TouchDesigner Talk 2 - Reflection Piece by Stephen Bontly

Happy 2017!

Today I watched a talk on methods and practices using TouchDesigner. Thanks to Ian Shelansky and Matthew Ragan for taking the time to share their practices with us. Open source communities are a beautiful thing. You can find the talk here if you are interested in getting into it. TouchDesigner talk

Keep in mind, Im not a computer programmer. Id like to think that I can be one, but time doesnt permit. What I do understand is the theory of object oriented programming. Which will get me far enough.

When I work on projects, currently they tend to be on the fly, 1 or 2 weeks prep time. Building my networks as fast as my brain can handle it, and perform. The hours begin to melt away. As I learn I build more tools of course, making my specific job easier. However as I grow, so do my projects. Complexity overwhelms my thoughts. I've finally learned to let somethings go, just to make room for the agenda. Its things like these that make rapid installations largely improvisation pieces. Quickly adapting to the environment. 

TD works best in a closed loop. Nothing in or out that it doesn't already understand. I am the master of fucking that up. How can I avoid it? 10 years later, maybe. Currently I use TD professionally, I enjoy the change while im working, and learning. How to manipulate and adapt. So my goal is to master its properties. Maybe im using TD in the wrong way? Im not so sure. But there are a few things outside of the obvious that I have learned, by keeping an ear out, from the professionals of this industry. Here are a few from this past talk.

Ian stated the session with a demonstration of how to apply physical data to a geometry using GLSL and ray marching. Something I wish I knew more about, and there will be another time. What Im beginning to see is that you must use the TD environment as a pair with GLSL for you to get the biggest benefits. Another thing I have been noticing is how pixel data can be used for position and texture mapping. A concept I feel will be very useful when working with projection mapping projects. The power of data translation can be the 'make' or 'break' of a good idea.

There have been a few patch releases for Matt's A/B switching render system, but I appreciated the breakdown. Very helpful hint about the renderpass TOP within the next output opposed to another network. Matt continued on to explain how using a base operator as the core for effects, creating a bin to load from. Then once all the back end work is cleaned up, you can reference the effects with the cloning parameter using python. This might be a rough idea of the final beauty, however the concept can go far.  Additionally, you can use the internal parameters on the base itself as a universally interchangeable controller. By setting these with a standardized dictionary keys, you can change out variables rapidly, even create a recall for the default setting when the effects change. I have created a system like this before, but with a different and less efficient workaround than Matthew. This is some great stuff! My only concern is about the transitions between the effects. I'm sure there is a solution; could be a good component to develop? 

The overall ideology of re-usability and generalization with each component/module to make it interchange seamlessly is where the magic happens. This is where I could optimize my own media server I use during performances. As I mentioned before, The best products run in a closed loop. I will definitely apply these ideas before next season. ( maybe not a closed loop though ;) ) Of course these practices are just as important as naming your operators and a proper network structure. 

Another idea that was brought to my attention during this talk was about preloading, and loading while performing. The larger the network and more intertwined in itself it becomes, the harder it is to bring new information into the mix. In the past I have notoriously moved between applications, dragging and dropping components and media into TD and other software. However, the smarter move is to make sure you keep your loop as closed as possible, using other methods to control your resources. A longer startup and a bit better management can prove to be a more resilient approach than constantly adding and subtracting information. My new years resolution, to internalize my projects. Less improvisation, and more consistency.

There were a few topics that definitely had practical applications, however on a much larger scale than I currently operate under. Ian talked about using an API to connect a local browser to TD, ultimately creating a controller that can be accessed through the TCP/IP network. Matt touched on the benefits of using strategies on the startup in larger systems, once again making use of the TCP/IP network.

Since the educational community for TD is quite small it is not so often we get development secrets. Thanks again. I look forward to the next talk. My questions lead towards latency control and maintenance. I have requested the next talk to dive into these problems that begin to rise on larger systems.

Thoughts: A patch was just released by Gregg for a scene component with its own timeline based layering system. Another sweet tool! By pairing this with Matthew's A/B switching system, as well as adding the internal parameter effects system, you could begin to have VJ nice VJ setup.

Stay tuned World.


