Author Archives: raganmd

A Conversation with Robert Erdös

Recently I had the great honor of participating in Robert Erdös’s recent project TOP Players. Robert is currently working with Les Ateliers Nomad – you can see some of their work on Facebook. During the roller coaster of stay at home orders, and social distancing Robert’s been interviewing TouchDesigner developers and artists and has put together a casual format for having real conversations about work, artistry, and one’s ever evolving practice.

From Contraption:

The first series of “TOP Players” recordings is focused on revealing the people behind the TouchDesigner community video tutorials, people who showed great generosity and skill in helping others find their way. 

One of the primary goals of these conversations is for users to gain access to the most valuable resources that lead to their success in the interactive world.

The 2020 Lockdown has offered me a unique opportunity to reach these wonderful people and try to share a perspective on their distinctive personalities and amazing work skills.

https://contraption.pro/

It was a joy to talk with Robert, and I’d encourage you to both checkout the page he made for this talk, and to follow along with the conversations he’s having with other artists and developers. You can learn more about Robert by checking out his instagram, contraption.pro, or Les Ateliers Nomad.

Follow Robert on

YouTube
Instagram
Behance
Facebook
Les Ateliers Nomad on Facebook

A Conversation with Cocolab

Zoe and I were recently invited to participate in an open conversation about “Making the Best of our Current Situation with the Power of Creativity” hosted by Cocolab. Cocolab is a creative studio based out of Mexico City doing work of all scales – from intimate experiences, to enormous projection events they’ve done it all. Like all of us, they’re working to understand how to navigate this strange time, and have been hosting an ongoing series of talks that explore how we might understand and navigate this changing world. Our conversation was moderated by the ever charismatic and playful Elburz Sorkhabi.

You can see our talk at the facebook link below, and if you’re interested in listening in future conversations you should check out their Instagram feed for the next artist and date.

Learn more about MIR

TouchDesigner | The Object CHOP

The Object CHOP has long been one of the most challenging CHOPs for me to really wrap my head around. Following along with some conversations on the Facebook Help Group 1, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who has bumped their head against how to take advantage of this operator.

With that in mind, here are a few tricks and techniques that you might find helpful when working with the object CHOP.

Distance Between Many Objects Part 1

At first glance, it seems like the object CHOP can only perform calculations between single objects, but in fact you can use this operator to perform calculations between many objects provided that you format the input data correctly, and set up your object CHOP to account for multiple samples.

In a first example let’s say that we want to find the distance between several green spheres and a blue box:

First let’s collect our position information. I’ve used an object CHOP per sphere to find its distance, but you might also use a script CHOP, or a put positions in a table that you reference for the spheres, or drive them with custom parameters. How you position them doesn’t matter. What we need, however, is a single CHOP with three channels that hold the transformation information of those spheres. My trick in this network is to use object CHOPs to find their positions, then put them in sequence with a join CHOP:

Next we can use a single object CHOP that’s fed reference positions from this join CHOP, and a target Geometry COMP:

Other important pieces here are the start and end parameters on the channel page.

This is where we set how many samples the object CHOP will evaluate. This can be a bit confusing – here especially as the join CHOP has started at a sample index of 1 rather than 0. The devil is in the details, so it’s worth keeping a close eye for these kinds of oddities. Because of this we compensate in our start position by moving back one sample index.

Next make sure to set your object CHOP to output measurements, and distance. What you’ll then end up with is a single channel with a sample for each distance between your box and spheres. We can convert this to a table if we wanted to see the actual values:

Distance Between Many Objects Part 2

We may also want to measure distances between multiple blue boxes. Say, for example, that we had two different blue boxes and we wanted to know the distances of our spheres to both of those boxes?

Similar to our first exercise we’ll start by collecting all of the position information for our spheres. We also need position information for our boxes. In this case, however, we need to stretch a single sample to be 4 samples long – this is part of our data preparation step to ensure we correctly calculate distance.

Here a simple stretch CHOP has been used to make sure we have four samples of data for each box. Next we can join this data so all of our box position information is in a single set of CHOP channels:

Before moving on, we need to take a moment to adjust our sphere position data. In our first example we only collected the four positions… we need to set up the correct extend behavior for this series so that our CHOPs know what values to use when CHOPs of mismatched lengths are combined. We can use an extend CHOP set to cycle to do this trick:

Finally, we can then use an object CHOP to calculate the distance between our box and our spheres:

Distance Between Many Objects plus Bearing

If we also calculate the bearing between our boxes and spheres, we’ll end up with rotation information… what can we do with this? We could use this to calculate the correct rotation for a set of instances. For example:

Here each line is correctly rotated, scaled, and placed based on calculations from the object CHOP.

Bearing

You can also use the object CHOP to just calculate bearing – or rotation from one object to another. Here you can see how this might be used to rotate instances to sit flat on a sphere’s surface, or rotate an arrow to point towards an object:

Bearing and Distance

Or you might use the combination of bearing and distance to make some strange abstract art:

Collision

You can also use the object CHOP to simulate a kind of collision calculation where the distance you’re measuring can help you tell how close an object is to another and if they’re on top of one another:

GitHub

Clone the Repo to Follow Along

TouchDesigner | Reflection and Refraction

I can haz Reflections?! Refractions?

