What every TouchDesigner operator needs to know

TouchDesigner is a vast application with so many possibilities and avenues of development. You could make art works almost entirely using only one operator family before you even dive into Python or GLSL or C++. So what are the critical pieces of knowledge you need as a beginner? What are the best bang-for-buck pieces of knowledge that lay a solid foundation for your career? In this post, I lay out what we consider to be essential knowledge every TouchDesigner operator needs to know.

First steps

You might be surprised, but the first steps of operating TouchDesigner come before the nodes. You need to know the main keyboard shortcuts, mouse actions, and preferences and menu items that are important to building an efficient workflow. You need to know how to quickly move around the network with the keyboard using shortcuts like U to go up a level and I to go into a component. You need to know how to home the network with H. You need to be able to understand all the actions you can perform with your mouse, such as moving operators around, selecting multiple operators, opening the middle click info dialogue, and how right click menus change depending on if you click on an operator or the network background. You also need to know the important buttons and settings in the preferences menu, such as the incredibly-useful-but-under-used ability to change how alpha channels are represented (as either black or checkboard patterns). These sound small but they are commands you’ll use so often that not knowing them will be very apparent if anyone ever looks over your shoulder while you work!

Operator families

Once you’ve got the general application usage under control the next thing you need to dive into are the operator families. You need to have at least a basic command of all of the families. This includes:

  • Basic texture processing, image/movie loading, and transformations with TOPs
  • Channel scaling, merging, basic logic, and routing with CHOPs
  • Creating simple 3D rendering setups with SOPs
  • Writing notes, housing data in tables, and basic manipulation of strings with DATs
  • Creating simple UIs and structuring your projects into containers with COMPs
  • Applying materials on your 3D scenes with MATs

It doesn’t matter if you’re the procedural 3D artist if you can’t make a simple UI to control it. Having some experience with all the families is a must. These skills I find are built best by giving yourself mini projects to work through. For example build a generative audio synth! That will flex your CHOP and DAT muscles. Then create a 3D visualization for it, which can flex your SOP, MAT, and TOP skills.

Resources

The final piece of the puzzle for beginner developers and operators is to understand the resources available to you. Do you know where you could download fluid simulation examples? Do you know where you can find examples of how to use Particle SOP? If GitHub and Op Snippets didn’t immediately come to mind, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage to folks who do know where to find all these helpful resources to help them continue to learn and also help setup projects faster. Even bigger than that is the ability to answer your own questions. One of the biggest weaknesses I’ve found over the years is that many folks don’t know how the TouchDesigner wiki is structured. It’s an older system and the search isn’t the most intuitive, but you have to get around those things! Learning that the Python sections of the wiki are structured around the object oriented programming thought process and that there are pages about specific topics such as multiple GPUs, transparency, and frame sync are how most veterans built their careers! There’s no reason you can’t harness the same resources to give yourself ways to answer even the hardest TouchDesigner questions.

Certifications

Why are we talking about all of this? As part of our mission for The HQ, we’re always trying to empower artists and developers in our industry. Whether that’s through high quality training videos, our learning community, one on one coaching, group Q&A sessions, live streaming events, or our new job board. One of the new initiatives we’re embarking on is certifications. Our first certification is the TouchDesigner Operation Foundations certification (drumroll!):

For artists and developers, think of it as the ultimate learning pathway that guides you through all of the kinds of knowledge I mentioned above and lays a solid foundation for your career AND allows you to actually show that off to employers and clients using the Open Badge integration for our certification badges. For employers, think of it as validation, because to gain the certification, artists and developers need to pass the 100 minute exam consisting of a theory portion and a practical portion that are graded by our teachers. They also cannot be forged because the Open Badge specification allows anyone to verify if a badge is authentic in a few clicks! We’re excited to launch our first of many certifications that will be rolling out over the next few months. If you’re interested in going through the certification, The HQ PRO is where you can get access to both the preparation materials and the examination.

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If I’d had access to the tutorials, workshops, coaching and community found in the HQ PRO when I first started with TouchDesigner, I would have hit my career goals years sooner

Wrap up

Building a career with TouchDesigner can take many different shapes and forms. Whether you’re a 3D expert, an audio wizard, or a Python guru, the fundamental tools and knowledge you need to operate TouchDesigner remain same. It’s up to all artists and developers to make sure they’ve got their fundamentals covered and now with the new TouchDesigner Operation Foundations certification that we’ve released you can not only ensure you have all those skills but you can prove it to employers and potential clients with ease.