Over the last two years we started to see some rather exceptional new work being made by students at Northumbria University in the UK where Program Leader Paul Goodfellow had introduced TouchDesigner into the University's Motion Graphics & Animation Design Department. We were impressed and delighted at the range and profusion of work - some finished projects, some works in progress and others performances of finished works - all produced with inventiveness, a certain polish, and at times a good deal of humour. For example:
It was also exciting to observe that TouchDesigner could be so well integrated into a motion graphics and animation design program - how rapidly the students were learning the software and making cool things.
There was one student who caught our attention in particular as not only was he making really cool things with TouchDesigner but he appeared to be spending a considerable amount of time teaching others how to use the software! As Richard Burns was (rapidly) learning he was passing on all sorts of insight, tricks and techniques to other students at Northumbria... and then to the community at large through his blog Lotsa Visuals, and his Vimeo channel where there was quite a bit of discussion and file sharing going on. Industrious!!
We decided with the release of the gold master of TouchDesigner 077 that it was also time to issue a comprehensive program of TouchDesigner educational materials comprised of an all-inclusive set of video tutorials and could think of no-one better to produce these than Richard Burns himself. On the verge of graduating from university with his final show coming up in a matter of weeks, Richard came to Toronto a week ago and has been expertly knocking off one tutorial after another at a speed that will make users looking forward to using this material very, very happy.
Here's what Richard had to say about his experience with TouchDesigner...
My first encounter with TouchDesigner was in my second year at Northumbria University. Our lecturer Paul Goodfellow having already used the software and done a lot of interactive projects himself introduced us all to TouchDesigner. Myself, Dale Wilson, Jonny Eveson and Jack Webber decided to start learning and were helping each other out with issues as there was very little learning material on Touch at the time. We had no previous years to learn from as we were the first year of Motion Graphics & Animation Design students but we managed to put on a show and get some interesting results.
Here is some of that work from the project F.E.A.R acronym for "Free Experimentation Aids Revelation" and then open for definition as can be seen in individual student work. From Goodfellow's description the intention of the project was "to break down hesitancy and FEAR in the design process, and instill a sense of playful experimentation, and a confidence in making spontaneous design decisions."
From a student perspective the FEAR project was intended to show "the interrelationship between sound and visuals, and how you can tap into a more spontaneous form of creativity by designing visual work interactively in real-time. The FEAR project gives the student freedom to produce visual work live as they produce sounds and react to music, and other environmental stimuli." More on F.E.A.R. and where available there are links below to individuals' blogs.
"Equipped with boots, legs and a hat, Eyessac tracks human traffic going past. Trying to emulate as many humanistic qualities as possible, it aims to replicate the human eye whilst maintaining its completely peculiar nature." More here.
"What I wanted to do: My starting point, the F.E.A.R. acronym was: F.E.A.R. Fear Everywhere, the Apocalypse Rides. Initially I wanted to do augmented reality. But my project quickly changed towards more interactive ideas where I explored different controllers such as playstation controllers and iPhones. Using the iPhone, mainly the accelerometer, I created the “spaceship” tutorial which you can find on my blog. From here on I advanced more into tracking and motion capture, and i created a “human controller”, the DIY MoCap Suit! For this project I managed, after a lot of red wine filled late nights / early mornings, to track the Y and X axis of 4 different colours, and was then able to map this to a character amongst other things. The environment and lighting conditions are essential for the suit to work properly, but I managed in the end to have it working great!"
In terms of the learning we had to use the forum and the wiki mainly. Searching the forum proves extremely useful and I still do it to this day. If you can't find it on there then asking is always good as its almost a certainty somebody will answer. I probably don't spend enough time helping people on the forums actually, probably a habit I should get into. There were one or two of the videos that helped us learn but it was mainly experimenting with how things worked, we didn't have the First Things about TouchDesigner videos back then. They've done a lot to help new users.
Before using Touch we were mainly using Maya and Motion/Final Cut Studio and we'd dabbled a little bit with Houdini too. Houdini however is now taught after TouchDesigner because we found it much more intuitive and faster to learn and it leads neatly on to the much more complex Houdini.
I think the sphere with noise on it is always an "aha" moment for the beginner. I recall spotting someone had posted a video on youtube where they had made the sphere which bounces to audio after following the tutorial I did. That was one of my earlier discoveries in Touch and I do believe the video of my discovery is still online with some terrible backing track I probably knocked up in 5 minutes.
There's a whole other load of very early experiments too.
As third year began the second year students were starting to learn TouchDesigner and I figured I'd give them a helping hand and do one or two tutorial videos to get them off to a good start. Many more of them decided to take on the learning curve and produced some better results than we had. Suddenly I realized that there were not just Northumbria Uni students but people all over the world learning from the videos which encouraged me to continue creating them.
At this point I was just creating projects in my spare time as all of my university work was focused on my final project which was a 3D animation...that was until I realized I'm a terrible script writer and was getting zero enjoyment out of the project. I'm sure everyone has one or two projects they abandon and I'd already decided I wanted to try and make a simple set of geometrical and abstracted creatures that reacted and evolved as you interacted with them so I'm currently working on that project instead.
As a testament to how long it takes to learn TouchDesigner, my blog claims we've been using it at Northumbria University since January 2010. The work that's been created has been very interesting and I'm sure that with the more in-depth learning material which is soon to arrive, people could learn the software in half the time or even less than it took us- which is very impressive.
In the couple of weeks I'm spending here in Toronto a lot has been learned and it makes you realize how many features there are that you'd never even considered. Replicators and cloning are fantastic for designing UIs and other repetitive tasks and my knowledge of CHOPs and DATs has probably quadrupled. There are also so many other small tips and tricks that I've been trying to fit into different videos so that even if you aren't a beginner user there's hopefully something to learn by watching or reading the material. There has also been much inspiration too including Mixxa which I was introduced to last week. I'm planning applications for future projects, particularly with data visualization and perhaps even moving into the video-game territory.