Company Post

TouchDesigner in New Zealand with Oliver Ellmers and Puck Murphy

We were very pleased to learn of 2 TouchDesigner projects produced by individuals collaborating from opposite sides of New Zealand's North Island. We spoke with Oliver Ellmers, a contractor at Storybox and Puck Murphy who works independently as well as at Perceptual Engineering (whose fine work we will be featuring next year) about their collaboration on The Contact Energy Pedal for Prizes Installation.

The second project, Ukaipo - O Tatou Whakapapa is an interactive touchscreen built in TouchDesigner for the Hawke's Bay MTG produced by Storybox. We hope you enjoy, and to other NZders reading this both Oliver and Puck urge you to get in touch!

Oliver Ellmers: I first found TouchDesigner a little over a year ago while studying interactive design papers at Victoria University's School of Design. Since then, I have pretty much been using it for all audio visual or interactive jobs or projects that come my way. Quite often I find TouchDesigner useful for non-real time compositing and post production applications when working with animation and video, to add that little bit of extra spark to elements - whether it be taking advantage of its real time GLSL prototyping post effects or taking advantage of the Operators for quickly drafting compositing techniques.

Puck Murphy: I discovered TouchDesigner shortly after taking 'The Time Machine' for spin in 2011 (at that point I had been using MaxMSP for the data wrangling / triggering etc.) Coming from about 15 years of VFX and compositing, primarily using Autodesk's FLAME, TouchDesigner's nodal work flow was instantly understandable and i got to the 'jamming' part of the learning curve really fast. The first full project I rolled out on TouchDesigner was 'An Interactive Earth', with Jon Baxter at Perceptual Engineering, since then there's been a steady flow of ideas, opportunities and projects that have opened now that I/we have TouchDesigner in the tool belt. It has been great to find a program that can handle constant changes in the design brief right up the last minute while still loading up and doing the same thing today as it did yesterday. With the help of an awesome support team I've been able to say 'Yes' to any challenge that comes up! Loving the possibilities for the future...


Oliver: The Contact Energy Pedal for Prizes installation was an incredibly fun and quirky project to co-create. One Friday a few weeks ago, I received a phone call from the Rob Appierdo, head of Storybox asking if there was enough time over a week to design, develop, test and debug an Interactive Installation to be installed and working the following weekend for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge. Puck Murphy from Perceptual Engineering in Auckland, NZ - another big TouchDesigner advocate - had been thrown the brief last minute whilst having other deadlines running in parallel and needed another TouchDesigner user to collaborate in order to get the project out the door. Being at opposite ends of the North Island of NZ, it was going to be a challenge.

The concept for the project was quite simple: The client wanted a bike in front of a big screen, and on the screen a carnival style winning wheel of fortune that was spun when the user gave the bike a pedal. When the wheel stopped spinning, whatever segment the clicker was pointing to in turn rewarded the rider with a prize.

Puck: When the project first came in there was 7 days until launch and numerous unknown variables to getting to a successful result. Realising cloning myself wasn't possible I had to act quickly to get a crew together who were crazy enough to take on the project. Firstly I approached Rob Appierdo and Oliver Ellmers at Storybox, as Oliver is the only other TouchDesigner operator I know of in New Zealand! (Aside: def keen to know if there's anyone else out there?). After a quick discussion we split the TouchDesigner project into UI design and user generated data flow from the bike and set about getting a prototype up and running.

With Oliver tearing ahead with UI I decided to recruit some friends I had been working with on another interactive art project to help with the electrical and engineering of the bike rig. Due the tight turn around multiple paths/ideas were attacked at once and after a few days we had settled on a dynamo voltage to audio stream as our data path, this from Andy Cave who headed the engineering team:

Andy: The bicycle build was in the end a very simple process. A cheap Chinese dynamo which output a 6v 3w AC signal was attached to the cycle stand, with very little engineering required. The testing meant that the oldest guy on the team was tortured for a few days while the young nerds watched, tinkered and giggled. In the end it was a triumph of old school cycle tech, Nana's garage and TouchDesigner that brought this simple but quite magical event to life.

