Once, digital image editing was a fringe medium. Now, almost everyone who uses a computer does basic image editing. So, I’m pleased to get to talk today at Macworld Expo about live visuals and reactive/interactive animation. I chose some relatively simple examples since time was short, just to cover the basics. I think some of these might be useful to people at the show and away from it, so I’ll share them here.

Visualism 101

DJs and computer musicians have turned electronic and electrical music into live, improvisatory forms. Likewise, motion graphics, video, and animation are evolving from being exclusively linear, pre-composed works into reactive, interactive, and performative media. This medium is so new that there’s no name for it yet. You’ll hear about video artists, a tradition extending back to innovative visionaries like Nam June Paik. But “video” is only one of a number of media now at the digital artists’ disposal, from lighting to digital animation and 3D graphics. (Nam June Paik certainly didn’t fit so narrow a category, as a composer, artist, and performer.) You’ll hear “interactive designers”, but to most people that means website interfaces. And you’ll hear “VJs”, but that suggests people mixing two to four channels of pre-rendered video, as a DJ would with sound. (And it could mean a host on MTV)

All of these terms are useful in cases. But at Create Digital Motion, we prefer the term “visualist”, for artists whose love of live visual media crosses these arbitrary boundaries.

Visualism Examples

Visualism extends to a broad variety of artists. Here are just a few to whet your appetite:

  1. Toshio Iwai: Mixing art and gaming. Tenori-On interactive music controller, ICE Installation, Tokyo. Toshio Iwai understands the way gaming interactions have become a part of our culture, and has become a hero to musicians and visualists on this site for his forward-thinking approach to digital media.
  2. Daniel Shiffman, NYU: Transforming video into 3D worlds and back again. Interactive installations translating motion into particle systems. (Dan is also a reader of this site, so, hi, Dan!)
  3. Nikolai Cornell: Futuristic installations. Nikolai’s interactive mirror proves how powerful a few simple, inexpensive sensors can be when used artfully.
  4. ART+COM: Computational art. Reimagining computation and data itself as beautiful, ART+COM is one of a growing generation of artists whose work is helping digital media to change rapidly.

That’s not even getting into the enormous range of VJs and visual performers. A number of us will be sharing our work Thursday night at Macworld, including renowned VJ Grant Davis.

Links to Tools

I routinely browse through the tags here on CDM just to see what topics have come up regarding a certain app or piece of gear:

Quartz Composer

If you want free/open source tools, here are some important resources:

Quartz Composer (I set up a simple blog for a class I was teaching)
(Boot Camp / virtualized Windows users) FlashDevelop (see also their official site)
Arduino sensor interface
Open Source Flash

Pd (Pure Data) (Pure Data is the open source cousin of Max/MSP/Jitter)

And lastly, the primary resources for the two tools with which I spent the most time today:

Adobe Flash Developer Center
Apple Introduction to Quartz Composer Programming Guide

I’m also developing online curricula on some of these subjects; the place to watch will remain this site. Thanks to everyone who came, and feel free to comment here publicly or contact me directly via this site’s contact form.

  • Gilbert Bernstein

    I wanted to say that visualist/ism seems like a pretty good phrase, since it's not really overloaded, it's pretty general and it's not some conjunctive tangle. (New Motion Visualist! ugh) I'm also really glad that this site recognizes the broader scope of the zeitgeist, rather than having tunnel vision about it.

    Also, two small tangents this post provoked.

    There is a field related to Computer Graphics as a sub-field of Computer Science called Scientific Visualisation. This might be a rich source of inspiration for some artists. (I mean, "visualists")

    One much smaller mac tool which can be used for both visuals and music is impromptu. ( http://impromptu.moso.com.au/ ) It's a live coding system built on top of scheme, which is really awesome if you think functional languages/lisp are the best thing since sliced bread.

  • People seem to understand the idea of a "visualist" more readily than "VJ". Googling the term it seems that others have been using it for a while. I started using it after watching the HipHop/DJ culture documentary <a href="http://youtube.com/results?search_query=scratch+documentary&search=Search&quot; rel="nofollow">Scratch, in which DJ Babu explains the origins of the term Turntablist. I felt that "VJ" was a very narrow term, which is either associated with MTV presenters, or people mixing prerecorded DVD or VHS sources.

    I suppose some of the algorithms which Processing artists use could be considered Scientific Visualisation.. Perlin noise, particle decay visualisations and the like? They're fantastic, although I think my maths skills need a little touching up before I go there, I'm still having issues remembering Sin/Cos/Tan equations for expressions in After Effects.

  • Claudio Midolo

    Finally a word that fits all my passions, I like it!

  • Indeed, I am an avid reader of this wonderful blog. Hello to you too Peter!

    Any term that I can use where I don't have to call myself an artist, I can get behind. 3 cheers for visualists everywhere!

  • bsantoro

    How about Motion Graphic Artist?