Projection strobing (CC) Paulo Barcelos.

This is generally the time of year to look back at 2009. But in the world of visualists, even more than other media, it’s what’s ahead that looks brightest. When I asked earlier this week for the best visualist work of the year, I noticed something. People immediately began talking about tools rather than people. I’m still interested in beginning to survey some of the best artists out there in a variety of media, from club visuals to interactive art to gaming – indeed, the silence on this issue, compared to hundreds of comments about music albums on our sister site, speaks volumes to the need in the community for more.

But maybe there’s something to be said for looking at tools. Tools represent possibility, the projects to come, and the blank canvas. And while I believe artists should endeavor to use the tools at hand, a number of developments in 2009 suggest where we may spend our time in 2010.

Here are a few of those milestones, as suggested by you (and me).

A very, very Happy New Year. CDMusic celebrated its fifth at the end of 2009; CDMotion has new potential in early 2010, too.

Marius Watz’s Processing-generated, laser-cut wood engravings, from Brooklyn’s systemsystem show in October.

1. Processing is on all cylinders. After reaching the end of its beta in late 2008, Processing 1.0 got extra polish in 2009. But two libraries by AndrΓ©s Colubri promise to really make Processing the must-have visualist programming tool. GSVideo, based on the high-performance, open-source, omni-platform GStreamer back-end, and GLGraphics, a fully GPU-accelerated OpenGL library, point to the future of Processing’s graphics pipeline. Heavy development this year ensured easier installation on multiple OSes, and these libraries keep getting better. They also aggressively disprove the “you can’t do that with Java” theory, by delivering blazing performance.

Oh, yeah – and Processing is coming to Android. That could finally fulfill the dream I’ve talked about in past, of being able to show up at a gig with a couple of ultra-cheap, lightweight tablets with video output. (That gear isn’t quite available yet on Android, but should be … in 2010, the same year we should see a usable Android version of Processing.)

made with openFrameworks from openFrameworks on Vimeo.

2. OpenFrameworks is awesome, too. Processing is not so much a tool as it is a way of life; hence its simple syntax makes JavaScript more powerful, and it has also inspired the terrific C++-based OpenFrameworks. Like Processing, OF benefits from omni-platform support – and just as OF is unlikely ever to run on Android, Processing is unlikely ever to run on the iPhone, which makes OF’s iPhone support a delicious extra. OF is also a community as much as a tool, with a wonderful group of artists working on its development and documentation, and making great art with it at the same time.

Quartz Composer slit scan video (CC) EB Morse.

3. Kineme makes Quartz Composer livable. For Mac heads and fans of graphical patching, Quartz Composer is a promising tool that can also be … well, annoying unfinished. But leave it to some hackers to make it workable. Kineme is a community, a set of patches and plug-ins, tools, documentation … it’s a way to make Quartz Composer feel like home.

NOT an image of Unreal Engine. Kill Jet at Kokoromi’s Gamma 256, (CC) Simon Law.

4. Gaming and visualism are coming together. Game engines no longer break the bank. Unity and Unreal Engine are free. Powerful open source tools continue to mature. Microsoft’s XNA (cost: around $100) makes even coding for Xbox 360 a reasonable proposition, both in ease and expense.

But of course, bleeding-edge gaming technology aside, perhaps what really matters is that gaming tech of all kinds is merging with visualist practice – see above.


5. Blender 2.5 is coming. Open source, a compromise? How about one of the most sophisticated 3D modeling tools, compositing tools, video editing tools, animation tools, game engine tools … all in one? That’s long been the proposition of Blender. The trade-off: it’s been a punishing tool to try to use.

With a fleshed-out feature set and entirely new UI, Blender 2.5 promises to change all that. And the first proof that we’ll see it in finished form came late this year, as 2.5 hit alpha. 2.49 is already solid, but 2.5 is something previous releases – and many commercial rivals – weren’t: fun.


6. Open source video editing could save us time and pain. Especially with all these other, powerful tools, it’s time for video editing to be a more seamless part of our world. That means both free tools that reduce pain dealing with codecs and editing for end users, and the kinds of tools that developers can pick up and incorporate in their own creative projects. (Imagine video editing applications as re-imagined by visualists, rather than only what works as a commercial product fro someone who’s just bought a new camcorder.) Projects like PiTiVi have begun to do just that. By the end of ’09, PiTiVi is a usable application for basic slicing and dicing, and I’ve had Linux apps manage to edit video my pricey commercial apps can’t – no time-consuming rendering required. But it’s what these projects offer developers that may be most compelling. PiTiVi, for instance, offers a modern framework of modules which a Python coder can incorporate into their own ideas.

Modul8ing carries on. Photo (CC) Ambra Galassi.

