It was a very nice surprise to discover this beautiful sound and light show from Chicago-based Luftwerk, produced for Fallingwater's recent 75th Anniversary Gala, September 17th. Luftwerk used TouchDesigner for this "rather challenging technical set-up" which included eight video projectors, six of of these mounted in two large maple trees and all running on one computer! According to the designers, the software worked flawlessly.
We spoke with Luftwerk founding partner Petra Bachmaier to learn a bit more...
Petra Bachmaier: Luftwerk is an artistic collaborative, founded in 2007 by Sean Gallero and myself. We have met during performance art studies at The School of the Art Institute in 1999, and have worked together ever since. Our medium is video projection. We embrace the magic of lumens, the interaction of light and surface. We create designs that illuminate sites and or material.
In all of our projects we look for the sensory experience, engaging audiences with thought, touch, sight and sound.
We generally start off with a traditional sketchpad and pencil, then draft a more precise plan in Google Sketchup, add effects and filters via Adobe Photoshop and composite the visuals in Final Cut Studio or Adobe AE to create a virtual scenario of a project. As for the more creative part we utilize a wide range of tools and mediums including digital cameras (dslr, point and shoot, video etc…), video projectors (pico and 2k's), convex mirrors for expanding the image, slide projectors for quick and easy demos, various lighting elements, blue/green/black screen, we also experiment with a multitude of materials that can be used creatively as a projection surface, for final output we have worked with DVD players, laptops, Dataton Watchout, TroikaTronic Isadora, QLab, MaxMSP, iCubeX Motion Sensors, and TouchDesigner.
For larger scale projects we work with Liviu Pasare, who has been programming TouchDesigner for Fallingwater.
Derivative: Please tell us about some of the motivations and concepts driving what you do.
P: Generally we are interested in simplicity and capturing an essence of what surrounds us. Curiosity and wanderlust inspires us to sculpt the familiar in new ways.
D: This is the second Frank Lloyd Wright building that TouchDesigner has been used to map and wrap with light and imagery, the first was the Guggenheim in New York.
As thrilling as it is to approach this task it must also be a bit daunting - the idea of adding anything more to such iconic masterpieces of art and architecture. These buildings are already very complete thoughts, especially Fallingwater because it is so considerately integrated into the landscape, elevations and even the foliage - not to mention the creek itself! What was your creative approach and process with Fallingwater?
P: 'Projecting Modern', a new media exhibit we designed within the Robie House in 2010 fundamentally shaped our understanding of Frank Lloyd Wright. When we were approached by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy our respect and attraction for the architect was already rooted. Lynda Waggoner, Director of Fallingwater, offered clear insights and objectives for the 75th Anniversary and further inspired our dialogue with the architecture.
P: The technical process involved a site visit to test projector models, learn about the surrounding landscape, which led us to use the seeming obstacle of trees as places to mount our equipment. In our studio we worked with topographic maps, site-plans and scaled models, carefully calculating our technical set-up while simultaneously engaging with the creative. By the time we were ready to install the show, we knew exactly how the set-up will have to be and how the video will live with the structure. But nevertheless it was glorious to see it all seamlessly worked.
The following questions are answered by Liviu Pasare:
D: We see TouchDesigner as a tool that invites exploration and fosters playful behaviour, that allows for rapid sketching and prototyping, that enables working generatively and in realtime and that promotes interoperability and economy of design - connect, use, reuse. Understandably, this is your first project with TouchDesigner but can you comment on how any of the above might apply to your experience?
LP: We looked at several different software packages to fulfill the requirements of a 8 screen video mapping setup that needed to run fluid and in sync while being easy to program and control. It was exciting to discover the quality and speed of the final image, the more intuitive node-base programming interface and real-time 3D manipulation and the extensive I/O capabilities.
There is much depth in the software, if one chooses to dive into generative structures or GLSL. For the Fallingwater project I found that the flexibility of deconstructing our source image and remapping by cropping and keystoneing it to separate outputs to match our projection surfaces was the most helpful.
D: Liviu, does TouchDesigner differ from the tools you normally use and if so how?
I have used various tools for content creation and manipulation such as Isadora, which has a similar node-based programming interface, as well as various 2D/3D packages. I have some Director, Flash and coding for iOS experience but maybe just enough to know that it gets difficult fast. It was the mix of those experiences that helped me understand what TouchDesigner can do. In many ways TD could do all of that at the same time, real-time.
D: Any "Aha" moments?!
TouchDesigner offers all the opportunities for "aha" moments!
Not only there are many things one can do but there are many ways to do one thing. For instance I was happy when I stumbled over the toggle setting in the math CHOP that allowed me to create a simple hot-key toggle and then again learning about DATs. DATs are the thing I'm delving into currently so here's to many more Aha's!
D: With your experience now, how else do you see using TouchDesigner? Are there things you see being able to do with it? Has it opened any doors?
I have used TouchDesigner a few times since Fallingwater. I used it to map a Aftereffects preview window onto the projection surface so all elements were lined up for the final render. This was done using the screengrab TOP. Another thing that was helpful was the flexibility of the sound output settings that allowed to tweak the sync of the outgoing SMPTE.
I think the biggest advantage of TouchDesigner is the ability to present one's vision in a smooth, high quality manner. It is inspiring when you can actually accomplish what you set out do unhindered. TouchDesigner allows for evermore creativity to be put into practice and its flexibility is for sure to inform the creative side thereon.
Luftwerk currently drafts a proposal for a video mapping project for the City of Chicago, which will also utilize TouchDesigner.