Oliver: Puck's end was by far the more complicated of the two. The first and most obvious problem to solve was the data. How the hell do we get a data stream into TouchDesigner? The guys came up with a relatively genius solution! They attached a dynamo that was being spun by the rollers the bike was mounted on, and when the rollers spun the dynamo, it output a hertz signal. The hertz signal was then fed into a USB soundcard, then fed straight into the Audio In CHOP which gave us a pitch signal. A little bit of magic massaging the right curve out of the data, and we had something solid we could play with!

Puck: Once we had the audio stream into TouchDesigner from the bike there was a fair amount trial and error before settling on using a Spectrum CHOP (and others) to analyse the pitch/hertz from the dynamo giving us our "power up" value which would spin the wheel.

Oliver: At my end, I then took the waveform and massaged the data to control the animation of elements in the scene. I then built a lemur interface to control the management of assets/prizes on the fly, and also control thresholding to either make it easier or harder (depending on contender).

With no time for real testing or debugging, we relied immensely on luck to be able to pull this one off - and it was a great success! We all showed up to the site the night before the event to set up. Puck's rig plugged straight into my laptop (yes we ran it off a laptop) and everything worked a treat. The next day was the event, it busy as all hell, nothing broke, and we all had a great time! This project truly is a tribute to how collaborative, portable and reliable TouchDesigner can be.

Puck: Due to other commitments I wasn't able to make it to the event in Taupo this required the build to be very plug and play - TouchDesigner made this really achievable! Working closely with Oliver (who was on the other side of the island) on the master TouchDesigner project was an awesomely smooth process and after a blur of a week 'making and breaking' we managed to get to mark#05 of the build. It was a great test of working fast under pressure and TouchDesigner came thru like a champ!


Oliver: Ukaipo - O Tatou Whakapapa is an interactive touchscreen built in TouchDesigner for the Hawke's Bay MTG. Ukaipo itself is an exhibition at the MTG that celebrates traditional Maori culture and history in New Zealand, specifically in the Hawke's Bay area: "Ukaipo is our identity, our home ground, our upbringing, our mothers. Its literal meaning is ''being fed at the breast at night". We acknowledge our ukaipo when we visit our homeland, in recalling childhood memories and when we are reminded of past generations".

The project design brief was to create an interactive world (based on cultural assets supplied by the client) for users to explore, discovering throughout this world, new pieces of information that gave a wider description of their corresponding elements in the Ukaipo exhibition space. We (at Storybox) took Ukaipo's literal translation and constructed a visual narrative that represented the mysterious, exciting and slightly eerie nature of being fed at the breast of night.

The initial screen that marks the beginning of your journey through Ukaipo shows a faceted net, bobbing in a stream under the night sky. Much of the cultural history on display in the Ukaipo exhibition surrounds the Ruakituri river, so our design was informed by this idea of 'catching' or 'gathering' the local information in a fishing net. The net was procedurally built and animated in TouchDesigner - simple wireframe mesh animated with noise. Point positions of the net were then created and used to fill certain facets which then became render-pickable on the touchscreen to navigate to the the different pockets of information.

The stream that the net was bobbing in was constructed by using the depth from the main camera to create the illusion of depth in the water. Particles were being emitted from certain points on the net, fuelled by the force of noise affecting the net, and then composited into the water to appear as bubbles or matter floating in the stream. Lastly a GLSL shader converted from shadertoy was used to displace the water, giving it a shimmery distorted aesthetic to bring it to life. Graphical assets from the exhibition design were also composited into the stream to appear as underwater plant life.

When the user touches one of the facets the camera flies into the net, revealing the information that has been caught in the net. Due to time and budget constraints, and the sheer multitude of assets and information we had to include, the Aho (parts of the net) were developed in a very straight forward manner consisting of simple buttons with pre-constructed vector graphics, and hi-resolution imagery and text that you could zoom and navigate by simple taps, swipes and drags with your finger. You then returned to the net by flying back out with the camera, to choose the next Aho you wish to explore.

The Ukaipo exhibition has been on display since the 21st of September 2013, and will be open to the public until the 3rd of August 2014.

For more information on the exhibit>> MTG Hawkes Bay