We recently spoke with Laurent Brun about LNLO's practice and dynamic as well as three of the studio's recent projects that made use of TouchDesigner in creative and inventive ways to light things up, to move them around, and to entertain and engage audiences.
Derivative: Can you tell us a bit about LNLO - the partnership and practice?
Laurent Brun: We consider ourselves more like artists than "partners in a design lab". We have a really sensory approach to our work and always keep focus on the final emotion we want to create. We two have really different points of view that we balance and finely tune to create artworks that are a representative mixture of our personalities. We are interested in working on any thematic as long as we can transmit our emotional vision of the subject. As collaboration is always rewarding, we are interested in working with other artists, especially on cross-displinary projects (music, dancing etc...).
D: Can you tell us also how you came to use TouchDesigner and how the software has worked for you?
LB: I formerly worked as a video game programer, so I am quiet efficient in C++, I was lately looking for a video API that could help me in some VJ software project. I found a link to TouchDesigner on a VJ forum and tried it. After few weeks I bought a licence and made the FLUX project (that has nothing to do with the original VJ project).
I am really a coder and not used to graphical interface (like VVVV or MaxMSP) so I was scared that TouchDesigner would also have strong limitations. But as I have access to C++ Chops / C++ SOP / CUDA and Python, I always find a way to achieve what I want. Now that I am used to TouchDesigner, I can really speed up prototyping and building new projects. Last year 95% of my work was done with TouchDesigner, so that is self-explanatory.
What follows is play-by-play of LNLO's work and experience, merci Laurent and Helen!
PRANA - Breath of Life
Energy flowing to the rhythm of our breaths through the channels of the physical body, Prana is a fluid, sometimes hot, sometimes cool, creating various positive feelings and emotions, a subtle essence that oxygenates the heart and mind.
The installation is an allegory of this fundamental force at the base of all life and conscience, it is a breath of light, steady but energetic, the vital energy that exists in all beings, and that each living thing absorbs through the air which it inhales. Celebration of Life, PRANA is a work of immersion, inviting the viewer to experience the sensation of being, the energy of existing, and to perceive the living breath of the universe around him.- LNLO.
We materialized Prana as different shapes in different places. As a light Totem in Eglise Saint Séverin, Paris, as ray of light coming out of the ground in the Temple of Earth in Beijing (video below)...
...and most recently as a cloud of light in Gallery Georges Verney Carron in Lyon. The first two materializations in Paris and Beijing used standard LED display panels. The latest in Gallery GVC used custom made 3D LED display tools, we will focus on this latest work as it is less common.
3D Display Tools
We became interested in making a 3D LED display tool where the idea was to be able to display simple geometric shapes in 3D space using RGB LEDs.
Quite a lot of people worked on this subject. We could find hobbyist works that were open source but with patterns that were hard-coded. Or more professional ones, but all proprietary, on which we were totally unable to display our own patterns. So we decided to use TouchDesigner as the main tool to control the 3D LED display. The standard 3D features could enable us to create any 3D environment using 3D objects and particles. Then we wrote a module that converts the generated 3D in several 2D plans. The software is fully customizable to adapt the rendering to the shape and pixel number of the display tool. The display tools itself thought as modules, can be any shape and reach any size.
For the electronic parts, we made 2 kinds of tools: one for small scale installation and one for large scale installations. Those 2 parts are compatible with standard LED signal distribution and receiving cards. We reverse-engineered some standard display panels and built my tools to be compatible with those cards. In this way we could achieve very high resolution at very high transmission rates.
To achieve the PRANA installation, we used 2 sounds: a breath and a heart beat. The sequencing of breath and heartbeat are random. The two sounds when played are analyzed through an Analyze CHOP and linked to different parameters of the Particle SOP. In this way we could keep a strict synchronicity between sound and light, which is essential in our work.
Small scale installation, size 30x30x30cm, 8x8x8 = 512 pixels, 1024 "3535" RGB LEDs*
Large scale installation, size 100x100x100cm, 8x8x8x2 = 1024 Pixels, 3072 "5050" RGB LEDs*
NOTE: *Each pixel is an independent addressable LED
FLUX, Paris East Railway Station, collaboration with Stefane Perraud
The Gare de l'Est railway station in Paris deals with heavy traffic with about 30 million travellers transiting every year. FLUX installation is an allegory of this human flow. With each arriving passenger a light turns on and with each departing passenger a light turns off.
Technically, we used TouchDesigner to control some custom-made PCB (printed circuit boards). Those PCB are dots of light, made out of 108 RGB LEDs and they can be controlled at 30 fps. TouchDesigner generates a video feed, this feed is transmitted to a controller that then sends information to dots of light.
LNLO's DRESS CODE, Lyon Festival of Light, 2013
We took part once again in the Lyon Light Festival with a new project DRESS CODE on the train station Gare Saint Paul. Come and play! Flower Power, Pretty Girly, Safari Style, Neo Dandy, Ethnic Chic, Retro Groove, Psyche Delic, Arty Party… Activated by the spinning wagon wheel, which Dress Code will you generate? The building will then put on a whole series of fabric patterns to the sound of catchy music… 8 Dress Codes, 384 Patterns! Let's get fashionable!
The idea of this installation was to achieve a simple funky and flashy animation, very far from all standard 3D video mapping.
Using TouchDesigner made the development of this installation quite easy. We were able to use standard texture and custom-made video transitions to generate the animation patterns. The public interacted with the installation by spinning a low-tech wooden wheel where spinning the wheel is stopping the current displayed theme and randomly launching a new theme. This random selection is figured by a rain of letters whose density depends on the wheel speed.
We also added a watch hand in the clock of the upper part of the building that figures directly the wheel movement.
For hardware, we tested many solutions and finally chose to use a Raspberry PI and an accelerometer. We made quite a thick wooden wheel and inside the wooden frame we could then place and conceal the raspberry and the battery and use a WIFI dongle to send accelerometer's data through the air.
The software part of the wheel was also quite easy - we used TouchDesigner's TCP/UDP features to collect and analyze data. Once converted to an angular speed we could figure the wheel movement as expected.