TouchDesigner + NFTs

NFTs are a hot topic right now. You’ve probably heard of Beeple making almost $70 million dollars by selling his art as NFTs. What are they? What can they do? Are they right for you? What about the environmental costs? In this post, I’ll give you a quick summary of what they are, how you can approach them, and some things you should consider especially as a TouchDesigner artist.

What are they?

Now in this post, we’re not going to dive into the technical of everything. Instead I want to make sure after this post you have a decent high level understanding of NFTs and how they might affect you even if you aren’t involved with them! NFTs are non-fungible tokens. Non-fungible means that each item is unique. Think of it like fine art. There’s only one Mona Lisa. You can buy Mona Lisa or sell it. But you can’t trade a Mona Lisa for another Mona Lisa. NFTs are similar. When you create one, you’re creating a unique instance (or series) of a piece, and then that’s it. It can be bought and sold, but it’s essentially a unique asset. “Token” just means that it’s a crypto thing. That’s it! NFT = unique assets traded with crypto. In particular, they run on the Ethereum blockchain.

Who cares?

Until recently, it wasn’t that big a deal for artists…but then…money! Folks started selling their digital art as NFTs and started making good money. Then came the hype. Then came the investments (aka more money). Then came more artists! It’s a healthy cycle to be honest and could become a great new industry for digital artists to sell their works to the public. In a lot of ways, you can think about them as the digital version of fine art auctions. The barrier of entry is quite low, which means that almost any artist can start minting (read: creating) NFTs. There are also some cool features of NFTs in general. Since Ethereum is a “smart contract” platform, the people behind developing them have added some great things like the ability to include royalties for your work. This means you could sell a piece for $1,000 and then still get 10% of any future sales of the work without much extra work or chasing on your part since it’s built into the smart contracts themselves.

What can I sell as an NFT?

To be honest, just about anything! Everyone is throwing their assets at NFTs to see what stick. For example, popular investor Gary V has been talking about how baseball cards and sports cards could be huge as an NFT. You’ve got folks like Beeple selling their digital art pieces. You’ve got people creating music, gifs, stills, videos, drawings, and more. Even the NBA is selling “moments” as NFTs. Love that last dunk LeBron put down in game 7 of the playoffs? You could “own the moment” as an NFT. Whether or not a lot of these ideas still will be seen, but it’s definitely the wild west and anything goes. I’m sure you could even sell TouchDesigner networks that generate artworks (instead of actually selling the output)!

How to get started

The first thing you’ll want to do is find an NFT platforms. There are tons of them out there but the two big ones seem to be OpenSea and Rarible. Both of them are well-established (aka not a scam) and make it easy for you to mint your NFTs and start selling them. You should know, just like any other marketplace on the internet, these platforms take a cut of the sale price to keep themselves funded. Rarible actually has a great FAQ section on their site where they answer a lot of common questions and can help you get started:

https://www.notion.so/rarible-com-FAQ-a47b276aa1994f7c8e3bc96d700717c5

OpenSea also has extensive articles on NFTs and how to get started:

https://opensea.io/blog/guides/non-fungible-tokens/

You can check out both of these platforms here:

Licenses for your work?

Now here’s a tricky thing, especially for TouchDesigner developers. The TouchDesigner community is built on sharing and collaboration. There are tons of artist who make amazing things in TouchDesigner and share their knowledge and content either on the forums or in YouTube videos. Most of the time is done in an educational manner and sometimes it can even be a form of marketing to show the cool things you can do. What can happen though is that someone else could come along, use the work, mint their own NFT based on it, and start making money! Why is that? Usually because most TouchDesigner artists don’t explicitly license their works when they post them online. This creates a pretty big grey area both on the business side of things and ethically. One of the best recommendations I could make is that content creators, teachers, and artist who are worried about their work being used by others should absolutely look at licensing their work. Even if it’s a simple Text DAT inside of your network, or a license on your GitHub repo, or a note about your license when you post it on the forums.

What license you use is a bit out of scope of this post (we’ll address licenses in a future blog post as that’s a meaty topic) but being aware of it is important. You can also start simply with the traditional licenses we might use for software like Creative Commons which has a good system for sharing your work without other people being able to monetize it. They even have a helpful quiz you can go through to help you choose a license:

Environmental impacts

The final elephant in the room are the environmental impacts of NFTs. Cryptocurrencies have gone through a rollercoaster of developments and growth. At this point, it’s general consensus that proof of work systems like Bitcoin and Ethereum are extremely power hungry both in terms of natural resources like electricity, but also in compute power (good luck finding a 3080 or 3090 right now!). Many crypto experts are working on ways to make this better in the future but it’s not a simple solution. Ethereum has been in a long term transition to move to a proof of stake system which would be less impactful on the environment.

What does this mean for you? It depends! It’s different for everyone. What I’ve told our HQ PRO members when we’ve talked about in our group sessions is that everyone is at a different point in their lives. It’s easy to take a moral high ground and say “it’s bad for the environment!” when you’re well off and already making a living doing what you love. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’ll do whatever it takes to get the bills paid. I remember a time in my life when I was younger and hungry and would do anything for a dollar. I’ve worked on projects I’m not morally proud of building amazing experiences for companies that do awful things. After building a successful career, now I have more leverage and ability to say no to things. Not everyone is in that same position though. As I say often, the best thing you can do is reflect on it yourself. If I reflect about it, I’m not going to get involved with NFTs, not because I think they’re a scam or fake, but because I have the ability to prioritize my environmental concerns it all over the ability to make more money. How that reflection shakes out for you, is something you’ll have to determine. (Sorry! Not always easy answers with these things!)

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Learning more

So you’re interested in learning more and diving in? From the sources I’ve seen and heard other people talk about, this video on YouTube does a good job walking you through the process of creating NFTs from your art work and telling you more of the details.

UPDATE: After posting this, one of our great community members Kris reached out to provide some useful further info. They mentioned two platforms that operate on Tezos blockchain which has ~9000x less energy consumption that OpenSea and Rarible, making them much more environmentally friendly. Those platforms are:

http://hicetnunc.xyz/

http://kalamint.io/

Kris mentioned Hic et nunc is great because it doesn’t have file type limitations so you can even include files like Ableton Live sets and it’s much more affordable to mint your NFTs. Kalamint is a little more selective, but for established artists it could be a more lucrative option. Thanks again to Kris for sharing their knowledge!

Wrap up

NFTs could change the digital art world, there’s no question about it. If nothing else, they’ve brought digital artists into the spotlight and have helped re-shape the narrative of digital art pieces as “real assets.” Hopefully this post gives you the high level overview of them and help you get started with them if you’re interested in giving them a try.