7. The next generation has arrived. When it comes to commercial visual performance software, your choices are more complete, more modern, and more enjoyable than ever. Each has its own advantages. VDMX is a massive, modular funhouse focused on support for Mac tech. Modul8 keeps a minimalist layout that belies some serious power, and also remains a favorite on the Mac. Resolume Avenue combines the layer and effect powers of its predecessor with a new fondness for mixing audio and video loops as if they’re one medium, and now bridges Mac and Windows. GrandVJ, from the developer (ArKaos) who helped make VJ software a widespread reality, focuses on stability and blazing-fast playback performance, and is almost hilariously easy to use with MIDI keyboards, drum pads, controllers, and (now) iPhones, and it’s also cross-platform. Yes, options from vvvv to Jitter to Processing still appeal to the DIYer, but these choices give you media server-like performance at a price that can pay for itself in a single gig. (I keep both around, personally.)

Control, yesterday and today. Photo (CC) Joshua Schnable.

8. While the music industry was worrying and having meetings, visualists made OSC happen. I’ve heard an endless string of objections to why OpenSoundControl – a stunningly simple, modern framework for communication and control based largely on existing Internet standards – isn’t practical. There’s no hardware. Users aren’t used to it. It’s too hard to implement. It’s not well-documented. There’s a chicken-and-egg problem. We have other priorities. And so it is that major music manufacturers with hundreds (or thousands) of employees seem unable to do anything about the fact that MIDI is an antiquated serial standard based on long-defunct assumptions about how hardware has to work.

Apparently, visual developers didn’t get the memo. One- and two-person teams, in many cases, managed to bang out OSC support. It’s now a standard you can expect in any modern “VJ” app. The result: anyone with a device like an iPhone or iPod touch (tens of millions of units alone), and soon other gear, too (Android, anyone?), can easily control apps. OSC learn works more easily than MIDI learn, and people who’ve only just begun programming as students are writing OSC code.

It’s a grand achievement for visualist software – and it should be an embarrassment to the music tech industry.

Micro projector for your pocket, (CC) Cheon Fong Liew.

9. Projectors are nearing commodity status. Remember how one of the problems facing visualists was that projection – unlike amplification – lacked ubiquity? Well, the problem isn’t entirely solved. It’s easier to drown out other sounds as a musician than it is to not get your projection blown out by lighting. (Doh!) But projection is getting cheaper and more ubiquitous, as we’ve all been predicting. 2009 was a great year for micro-projectors and cheaper projector equipment in general, and 2010 – and CES – are just around the corner. Some of these projectors are actually too small, so dim that the tradeoff in price isn’t paid off in actual projection. But just as transistor radios ultimately helped make all audio equipment more affordable, the transformation of lighting suggests great things ahead – and no excuse for clubs to lack projection equipment. (Hear that, clubs? Oh, yeah, I didn’t think you were listening. Okay, no excuse for us not to have a six-pack of projectors in our bags.)

SCINTILLATION from Xavier Chassaing on Vimeo.

10. There’s a new community around projection mapping. I don’t think I even need to say much about this. The phrase “projection mapping” is meaningless to nearly everyone, but no matter: around the world, artists working on mapping projections to objects and outdoor architecture are finally connecting with one another, sharing techniques, and sharing tools. If there was one theme to CDMotion this year, this was it. And it’s important, because it finally helps the art of live visuals escape to more surfaces and contexts.

  • Awesome article !

    Thanx peter !

    Viva la processing , blender 2.5 VDMX and the opensource !

  • Tatu

    I Love what we do, but, we are always a step back the guys from the sound. Happy New Year!!! I wish we can set our clock together this year!!!!!

  • For this new year, I plan to make Onyx-VJ open source flash based vj mixer evolve the best I can! stay tuned !

  • And OpenGL is coming to the browsers via WebGL! Once fullscreen, it's quite nice…
    Theora Video + OpenGL + fast Javascript + HTML5 offline storage, all in the browser, is promising.

  • Hope this year many users will fall in love with CoGe πŸ™‚

  • Hello 2010!
    Great article!
    Welcome to the future πŸ™‚

  • After seeing the comments to the other post, I say good choice doing tools mainly.

    This list contains a few things I was unaware of (as well as cool example vids), so it's like getting a few more presents – I'll now proceed to fully recover from the New Year's party by toying with cool software. Especially PiTiVi sounds cool, and much needed.

    Good call on the state of all things OSC, too. It really is the territory of lame excuses from the big players. Good on the small-time visual devs for showing them how it should be done.

    Other than that, your idea of profiling top of the line artists this year sounds delicious. I look forward to that!

  • TweakingKnobs,

    You praised 4 projects, one of which is Commercial. A bit of a mixed message for me. Try Queve on Linux as your vj software…

    happy new year!!

  • @vdmo: I'm a huge fan of open source, but I also know the devs of VDMX. The commercial business model works for them, and allows them to put time into development and support to a degree that might not be possible with a free project. There are of course many, many arguments about how commercial and free software projects may or may not coexist. But in the case of visual software, we've already seen that commercial tools and free tools alike can help promote open standards, and that they can be part of the same community. I think everyone benefits, at the very least, from being as educated as possible about the tools that are out there and what they can do — even if you're using all free software, it's good to have at least a passing knowledge of the whole scene. I don't see a conflict, anyway.

  • bsantoro

    Didn't you forget CONTROLLERS? 2009 saw an explosion of of new MIDI controller hardware. What is going to happen in 2010? I see devices like the rumored Apple tablet (and others, like Android) utilizing the benefits of both hardware and software as a MIDI or OSC controllers. Look at the iPhone APP explosion for example.

