Company Post

PIXELUX Studio's Pedal-Powered Interactive MAGIC Cube

The Magic Cube | Interactive and Generative Installation

(Video | Sound | Light)

The magic cube is a graphic monolith made from a mysterious scattering and glowing matter. Placed around it are 28 bicycles connected to the core, the graphic engine.The speed and the stamina of the 28 riders produce a data stream with a unique pattern that generate the graphic, animation and sound layers in real-time. It's just a 3 minutes ride to reach the level of pure energy, "white matter"!

Each bicycle supplies a digitized signal that is streamed to the main application. Everything is done with TouchDesigner: graphics, animation, particle and physics, shading GLSL, rendering, programming, light control (DMX), sound modulation (a bridge with Ableton Live).

The main challenge was to render a generative and 360° seamless graphic texture. Each bike's data flow is processed individually and as a group to modulate a different generator thus creating different levels of graphics that are set according the main timeline.

A sequence of 240s drives the rise of the energy until the climax at which point the cube becomes pure energy, lighting up the statue of Louis XIV and a burst of fireworks rewards our riders. The visual elements have been designed to fit the optical properties of the Magic Cube: light scattering, mapping, resolution, glowing....


Concept / Set Designer : Gilbert Moity

Graphic design and programming : Xavier Gruchet (Pixelux Studio)

Sound Design : Ben Vedren

The Magic Cube is an engaging and impressive achievement from Xavier Gruchet of Pixelux Studio which was produced by putting TouchDesigner to extensive and inventive use. We had quite a few questions for Xavier who was kind enough to take the time to give us a detailed account of how the Magic Cube was made. Very inspiring work, read on!

Derivative: Xavier, please tell us a bit about your background and experiences as a designer and as a studio, what you do and the tools you use.

Xavier: I started as a light desk programmer. I got involved since the apparition of the first DMX media server to manage and manipulate video and graphics on set. I had the chance to work with most of them (Catalyst, Hippotizer, coolux, Irad, ArKaos etc.) and became a kind of expert.

I gained some interest in creating my own stuff and produce my own content. I started with AE and 3ds Max and quickly switched to eyeon Fusion - my first revelation. I really enjoy this node-based compositor with an integrated 3D world. (My two favourite package are Canadian!!)

I dug more deeply into compositing, vfx, and motion graphics production and in parallel, I continued my investigation into real-time graphics. I learned max/jitter with which I produce a few projects. Although it is a great package with a huge community, still I missed something.

I have tried and been playing with many different kinds of available software (for Windows): from vvvv, Isadora, Pure Data through MX Wendler, Resolume, Pilgrim ,Ventuz, OpenCV, Processing, CCV (Community Core Vision)…

Obviously none completely fulfilled my expectation... too oriented for programmers only, too limited…. Finally one day, I came across TouchDesigner. It is a bit weird why I hadn't found it earlier in my quest. After a couple of weeks playing with it I knew that my wandering was over. TouchDesigner exactly fit my needs and expectations.

I started my studio in 2007. It is a one man shop and when needed I work with a network of artists (freelancers). I produce motion graphics mostly for corporate, events, TV shows etc. My main focus is in architectural projection with global visual design (light and visual) and generative and interactive real-time media: media facades, interior design and data visualization. I'm starting a collective: light designer, set and stage designer, even manager with the aim to focus on creative projects.

D: You seem to be consistently developing your skills and exploring possibilities and horizons. What would you say motivates and drives what you do?

X: I think it is always to try to create beautiful and meaningful things. To enjoy and learn every day. It's not only about the end result, but how we get there.

Nicely put and very evidenced by this work - the Magic Cube. It is an incredibly ambitious first project with TouchDesigner - I assume it's the first. You produced an original and compelling design and experience which required building an extensive and complex set of functionality. Can you explain a bit more about the work you did, how you went about accomplishing it and what you may have learned in the process?

X: I have done a couple of pretty simple projects with TouchDesigner prior to this one, but you are right, none with a real complexity. The initiator of the project is a French lighting artist, G. Moity. We met a few years ago and decided to work together as we could see that video and lighting design were merging.

The main elements to manage here were:

  • Collecting and processing the data from each bike.
  • A timeline - our scenario to drive the overall session.
  • Graphics generation - seamless for correct texture mapping and to fit the screen resolution and properties (light radial scattering).
  • Driving the light fixture to light up the statue.
  • Driving the LED string (between the bike and the cube)
  • UI for supervision

The current generated by a simple dynamo is digitized from 0-10v to DMX. The DMX signal is fed into TouchDesigner with an ENTTEC interface. The data stream is processed and filtered to drive different types of generators according the master timeline - it is a 3 minute sequence programmed on a timeline. Extracted as modulators are the instantaneous speed and the total energy for each bike as well as for the whole group.

Each bike has its own interaction (line generation, generally on the foreground) as well as the whole group of bikes: liquid perturbation, colour (the background). All graphics are created in TouchDesigner. I have also used TouchDesigner to produce different kinds of generators and techniques including particle systems, noise, 3D scene, shaders (3D displace, Cartesian to polar), trails and compositing.

The main challenge was to generate 360° seamless graphic, and this is where a GLSL shader came in play to convert cartesian to polar for the liquid background effect. A second DMX pro is used to output DMX and drive the lighting fixture.

The sound (designed by Ben Vedren) is managed with Ableton Live and the bridge I mentioned is a simple MIDI link. I didn't get time to investigate the Max for Live plugin. I just send a bunch of note on/off to trigger the different tracks and I pass the bike data with CC.

I'm not a fluent programmer and I was able to handle this project alone in a pretty short deadline. I only had to deal with expressions (very smooth to use), some script and a few shaders (with some adaptation) which is a very positive point to demonstrate the accessibility of TouchDesigner. I know that I could, if need be, do some optimization for future development.

Working - or really playing with TouchDesigner is very enjoyable and inspiring. You can quickly develop, explore, modify ideas and concepts realtime. You can create amazing things without a high level of programming and it is perfect to integrate into a studio pipeline. I would add too that + UI design - TouchDesigner is very powerful to design beautiful UI!

D: Given your experience with so many different software packages can you tell us if and how TouchDesigner might differ?

X: Yes, TouchDesigner offers feature which are not available in a single package.

  • It is artist-friendly, accessible to non-programmer designer.
  • It offers realtime processing and "conventional" rendering (compositing) that can be a bit confusing at first (timeline/ time slice).
  • It can fit any specific project with programming: Python, GLSL, C++, CUDA, design....
  • It's a multi-tool: video, data, sound offering wide support: OSC / DMX / Artnet / Asio / Kinect…..

And then there's the "whoaaaaa!" effect - when you realize that TouchDesigner is made up of itself, I'm sure you understand what I mean. And more generally as soon as you get the whole picture and you really understand the whole concept behind TouchDesigner, which is like an approach in two phase. It depends your background, it could be very fast if you come from Houdini. With mine, I catch the global concept and get fun pretty fast!

D: So what's next for you? What are your future plans?

X: Carry on. I will learn Python, an intermediate level might be enough. I will continue to explore TouchDesigner, it is a long journey and I hope to meet some good programmer on the way :-)

D: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions and congratulations again on a very fine project. We look forward to seeing what you do next!