Resident VJ - Tisno, Croatia by Stephen Bontly

The Village of Tisno

The Village of Tisno

I was hired on as a site manager, but who cares about the boring stuff. I came to work on lights. To play with the DJ's and bands that everyone, and even myself, love. To create an experience. I purchased a new computer to run my performances, and a new controller to operate and was ready to go. Running a TouchDesigner/Resolume Arena hybrid, dealing with up to three different outputs:  6 x 3 m LED wall, a custom video wall outputting 48 x 64 pixel 2D matrix, and a Christie Roadie projector.

7 Festivals, 72 Artists, 10 weeks 

The Beach

The Beach

 I have done a fair amount of performances since starting on the path of digital media. I was not ready for this. In fact, I don't even think resident DJs perform like this. This wasn't a club. The themes were vague. Everything was always changing. You make the rules (kinda XD). And people wanted a good time. Welcome to The Garden Tisno.

Before I had left, I did my homework. At least as much as I could. I knew that I was faced with the challenge of being a VJ for 7 festivals. I can say, I am truly thankful to all of the support I've had in the previous years because It was completely necessary for this job. What I learned this summer has become the principles of my work ethic and will influence many of the choices I have ahead.

I had bought an APC40 the spring before, after doing research on VJ controllers and the best layouts for each software. It was an obvious choice. The amount of buttons and sliders fit Resolume's profile very nicely. I used an XML template I found on the forums, and began to cut out the code that was unnecessary in order to free up these controls for TD. However, I soon found out that it was impossible to pair the same MIDI device with both software without a third party API such as LoopBe or BOME products. Which I didn't exactly have time to invest in. Regardless of this, I knew that I was going to be using the Resolume interface with the controller. For my audio interface I am using a NI Komplete Audio 6. Which worked easily with both softwares.

Solomun, thanks to Movement Croatia

Solomun, thanks to Movement Croatia

As a VJ you are responsible for taking the content, and not only syncing it to the performance, but making it GOOD! Externally this involves communicating with the other light and sound technicians, collaborating with artists who have personal content, and fulfilling requests from the stage and production managers who require special attributes to be added for each event. Internally, listening to the music, I follow compositions, layers, colors, effects, buttons, sliders, switches, knobs, as well as the environment and the crowd. In Resolume, I normally run about 30 - 40 animations per artist, 4 layers, and around 10-15 standard effects. It gets a bit more complicated when I begin to include custom outputs, leaning more towards lighting effects over animation loops if the right scenario is provided. Game time normally started around around 18:00 and ended about 2-3:00. Excluding one night, when The Garden Tisno became Barbarella's, hosting a sunrise set by none other than Louie Vega. 

Louie Vega at 7:30 AM, Main Stage

Louie Vega at 7:30 AM, Main Stage

While I was working as a video technician/ VJ, I was also involved in production and maintenance of the entire site. It took away from producing the network I would have liked, but I liked the challenge. I was operating on the main stage, along with our head audio engineer, Kim, and light technician, Marko, leaving me to be responsible for the video. I took it a step further to create extra production with prop building for the projections. This was more of a design/build collaboration I had with my boss, that was short and sweet. See some of the photos/videos showcasing Love International and Electric Elephant. I added these features in the small gaps of time I had between jobs.

Love International

Love International

The LED wall was operational with no problems. rented for the season from a local company specializing in stage production throughout Croatia. They came in on the week prior to the start of the summer, setup and calibrated the screen for my machine. The rest of the hardware used was left for me to setup. Luckily I found a few helpful hands. 

Night before main stage opened for season

Night before main stage opened for season

I installed the projector on the third day of the first festival with no time for testing or calibration. As the sun was setting I turned on my machine, finally plugging into Resolume, assuming it would operate just as smoothly as the first two days. At that moment nothing was working. The monitors registered on my NVIDIA GPU, however when switching to display mode, the interface malfunctioned. I was happily forced to develop an output for TD and had the show running and calibrated within the hour. This was a shaky start, but you never wanna give your crowd everything all at once ;-) 

It was at this time I began to develop the foundations for the custom hybrid software I use today as a VJ. Over the following days I had a basic UI developed to output visuals. I have a very unconventional way of performing with Touch Designer. My networks are always exposed during the performance and could be considered a piece of art all on their own... aesthetically. I have been taking notes Mr Ragan, v2.0 will have some dramatic upgrades. Stay tuned for a new blog series that will focus on rebuilding an operational and 'attractive' interface.