    New touch tablets would have all the benefits of the iPhone with greater screen real estate to layout new GUI, gestured-controlled paradigms. Using software, there is total flexibility. 2010 will be an exciting year!

  • I was kind of sticking to visual specifics, but yes, indeed. Very excited for touch tablets/notebooks of various kinds happening. I'm hoping in particular for one with video out – we get that and we're really going to have a good time. And on the hardware front, Livid's Ohm and Block are especially good options — would be even more so if we saw OSC support from them. Stay tuned. Actually, a controller article might be a good idea, now that you say this. πŸ˜‰

  • This year saw midi controllers and VJ software matured to new levels, but all around the globe more and more VJs are being replaced by lighting companies and crap pre-packaged content. VJ forums is full of stories like this. I myself have been battling this all year. IMO, LED screens have ruined visual detail much like mp3 did to audio, now everyone wants to spin mp3s and do video on low rez led screens. What we need is a movement towards art and less away from technology. 2009 defiantly was a year for technology, but I feel the art was pushed even further into the back seat.

  • @Kevin: Perhaps, but then the club scene was pretty dreadful to begin with. I guess it has now proven it can still get worse, but the benchmark was already pretty low. I'd say "art" is pretty healthy generally; it's the club scene that seems unpleasant. And I don't quite understand the criticism of technology. None of the tech above is new. It's all just cheaper, easier, and more reliable, which should leave us no excuse not to make our art better. (I know it's benefited me having Processing be more stable. Not to put technology over art, but that means that the time the Processing developers have volunteered has literally given me more hours to work on my stuff. That's a debt that will be hard for me ever to repay.)

    Low-rez LED screens — not sure what you mean. You mean flat panels hung in the venue?

  • @Peter: Most LED screens (the enormous, ridiculously expensive ones used at festivals etc.) are very low resolution. Often sub-SD resolution, even if they're covering an entire stage.

    I'm sure this will change pretty quickly, and I don't necessarily agree with Kevin that it's like the compression of MP3… This is a technical limitation of the medium at the moment, between the LED driver hardware and the physical LED pixels, it's insanely expensive to do HD LED screens, as with everything else in the field, the price will drop rapidly. 10 years ago, data projectors were minimum $5000 in AU, now you can get an HD one for under $1000.

  • Johnny

    Hi Peter, I read CDMusic very regularly, I must commend you for having your finger on the pulse. Though I have searched this site on numerous occasions and cant find any information on Derivative's Touch Designer (Touch 077).
    Keep them coming. All the best.

  • I must say that Kevin does touch upon some critical matters dealing with presence of VJ's in our new era. On one hand our job is complicated by ever increasing user friendly tools and stock footage in the market… On the other hand the advent of these user friendly tools, low cost electronic components, and open source programs are creating recognition of our artform and a more diverse architecture of contributors. I don’t agree that visuals and lighting should be done by the same entity for the most part. However with growing integration of lighting control and LED Matrices in VJ Applications and Programming Environments, I also concede that we need to be more assertive with our methodology and approaches to integrating lighting and LED panels into our visual displays as a single infrastructure. Not limiting ourselves to just pure video imaging and merging these elements is essential in our struggle as Video Artisans and VJ’s. I do think when it comes to VJ’s in the club environment it can vary from location. I have been doing visuals in clubs for well over 15 years now and I have seen a decline in the market since I started. In the US it appears when it comes to budget, people are more likely to go with sound then lighting as oppose to sound then visuals. Hence, if more VJ’s and Video Artists merge this technology into their presence I think we can thwart this impending nuisance. Peter I completely respect your view of Visual Environments and the Visualists behind them. This indeed has to be one of the most exciting times in our rich history of developing the “Visualist”. Judging by comments I would have to say the fine line between various facets of our artform and computer science has ultimately fused. 2010 indeed boasts a bright new year for advancement in creative output and the mergence of multi-media development.

  • @Johnny: Touch Designer / Derivative. Uh, yeah. Indeed. I even did an interview with them in a bar in Montreal in May, and just haven't transcribed it yet. Consider it moved up to the top of my to-do list. πŸ™‚

    Ditto anything else we haven't done – nagging is welcome, seriously!

    @detronik: I absolutely agree, from my much less-educated position. And I certainly don't mean to suggest the Club market is unimportant. I would hope that the trend we're seeing now will give way to more immersive visuals in a range of venues and settings, including clubs.

    It's important from the music side, as well, because I think a lot of musicians are wondering how to make their work more expressive, visible (literally) in new ways. Electronic musicians are seeing a decline of their own, and at the same time, I think they're becoming more interested in visual craft. Now we have an increasingly terrific community of artists; it seems it's a matter of figuring out how to connect with the audience.

    I'm just talking tech here, but I think it could – should – take all year to talk about everything else.

  • Johnny

    Cheers Peter.

    I am looking into leanring how to make visuals to accompany my Live sets (Ableton). An article on the available options would be great πŸ™‚

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