Zoe loves all things reflective and refractive and it was almost a year ago that they started looking into how to achieve compelling illusions of reflection and refraction. Then I went to Macau, then Chicago, then Zoe dove headlong into their thesis project… fast forward to 2019, and it was time for me to finally follow through on a long overdue promise to create some examples of reflection and refraction in TouchDesigner. It didn’t hurt that Zoe gently reminded me that it was time for more refractive rendering in life. Good places to start for these kinds of questions are to look at existing references in the world. 

Reflection 

Reflections are hard. In part because they often mean that we need to see the whole world – even the parts that our virtual camera can’t. We might know this intuitively, but the reach of this is easy to forget. When we point the camera in our smartphone at a mirror we see ourselves, the world behind us, above us, and and and. If we point a virtual camera at a virtual mirror we need the same things. That can be a wobbly bit to wrap your head around, and develop a better sense of this challenge I look a look at a reference book I picked up earlier this year – OpenGL 4 Shading Language Cookbook – Second Edition. This has a great chapter on reflection techniques, specifically generating them by using cube-maps. Cubemaps look like an unfolded box, and have a long history of use in computer graphics. 

One of the primary challenges of using cubemaps is that you need to also know the perspective of the object that’s reflective. In other words, cube maps can be very convincing as long as you move the camera, but not the reflective object. But what if we want the option to both move the camera, and the object? In this quick tutorial, we look at how we can use a cube map to create convincing reflections, as well as what steps we need to consider if want not only the camera to move, but the object itself. 


Refraction

The one and only Carlos Garcia (L05) has a great example posted on the TouchDesigner forum. This great example helps illustrate the part of what we’re after with this kind of work is the sleight of hand that hints at refraction, but isn’t necessarily true to the physics of light. Almost all realtime rendering tricks are somewhere between the Truth (with a capital T) of the world, and the truth (sneaky lower case t) of perception. We’ve all fallen for the perceptual tricks of optical illusions, and many times the real work of the digital alchemist is to fool observers into believing a half truth. Carlos’ example proves just that point, and helps us see that with a little tricksy use of the displacement TOP we can achieve a healthy bit of trickery. 

That’s an excellent start to our adventure, but we can dig-in a little more if we keep searching. Another post on the forum links over to an article on medium that showcases an approach for webGL that leverages the use of a UV map to “pre-compute” the direction of displacement of the light that passes through a transparent object. This is an interesting approach, and in fact there’s a middle ground between the webGL example and Carlos’ TOX that gives us some interesting results. 

In the following tutorial we can see how we remix these two ideas. The big picture perspective here is that we can leverage TouchDesigner’s real-time rendering engine to provide the same “pre-computed” asset that’s utilized in the webGL approach, and then use Carlos’ displacement TOP technique. We can also short-cut Carlos’ use of a rendering a second version of the object as a mask, and instead use a threshold TOP looking at our alpha channel to achieve the same effect. This isn’t a huge change, but it’s a bit faster in some implementations and saves us the wobbles that sometimes come with multiple render passes. Finally, a little post processing can help us achieve some more convincing effects that help sell our illusion as a true to the eye. 


Playlist


Individual Videos

TouchDesigner | Packing up a Tox for Distribution

If you’ve been following along with the workshop materials from the TD Summit 2019, there is one more exciting little tid-bit to dig-into. Thinking about how to create a reusable template for creating toxes is no small feat – especially if you want to include external Python libraries. I’ve been thinking about how to approach this challenge and mapped out a rough framework for approaching this challenge. You can see the working repo for this up on github here. During the last part of the workshop on External Python Libraries we covered this a little sneak peak of this technique, and to complete the workshop videos we added a section covering this approach.

The big picture ideas here are to standardize our approach to handling external libraries and automate their installation. This leans on the same concepts we explored in the workshop, and includes using things like a requirements file, using some automated installation scripts, and making sure the path to our project directory is included in our sys.path. The last major change is to convert our general scripts we wrote previously into an extension.

These days I tends to lean towards Extensions over Modules, though you could approach this challenge with Modules very similarly. This set of tutorials will walk us through taking what we created in the previous workshop videos and creating a portable tox we should be able to drag-and-drop into any project. Hopefully, what you take away from this example are some ideas about how to apply this technique and approach to other toxes that you build and share.

Happy Programming!


TouchDesigner | TD Summit 2019 | External Python Libraries

Overview

Hot off the presses, the workshop video from the 2019 TouchDesigner Summit workshop on External Python Libraries is up. You can follow along with all of the materials and outline from the workshop here – External Python Libraries.

If you just want to jump straight to the videos, you can find a playlist below. Happy Programming!


Python has more and more reach these days – from web services to internet of things objects, scientific and statistical analysis of data, what you can do with Python is ever expanding. While it’s possible to do all of this work from the ground up, it’s often easier (and faster) to use libraries that other people have published. TouchDesigner already comes with a few extra libraries included like OpenCV and Numpy. Once you have a handle on working with Python the world feels like it’s your oyster… but how you work with a magical little external library in TouchDesigner can be very tricksy. Worse yet, if you happen to get it working on your machine, making work on another can be infuriating. Over the course of this workshop we’ll take a look at what you can do to make this process as smooth and painless as possible, as well as some considerations and practices that will help you stay sane when you’re trouble shooting this wild Python roller coaster.