Electric Elephant

Electric Elephant

While we had the projector installed for the first two festivals, to include projection mapping, greatly increasing the value of the stage, the remaining festivals unfortunately lacked the investment or dedication. By the third festival we said goodbye to the Roadie and installed the video panels. Personally, I would have loved to run all three together to test out the limits of my GTX 980M. In the next weeks, I adapted the control panel to include another interface for these panels. 

The panels, privately owned, functioning with its own converter and plugged right into DVI, were not completely operational. Testing and installing was left to me. I ran a CAT5 cable from the converter to the first node and daisy-chained the line across the stage. Out of each unit, holding eight strips of 64 LEDs ( i believe a 4 cm pitch), four were operational and two had one lead broken. I didn't have the knowledge of the electronic hardware to fix this, so I ended up remapping the pixels through TD before outputting. This solved the problem however making it difficult to allow visiting VJ's to perform on the complete setup. A touring VJ came for the Sven Vath performance, but he was only able to run the main video wall due to this problem.

sorry for the blur, old camera phone

sorry for the blur, old camera phone

For the majority of the summer I was granted creative freedom with my content. Using my own intuition to direct the moods I enhanced through light. It was the second to last festival that gave me a taste of the real world. A company that I will not mention on this page, gave me strict, and later enforced regulations when playing video content. They had all of their own content and didn't want me to stray away from their brand. It was beautifully marketed and I was told to keep it simple.... on repeat. I reluctantly took the back seat and spent 4 days, ~ 8 hrs per day, of one festival watching the same content. I admittedly felt embarrassed. It was one of the co-owners of the festival venue that approached me and taught me a very important lesson. he said to me, "You know, there is someone within this company that has an image of how he wants his company to be run and perceived. This is his show, and you are here to make his show happen." These words I will never forget as a freelancer, as a designer and as a contracted professional. It really puts you in your place. A place I chose to be. Since graduating I have been doing my thing. But I want to make money. The people who have money also do their thing, and they want my skills. This is how we get paid.

Since beginning in this field, I have worked mainly with private owners. These are great people and really give you a humanized version of the career path I have chosen. This does not reflect on my ambition. As much as I love the production, I want a minimum standard. It is important that my future holds a little more professionalism and respect for the maintenance, performance and overall end product. I cannot be responsible for repairing faulty equipment, or ghetto rigging setups due to improper tools and resources. In the up and coming years, demands will grow. Isn't that what makes us professionals? The final culprit, time itself. Never will it stop, and the more in-depth my work becomes, the less I will have. As a professional I must make decisions that grant me more time to do the things that really matter.

To be honest, I hardly had a moment to see the big picture. I  was micro-managing my tools, looking at the small bits that created a whole. Or even when I was looking at the whole picture, I was still only seeing one perspective, i.e. the composition, layer opacity levels, the contrast of one effect against the other, etc. It is only now that I have time to reflect, watching youtube videos that the public and promoters have posted, I can see the fruits of my labor. I have countless recordings from the summer to sort through. In reality, its in the past and I can only go forward. Im interested for documentation purposes. I think that is what ultimately drove me into real-time design. The idea that the moment is past and you have an opportunity to absorb the NOW. Something is going on, so why stop? 

The next question is, how do we capture a moment? Ironically, This was the topic of my first project in Architecture school. See my Models page to catch a glimpse of my solution in 2011. 

I have yet to decide in my return to such a wild world.

I hope you have enjoyed this read. My next article will talk about my thoughts on traveling as a media artist. The tools of trade and the 'Do's and Don'ts' of travel and production. 

Stay tuned World.

Biennale - Presenting our Current Condition by Stephen Bontly

I spent the past weekend at Biennale in Venice, Italy. It reminded me about what I loved in Architecture. Problem solving, presentation, and demonstration. What I love is also what I hate. How easy it is to influence and potentially control the masses.

Serbian Pavilion

The Biennale is presented to the world with a purpose. To raise awareness of the current conditions that we as inhabitants face on a global, national and communal scale. This is, for me, the most powerful form of introducing constructive change.  The big question is, how does one portray information? As many believe, architects are the stewards of life, creating, protecting and providing opportunities. Not necessarily dictating, however influencing the decisions that a person might make. This collection of information is considered the best of its kind, only coming together every two years in one location of the world.

