TouchDesigner Deep Dive 2020

[Editor note from Elburz: Hi all! Today we have a guest post by Rob McDonald. Rob’s an interesting artist in our field because while he has grown up with music and arts like many of us, he also is a professional in security-focused infrastructure development for large financial institutions. His insight is what makes for today’s post where he documented and wrote about his experiences learning TouchDesigner, the Montreal summit, and how he approach cramming a ton of TouchDesigner learning into a short period of time. Enjoy!]

Last year I made the decision when the TouchDesigner Montreal Summit was announced that I was going to throw financial caution to the wind, save up and join in. My first experience with learning TouchDesigner was at Mutek in 2012. It was an incredible experience spending those two days with all the amazing folks and then the festival with them as well. I can easily say that those first two years at the festival and the workshops were a transformative experience for me and my art.

Over the years I have picked up further knowledge here and there, attended a Derivative Hackathon which was amazing, an Audio Visualization course by Markus which was equally amazing and helped produce my first music video. The incredible people at Derivative and in this almost unbelievable community, in there sharing of knowledge and resources astounds me to no end. The best example is Jarrett Smith when he posted one of the first videos using the just added PBR MAT Operator, it was so beautiful I wanted nothing more than to utilize this in my own art. Months later I thought, why not and sent Jarrett a message asking if he could share the file. He shared the 2 Gb file with me the same day and I will forever be thankful to him for this as this file made it easy to learn PBR and led to  my second music video.

Coming away from the incredible experiences at the Montreal summit, meeting everyone who I had only chatted with online before and all of the awesome new people, I was inspired beyond compare. As I shared in my first community post on the new Derivative site, my banana had been set on fire!  With this new knowledge and inspiration, I began to gather tutorials and resources together to take the remainder of my days of vacation over the winter break for two full weeks of TouchDesigner learning.

I created an environment with a container for each major topic, for example, Generative Design or TDAbleton. Text DAT’s beside those containers to gather up all of notes I was to take from all of the different tutorials for which I had gathered 100 in total for 100+ hours of learning over 10 days, it was a very optimistic goal, yet I am an eternal optimist and love to learn.

Already having been a member of Elburz’s HQ PRO and having watched many of his tutorials, read his book (which was how I first studied TouchDesigner to perform my first VJ night in over 15 years!) and joined his truly excellent coaching calls.  I rejoined for the deep dive and am still enrolled as his guidance is very valuable along with all the community and Derivative tutorials. 

There are topics like Generative Design that I find more approachable than GLSL or Python, which I intend to learn more of as time goes on, in a more organic way through experiments and exploration. As I said to Isabelle many years ago when first learning, “TouchDesigner is amazing for a visual learner like me as I thought it was going to be difficult to use the Magewell USB capture device recommended to me by Markus, yet it simply works!”, her response was to say she wished she had a camera on hand to record me saying this. This turned out not necessary with incredible channels appearing like psst.one which I highly recommend you check out. The point is that TouchDesigner eliminates the need to wait long times for renders and does things that were unimaginable when I was studying 3D in it’s early days when I dreamed of becoming and Architect.

The ten day deep dive ending in the new year was incredible, the details are on my blog where I learnt about Roy and Tim Gerritsen’s “Parametric Thinking” and found my own way of creating a modular system to build out containers for rapid prototyping of ideas, Widgets from Jarrett who used the OHM RGB controller I own and love as his example (the ironic part about this is I used the TUIK system to build the same thing he did and shared the file, either way I learnt a great deal doing so, widgets are such a huge improvement), Signal mapping, TDAbleton, Zerror and zTimeline (which I was very fortunate to spend a day learning with 404.zero at the summit), Render Picking with Elburz, an array of performance interfaces like the UQAM mixer, Mixxa and Luminosity that I went under the hood on to learn how best to build my own system. Then onto Flow, which I love as it is my dream to emulate all the elements in the environment like Vincent Houze does so well with water and I would imagine anything else he wishes to create.

After looking into all the resources and key tutorials I launched into the community tutorials like from Polyhop aka Simon Alexander-Adams, who is brilliant, we first met at the Deriviative hackathon. His tutorials are very clear and very creative. He also inspired me to try Daily Practice which is what this whole Deep Dive was leading towards. I now realize that with my work (I work in finance technology costing and solutioning infrastructure for large teams of applications developers) and needing to relax at the end of my day that daily practice in not feasible, so I am continuing on this year with let’s say inspired practice when I am able and have the energy to do so.

The deep dive came to an end just after the new year, with an upgrade to the latest experimental (I had never loaded an experimental version before) to try Markus’s Point Cloud tutorials.  I needed to update my Nvidia drivers to get it to work (thanks again Elburz and the HQ) yet when I did, all the excitement about hearing about this from my new found friend Jakob Povel from the summit and the incredible things his team were doing with space exploration, I loaded Markus’s Star Database and marveled at the incredible data visualization. If there is any future way I see bridging the gap between my passion in TouchDesigner and my work in Information Technology, data visualization is where I see this possibility, which is why I also attended Mary Franck’s incredible Data Visualization workshop in Montreal. 

I am happy with TouchDesigner being my way to unwind, to create and to explore helping me keep balance in my day to day. I did not accomplish everything I set out to do in the Deep Dive, yet that is ok as we have the new decade ahead of us and one could only imagine what we will be doing with this incredible program and what this astounding community has in store over the next ten years, one thing I know for sure, we are in this together.

On that note, here is the link for my blog, I created this website specifically for this purpose and I refer to my project as visuals by theRob. You can read all about my experiences, utilize all the tutorial links and resources mentioned and always feel free to visit to enjoy our adventures to come setting our bananas on fire!