's free for god's sake!
Derivative: Can you take us through how you are using TD?
Matija Erceg: A summary is:
One main instance takes cameras, xbox controller, and twitch events (via a LioranBoard extension) to control all the 3D XR stuff we do. I've built a fairly modular network, and each scene is independently built from either clones or selects from master nodes.
Another instance captures remote guest audio/video via vdo.ninja (formerly obs.ninja).
We track Dandi on the Z-axis loosely by looking at the position of her lowest point against the green screen. Then we texture a rectangle with the camera feed, and scale + move it to give the effect that Dandi moves in all directions in space, as well as cast realistic shadows and ambient occlusion, as well as screen space reflections.
[if you ask more specific questions, I could perhaps give a better answer here?]
Derivative: Breaking that down a bit what third party software do you use and how is TouchDesigner connected?
Matija Erceg: One instance of LioranBoard
Twitch pubsub/chat events parsing, and the engine of the 'TICKr' knowledgebase
Two instances of OBS
The 'TICKr' knowledgebase at the bottom of the screen, final encode, local recording, and sending stream to Twitch
Three instances of TouchDesigner:
Web server for intake of 'clean' twitch events from LioranBoard
Web render for intake of obs.ninja for remote guests
All the 2D and 3D scenes, video intake, chroma keying, Z-tracking of Dandi using Render Pick, Suit FX, Video Feedback FX, Background videos, overlays and UI, interactive triggers, background music, Twitch alert queue/rendering, post processing, syphon out to OBS, 'CREDITr' system (gives people input feedback, to help with several second delay of livestreams), Insert/PSA system, FIXr robot character control using Xbox controller
We also use:
Spotify with Snip for song ID
StreamElements for donation alerts trigger
Elgato StreamDeck as a controller
Antimicro for xinput remapping to be able to push-to-talk on xbox controller when I'm performing as FIXr
All mics are heavily filtered with Izotope RX7 since she has to listen to the music loud on the studio monitors
VB-Audio virtual cable for sending sound between OBS instances
Stream FX OBS plugins
BarRaider StreamDeck plugins
Derivative: And what is the physical and hardware setup for the show?
Matija Erceg: Everything listed above runs on one Core i5 10600KF Win 10 machine with a GTX 1080 8gb and an NVMe drive for fast loading of HAP-encoded videos.
Camera is Sony A6000 mirrorless with 16mm Sigma lens via Elgato CamLink 4k to USB3
Microphone is a cheap Fifine karaoke wireless mic into a Motu M2 interface
Second mic is a cheap usb mic
Four monitors, one of which is a 60" TV mounted in portrait orientation for Dandi to be able to read chat and activity feed from afar, as well see a video monitor window
Wireless numpad as a controller (remapped to F13-F24 keys using registry edit)
One Xbox 360 controller to control the FIXr character rig
Two green screen walls, and one Rosco vinyl chroma green floor, and lots of green gaff tape, in what is formerly our dining room
Three cheap Neewer video lights, and three cheap led tubes
The sound comes out of studio monitors via an old amp
Derivative: Can you give us a sort of walk through of how a show happens? Feels like there’s quite a lot going on!
Matija Erceg: Between shows: plan weekly lore or beats to hit, fix bugs, build new interactives, build new scenes, commission new assets, update patreon if possible, keep a light eye on discord, test calls with remote guests, inviting new guests.
On show day: all of the above plus: sound check, pre-flight checklist, Dandi gets ready and costumes herself, clears and preps the set (green screen, lighting, tidying), start the stream from inside OBS (which also records it), Dandi mostly performs from inside the green screen with breaks between iterations, Matija does chat moderation, and performs as FIXr the robot using a mic and xbox controller from the main streaming computer, also live bug fixes in network view if necessary, coordinate obs.ninja if there's guests
There's a lot of minutiae I've skipped there...
Derivative: What’s in the near future for DDI?
Matija Erceg: In short:
Trying out remote development help as we weren't able to find anyone suitable local to come in to the studio and jam with me.
Weekly guests is a new mandate.
Building out the procedural music component (know anyone?).
Matija with a more prominent role as a human space prisoner with his own segment.
More hours per week live and on more days.
We hope to overhaul our Merch - does anyone know a good provider?
Derivative: And this might not be in the article but I like to ask: have you identified anything that is missing in TD that would make your life easier? Even small things…
A dead simple way to build simple button/slider/field interfaces. Right now, I'm having ptsd flashbacks to CSS and HTML when trying to just build with Panels.
Better handling of audio playback without stutter
MULTI THREADING without multiple instances
.. or a better ENGINE comp that lets you edit the .tox in place
Better handling of dropped connections or 'plugged up' ports between Touch In and Touch Outs, especially when an instance crashes
A 10x more user friendly way to hunt down performance hiccups. The probe and perf monitor methods are beyond me really..
Ability to 'Select' geometries, instead of cloning them? (this one is kind of a half baked request)