Although jobs under the title “Creative Technologist” (and others which sometimes feature similar descriptions/responsibilities, like “Interactive Developer”) have been around for quite some time, now is one of the most exciting times to forge a career in the industry. All over the world, more interactive and immersive projects can be found in museums, galleries, flagship stores, company headquarters and offices, and also at events, festivals and music performances. Although not a traditional career path that you’ll hear about at most universities, it’s an exciting option that blends together aspects of user interaction, software development, design and visual art.
In this post, we’ll take a look at why now is one of the most exciting times to start working as a creative technologist, and some interesting aspects of working in the interactive and immersive industry.
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Increasing Numbers of High Profile Clients
Within the last decade, high profile interactive installations have become more prevalent as the technology behind them has become more powerful, affordable, and accessible.
As a testament to how popular interactive and immersive installations have become, in most mid-size and larger cities you’re very likely find a variation of an “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit. One such example has had exhibits running in 20 North American cities, including Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Toronto. Another has been featured in 14 different European cities.
More and more museums feature interactive and immersive content as a way to connect with younger, technology-savvy audiences. These types of installations are not just appearing at the largest and most well known museums, like the Smithsonian, but even at smaller venues.
Brands, too, have joined in with interactive artwork and installations featured in company headquarters, flagship stores, and events. Google, Apple, Nike, and Armani have all commissioned interactive projects, just to name a few.
Finally, you’re more likely than ever to see interactive and immersive projects at festivals and music performances! For example, TouchDesigner was used to generate real-time visuals for a recent Red Hot Chili Peppers tour. With festivals like OFFF or Mutek, interactive art takes center stage, and the lines between interactivity, performance, music and visual art continue to be blurred.
Festivals Creative Technologists Should Know About
Side note: if you’re interested in learning more about festivals focused on the crossover between art and technology, check out the article New Media Festivals You Should Know About!
You Get To Build Cool Projects with the Latest Technology
Whether it’s creating complex generative visuals, projection mapping onto a building, working with sensors to build an interactive installation, or controlling impressive stage lighting rigs, you can rest assured that you will have many opportunities to work creatively with a wide variety of the latest technology, in an equally large number of environments. Working as a creative technologist/interactive developer can be a really interesting way to build a career at the crossroads of art, design, and technology.
For just one example of what this could look like, check out this recent post about the Moscow-based studio SETUP, who “design and build stages, installations and multimedia works of massive architectural proportions that seem to exist in some futuristic time/space”.
Industry Pros are Accessible
Unlike other industries, many top level developers are active participants in forums and help groups, and are very generous with their knowledge! For the TouchDesigner community, you’ll often see Elburz and Matthew Ragan (among others) providing advice and feedback on the forums.
The Interactive & Immersive HQ PRO offers a community platform where professionals (including Elburz and Matthew Ragan) will help you with any issues you might run across while working on projects (along with providing top notch, in-depth learning materials). Along with that, there are twice-monthly Accelerator Sessions which feature in-depth interviews with top TouchDesigner pros. who share their best strategies, secrets, tools, and tricks they’ve gained over years of working on world-class projects.
Elburz has also created this free, in-depth beginner TouchDesigner course, which covers all the basics you need to start learning!
If that’s not enough, The Interactive & Immersive HQ Accelerator Coaching program allows you to get direct guidance from a number of top tier coaches to reach your most important needs and goals.
Of course this is a slight plug for The Interactive & Immersive HQ offers, but the main point I want to make here is that these are very unique opportunities — there are not many industries that offer such direct access to high level professionals!
Many Learning Resources Are Available
Unlike the early 2010s, there are more learning materials available than ever for most of the main platforms you’ll find creative technologists and interactive developers using. Documentation (for the most part) has gotten better too, often with the developers of the software themselves producing high quality video resources in conjunction with written material.
Another great pool of learning resources that has proliferated with content in the last few years is YouTube. There are many great foundational series freely available that teach the basics for those who are interested in diving into the software. You’ll also find many amazing visual effects-focused techniques. There’s a lot to explore!
For more structured training on a wide variety of topics, including TouchDesigner, Python, GLSL, project architectures, and even the business side things (like pitching and pricing a project), there’s the The Interactive & Immersive HQ PRO. Again, this opens up a wealth of knowledge from experienced developers, which can be an indispensable asset when starting out.
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These templates shed light into the most useful and sometimes obtuse features of TouchDesigner.
They’re designed to be immediately applicable for the complete TouchDesigner beginner, while also providing inspiration for the advanced user.
Most Software Has a Free Or Low Cost Learning Option
Most companies offer a free or low-cost version of their software because they want more developers to learn how to use it!
- TouchDesigner offers a free non-commercial version, which includes all basic operations (but a limited output resolution).
- Unity offers a free Personal license as well as a free Student license for students at accredited institutions.
- Notch offers a perpetual Learning license for a one-time cost of £59.
- Unreal Engine is free to use for learning.
In some cases, the software is even free to use for commercial purposes. Both Unity and Unreal Engine have licenses that allow free use until you reach specific amounts of revenue, at which point you have to upgrade your license (Unity) or pay a royalty fee (Unreal).
What this means is that for the learner there are a lot of great options for getting started, with little or no investment upfront. And in the case of Unity or Unreal, you can even start to use the software commercially without needing to upgrade.
Skills and Portfolio > Academic Credentials
Similar to many design professions or software coding, your skills and portfolio matter more to clients than your academic credentials. Many top level developers have followed a very non-traditional career path, and don’t necessarily have the “formal training” you’d expect.
This is not to discourage anyone (including current students) from either going to or finishing school, but just to point out that you don’t necessarily have to go the traditional route to enter the industry or to have success.
Creative Technologists Get To Travel
Working on interactive and immersive projects will often require some amount of travel. Being onsite to oversee a project’s installation is an essential part of ensuring a great outcome for the client. You’ll be able to catch the inevitable software bugs or make tweaks to software (think user interactions, displays, sound, sensor positioning, etc.) based on the conditions on-site. For those who love to travel, working as a creative technologist/interactive developer might provide you with a great opportunity to work all over the world!
As you can see, there’s a lot of cool things happening in the interactive and immersive industry, and the barriers to entry for learning the tools of the trade have never been lower.
I hope that this post has given you some insight into the world working as a creative technologist/interactive developer, and why now is a great time to get started on your own journey into the field!