Company Post

Vincent Houzé on Rapid-Prototyping and Working in Real Time

We first became aquainted with Vincent Houzé through the very compelling and often amusing videos he shares of his artistic and R&D experiments.

Above: My first steps with Arduino and a little proof of concept. Rotating the little white knob drives the cardboard box rotation and the virtual box rotation the rocks collide with. Graphics and sim generated with TouchDesigner. Mapping is a bit approximate, adhesive tape and 12$ servo can only take you so far.

Made with TouchDesigner, these short video proofs-of-concept for dynamic simulations, video mapping and GLSL shaders typically also incorporate paper, cardboard, glue and sometimes Arduino and rotors. They appreciably make their often complex point simply and elegantly with easy to find resources, showing an excellent aptitude for designing and prototyping with TouchDesigner.  

Vincent currently lives in New York and works on large scale architectural installations and interactive installations. He is currently employed by award-winning company AV&C and also collaborates with local artists and designers like VolvoxLabs for example, where he brought his expertise in real time 3D graphics to shaping the Dubfire show.


Most recently we were intrigued by the teaser for Hybrid, a dance performance with immersive projections of motion and sound reactive visuals where Vincent designed and developed the visuals. We thought this would be an opportune time to catch up and have a conversation about Vincent's work.

"The story is about a relationship between a human dancer and a virtual dance partner in the form of particles. This particle swarm takes on a persona and becomes the antagonist for the dancer".

HYBRID is an immersive performance created with MODULAR, a unique design and interactive software solution to craft a bespoke show for audio visual performances.

MODULAR concept is the following : First, the software takes any input – such as sound (a singer's voice), movement (a drummer's arm or a dancer's path), biometric information (an athletes heartbeat) or light signals and converts it into data. Next, the software can apply design modules and interactive modules to this data. The modules can be easily tweaked to create completely new outputs and be combined in any way possible. Last, the final output could be any media format ranging from projection mapping, LED content, soundscapes or light shows.

MODULAR is currently being developed with TouchDesigner because of TouchDesigner's built-in capabilities to process a wide range of input data and turn it into compelling visuals or drive various outputs. The dancer motion is processed with the Kinect TOP and CHOP, while the audio gets analyzed through various CHOPS. The swarm is a custom particles system created with the c++ CHOP, that allows complete flexibility to add inter particles forces, for a boids-like behavior."

The first public performance, also accompanied by an interactive installation version, will take place at The Vasquez in Brooklyn, 20-29 March.


Concept and Creative Direction: Jasmin Jodry

TouchDesigner Artist: Vincent Houzé

Choreography and Dance: Wynn Holmes

Composition: Genji Siraisi

Above: Recorded straight from TouchDesigner in real time. Showcasing a small custom c++ operator to mimic the AE plexus effect (lines connecting particles based on proximity). 

Last year, working with AV&C in collaboration with ESI Design, Vincent participated in the revitalization of an IM PEI building in Boston. Employing custom low resolution LED fixtures reflecting off the Brutalist concrete allowed the team to honor the architect's intent and materiality while introducing dynamic color and motion to the space. Local weather and other real time feeds are reinterpreted by AV&C's software into soft glowing motion that animates the new lobby seating area.

TouchDesigner was used to create constantly evolving generative visuals, as well as a previzualisation tool used before the final tweaks on site. TouchDesigner was also used for the integration and graphical display of realtime market, cultural, and weather information on high-resolution LED strips above the elevator bays.

Another noteworthy project with AV&C was the design and programming of LED stripes on the side of Doug Aitken's Station to Station train, dubbed 'A tech-fuelled, all-night, glow-in-the-dark, cross-country. pop-art train ride' by WIRED. The patterns reacted to GPS data and the strips were turned into a live audio-reactive canvas for concerts where the train stopped.

Vincent you are a seasoned Houdini user with extensive experience in visual effects. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to adopt TouchDesigner?

VH: I have a background in computer science and graphic design, which led me to start working as a VFX artist on movies. This was a very good blend of artistic and more technical skills and it was a great experience to work on big feature films such as Despicable Me, Wrath of the Titans and Gravity. Later on I was involved with the very talented duo FIELD in the creation of generative visuals for their Energy Flow non-linear film project using Houdini.

My master thesis animation, Unfolding Systems, was all about some the specificity of Houdini not found in other 3D packages, namely CHOPs for audio and midi processing, the mighty copy SOP, and even COPs (Compositing operators). So I was really happy when I discovered Houdini had a sibling dedicated to running real-time, which makes a lot of sense for audio-reactive visuals. As an electronic music composer on the side, this has been a strong interest of mine for some time. I felt right at home, and without digging too deeply in HScript, the experience with local operators variables and expressions really helped before the advent of python.

TouchDesigner does not yet have extended dynamic simulation capabilities, but COPs have transitioned to super fast and flexible TOPs, and hardware instancing feels like the copy SOP on steroids and is still one of my favorite TouchDesigner features! Also, as an effects artist used to scripting and custom tools building, TouchDesigner makes a lot of sense.

Last but not least, though Houdini's .bgeo file format changed recently, file exchange between the two is easy allowing for pre-processing geometry with Houdini and storing geometry attributes for use in TouchDesigner. I've also been experimenting with playing back and retiming in TouchDesigner cached RBD simulations from Houdini with great success.

Some thoughts on bringing it all together and rapid prototyping ideas:

It was great to be able to mix all the skills and artistic ideas I had gathered previously in the VFX world and mix them with music and adapt them to the real time world. The other thing that interested me was leaving the confines of a flat screen, and Touch is a great platform for projection-mapping, driving LEDs and interacting with the real world through sensor data.

TouchDesigner is now my main tool, and perfect to go from a prototype to final execution. Compared to full blown programming, all of the existing OPs allow for a first draft very quickly. Especially coupled with Python scripting and OPs, which facilitate tasks harder to accomplish in a purely nodal way. After that C++ OPs and GLSL which are quite easy to deploy make heavy optimizations and speed gains possible where needed. They also allow the integration of third parties libraries, though TouchDesigner is by default very apt to communicate with other pieces of software.

Above: Straight out of TouchDesigner, real time. 294 cube-like shapes simulated with a c++ CHOPusing the Bullet library and hardware instancing, a little something I had in mind!

Besides sharing some of your files and plugins, you've just started releasing a collection of GLSL tutorials for TouchDesigner, can you tell us a bit more about it?

VH: Over time I have received quite a few emails asking about how to get started with GLSL in TouchDesigner. It can be quite intimidating for users who don't have a strong programming or 3D background, despite the fact that it opens amazing possibilities for novel graphic effects. My aim will be to have a somewhat hands on approach and give practical examples of what can be achieved without getting too theoretical. I've learned a lot from the TouchDesigner community and it's also my way to contribute. I also plan on teaching a TouchDesigner workshop later this year in New York.

See also GLSL in TouchDesigner Lesson 2 and Lesson 3.