Philippine Pavilion

As I moved through each pavilion, I could see, feel, hear the ideas that have been presented at each entry. Guiding the audience through a journey, curating the experience for them, giving them the right type of information. As soon as the viewer connects with the presentation, they want more, they want to understand.



Once they understand, they absorb this idea into their personal knowledge. They then begin to make connection outside of the architects control. That is beauty. Empowering the people to make their own choices. Some ideas are better left open ended. Insinuating an idea but not deciding its value. Letting the people put worth and creativity into the seed you have planted into them. This is efficient, effective and influential. 

Biennale College Exhibit

The production can be simple or complex, but by the end of the presentation, you can believe in it so much. As a designer, we have been taught to sell a product, create a performance and captivate an audience. Whether it is through, graphics, models, video, text, or interactive design, we are responsible for creating smooth transitions between each topic, sometimes intangible until put into perspective. These modes of translation can be further abstracted by scale, space, position and perception. 

VOIDS - Aires Mateus

Abstract or literal, connecting concepts does not have to be black and white. People connect with feelings and give value to the most random things. That is what makes everything so special. 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. Why should wisdom be any different? For me, finding these connections that people relate to, no matter how bizarre, no matter what order, is what gives meaning to what I do. 

Forensic Architecture


Luyanda Mpahlwa - DesignSpaceAfrica

The choices that architects make will directly influence the choices people make, bending the realities that we believe to be true. How to draw people into your world, hook their attention, connect ideas in their head where they never would have thought.

Ireland Pavilion

A person will only change when they are ready to. Nothing will convince them except themselves. There are many different ways to achieve a common result, not one being better than the other. It was a enlightening experience to see how Biennale accomplished this task. Bravo!

Stay Tuned World.

Reflections of My Past by Stephen Bontly

Once again, I am returning from the shadows to tell my devoted readers about my crazy opinions. Although they might be few, they will at least know a few of the thoughts roaming around in my head.

I will frame this article around the past two years of my life. This time has been almost a flash before my eyes. Not once slowing down, I have traveled, learned, loved, cried, and experienced many things. Never really giving myself a moment of peace to reflect on what I have been though. The days in between my adventures have been used for rest. Gathering just enough energy to continue to the next project, next destination. 

You may wonder why I have started my entry this way. For my friends and family back home, I am returning back into their world. For my friends and family in Europe, I am leaving them, with an undecided return. For me, Its part of the journey. At this moment, I am able to finally take some time to go through my memories and try to sort through them. Remember, reorganize, reflect. It reminds me of what I constantly do with my bookmarks on Google Chrome. Honestly, it is a mess. 

I have met people from all different cultures, experienced their ways of living, and tried to imagine what it would be like if I was in their shoes.... But even so, I am unable to find a place where I feel complete. I see all of my friends working a job from 9-5, or finishing a professional degree program, or starting a family. When I take a moment to think, is this the point of life? To settle... what is settling? How does a person know when they are ready to just BE? 

When I started the Architecture program in 2011, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I had lived my whole life not really knowing what I wanted. But I knew, from the bottom of my soul, that I want to make things. By the time I finished, I thought I knew that traditional architecture wasn't for me. Today, I am still faced with the same problem.

If you have read some of my previous entries, you surely realize where my passions lie. On one side, diving deeply into the digital world, I work with a network of software to complete my tasks. Learning autonomously from mainstream tactics. School of Youtube, as some would call it. On the other side, design/build projects, craftsmanship, contributing to the build environment and working within capacity. A world I feel so comfortable in, I find myself wandering elsewhere. To the unknown. At what point does this digital society of pioneering trump (i hope he doesn't win) the analog style of remembrance, or vis versa? I have come across this question many times in the past two years. I want both... is this possible? 

I have enough knowledge to start with an idea and realize it. From architecture to technics, my skills are generally progressive to create a desirable product. However as I am still searching where I belong, I understand that only through collaboration, you can really achieve something great. But when you are not focused in one area, how do you find the correct team that will accept you? Am I now forced to work solo for the rest of my days? Do I have to sacrifice the time spent discovering just to go back and specialize in one aspect? If this is the case, were my acts of wandering worth it?

The only constant is this world is time, I only hope there is enough. This fall, I have begun to REFLECT on my adventures. REDESIGN my appearance. REDFINE my approach. 

As my travels in Europe come to an end and begin back home. I will see for the first time, where my value might take me...

Stay Tuned World.