Notch for Brand New Beginners, Part 1

Notch is well known in the interactive and immersive industry as a powerful tool for creating incredible real time graphics and interactive projects. Whether you’re new to the industry or an experienced TouchDesigner developer, Notch can seem like a pretty complex tool to jump into for the first time. In this series of articles, you’ll be introduced to Notch by building a cool vintage computer graphics-inspired scene, complete with stylized wireframe vector graphics straight out of the early 1980s. In this first article, we’ll take a look at the interface, start adding a few nodes, and even make things move!

First Steps

First of all, you’re going to need to download Notch. Head to the notch.one website and either download the free trial or (if you’d like) purchase a license.

Please note that you can build everything you see in this post in the free trial version! The free trial version of Notch has almost all of the functionality of the full version, minus the ability to save your work. If you think you’re going to be digging into Notch further, you might consider picking up a Learning license so that you can actually save your work.

Once you’ve got Notch installed on your machine, open the program and start by creating a blank project. In the Layer Settings dialog that comes up, give the layer a name. I went with “wireframe” since we’re going to be creating wireframe graphics.

You’ll now be presented with the Notch UI. The image below shows the general UI components that are important to know.

Briefly:

  • The resource window is where external media can be imported.
  • The properties window is where settings for each node can be modified. For TouchDesigner users, this is reminiscent of the parameter window.
  • The viewport window is where the scene can be viewed.
  • The nodegraph window is where you build your effect. Similar to the network editor in TouchDesigner.
  • The node list is a section of the nodegraph window, which allows you to search for and pick nodes to add to the nodegraph. This is similar to the OPCreate dialog in TouchDesigner.

We’re going to start out working in the nodegraph. To pan around the nodegraph, you can either hold the alt key and click and drag with the left mouse button, or click and drag with the middle mouse button. To zoom, hold control and click and drag with the left mouse button.

You’ll notice a node in the center of the graph that looks like the Notch logo. This is called the Root node. For most nodes to render, they need to be connected to the Root node. The Root node also contains a variety of rendering related properties, which you can view by clicking on it and checking out the Properties panel.

The Root node.

Cloner

The first node that we’re going to add to our network is the Cloner. The Cloner allows us to create clones of 3D geometry in a pattern. It’s somewhat reminiscent of instancing in TouchDesigner. To add the Cloner to the nodegraph, head to the node list on the right and search for “Cloner”. Once you’ve dragged the Cloner node to the graph, hit Ctrl + R to connect the Cloner to the root node.

We’re going to use this particular Cloner to create a grid of 3D cubes. Instead of starting by modifying parameters within the Cloner, we’re going to add the 3D geometry first, so that you can see how the changes you make within the Cloner modify the output.

Now that we’ve added our first node, let’s take a brief pause to look at how nodes function in Notch. The connector in the upper left allows you to set up parenting to another node. On the bottom left is an input. Inputs can range widely in functionality/what kind of data they expect. As we’ll see later, just because we only see one input to start doesn’t mean that we can only control one aspect of the Cloner with other nodes. Finally, on the right, we have the node’s output.

Shape 3D

We’re going to use the Shape 3D node to generate the cube. The Shape 3D node allows you to render 3D primitives, including spheres, boxes, planes and many others.

Search for Shape 3D in the node list and add it to the graph. Then, connect the output of the Cloner to the parenting connector of the Shape 3D.

With that, you should start to see output in the viewport!

What we’re seeing, though, are spheres. So we need to next head to the properties panel and make some changes. Make sure that you click on the Shape 3D node before you make any changes.

First, change the Shape Type from Sphere to Box. Then, shift both Position X and Position Y to 1.

Three more properties to go! Under the Rendering section, set Visible to 0. This will turn traditional rendering off, which means the cubes will disappear momentarily. Then, open up the Lines section and set the Lines Visible property to 1. After that, you should be seeing wireframe cubes on screen!

Finally, we’ll wrap up this node by ticking the box next to the Thick Lines property, and setting the Thick Line Width property to 1.5. This will increase the thickness of the lines so that they’re more visible in the viewport.

Back to the Cloner

Now that we’ve got our cubes added to our scene via the Shape 3D node, we can head back to the cloner to make some adjustments. First, click on the Cloner node. Then, scroll down to the grid section. In the grid section, we can define the size of the clone grid as well as the clone count in each dimension. We’re going to bump up both of these properties. Set the Grid Count X, Y, and Z to 5, and then set the Grid Size X, Y and Z to 30. This will increase the number of cubes in the scene, and will also increase the space in between each cube.

Our clone grid is all set! To close out Part 1, we’ll take a look at adding some additional nodes to add some smooth rotation to the entire Cloner grid, as well as adding some randomness to the position of the individual clones.

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Rotating the Grid via a Continuous Modifier

If you’re familiar with TouchDesigner or other node based platforms, you may be wondering how we can start to add some movement/animation to the scene! In this case, we’re going to use a node called a Continuous Modifier. But wait, what’s a modifier?

First of all, a modifier is a node that you can use to modify properties of other nodes.

The Continuous Modifier produces a constantly increasing or decreasing value, which can be attached to a parameter of your choosing. In this case, we’re going to use it to generate a continuously increasing value to rotate our Cloner grid around in the scene.

In the node list, search for “Continuous Modifier” and add it to the nodegraph.

Then, with the Continuous Modifier node selected, head to the properties window. Increase the Speed parameter to 3. This will increase the speed at which the values will increase.

After that, we need to actually connect the Continuous Modifier node’s output to the particular attributes we want to control.

To do that, first click on the Cloner node, so that you can access its properties in the Property window. Then, click and drag from the output of the Continuous Modifier node onto the properties you want to control. In this case, connect the output to Rotation Heading and Rotation Bank.

Our Continuous Modifier has been connected! But wait, everything still looks the same??

If you now hit the play button on the transport controls, you should see the grid of cubes start to rotate. Success!

Wrap Up

That’s it for Part One! In this post, we laid the groundwork for creating a funky early computer graphics inspired scene in Notch, while at the same time working through some of the fundamentals of the software. In the next section, we’ll dive into even more fun topics like adding randomness to the positions of clones, working with additional geometry, adding a camera to our scene, and working with some cool post FX to really take our scene to the next level. Stay tuned!