TouchDesigner, the visual development environment for interactive media, is a not-so-secret weapon for the artists creating some of the best eye candy today. And it’s likely to earn more attention now that it’s available for both macOS and Windows. (It was previously Windows-only.) But it’s not just the power of the tool itself that makes it stand out. It’s just as much a community behind it, sharing resources with one another.

That says something, really. People working on interactive and event visuals often pull in some pretty hefty fees, and they justify those fees by making sure their tech tricks are better than anyone else’s. Other TouchDesigner users frequently teach. Those characteristics might lead you to believe people would be intensely proprietary with their skill set. And yet, sharing openly has the effect of raising the level of the whole field – think tide and rising boats.

So, what is TouchDesigner, exactly? It’s a graphical development environment with a patching metaphor – à la Max/MSP or Reaktor or Pd. And it’s focused on 3D and visual tools, with facilities useful for everything from creative reactive 3D visuals to controlling lights.

It’s so powerful, in fact, it can be hard to know where to begin. And that’s where the community comes in – because they aren’t just documenting the software as a manual would, but are actually doing the sorts of things you probably also want to do. Here are some of those resources from just the last weeks.

Learn TouchDesigner with a community-driven book

There are tons of guides and tutorials out there. But if you’re like me, you want something organized and concise – and maybe you don’t like sitting through videos. (I know I’m not the only one who hates that and prefers to go at my own pace.)

This one is terrific – community-drive (on GitBooks)), comprehensive and up-to-date, and a wonderful place either to start or brush up on some missing skills.

Sync Ableton Live and TouchDesigner

Artist Javier Alvarez Bailen shows how he integrates TouchDesigner with Ableton Live. In short: use MIDI. Sure, I’d still like to see Ableton Link support natively in TouchDesigner, but using MIDI provides deeper integration. Each note and musical gesture can be mapped directly to visuals. (You can still run MIDI over a network, including wireless networks – see network MIDI support in macOS, or cross-platform ipMIDI.)

You can’t see the specifics of the TouchDesigner patch, but you get the idea:

Pull off sophisticated projection mapping

mottoKantan is a powerful mapping tool, the latest such toolkit for TouchDesigner, and it’s fresh with a bunch of updates. This native combination looks hard to beat on any other platform for mapped generative visuals.

See the forum post:

MottoKantan – an approach to simple mapping

Learn GLSL shaders for eye candy magic

To do advanced visuals with textures and geometry, you need to learn to speak GLSL – the language for coding to your GPU’s processing powers. Matthew Ragan has a nice, artist-focused series compiling examples and learning notes.

Get insights from the amazing artists who showed work in Houston

Move over, South by Southwest: the innovation in Texas recently was at Day for Night Festival, which was packed with live visuals and installations, many powered by TouchDesigner. As part of their superior blog, Derivative talked to the artists – there’s tons to learn from here. (See also the pic featured on this story.)

TouchDown Houston at Day For Night Festival [Derivative Blog]

Chill out for nearly an hour to sacred geometry

Okay, after all that work – you need a soothing break. Let’s turn to the full audiovisual set of Rui Gato, exploring sacred geometries. You know what he used as his visual tool, of course:

Join the help group

There’s a terrific Facebook user group, too – and read the very top post for still more resources (Slack!):

Have fun, everybody. I have a feeling this will touch off some elaborate visuals added to music for someone out there.

  • chap

    Well, i didn’t see anything “generative” here. You can map states to MIDI notes, react to frequency bands, etc.
    My question is : can Touch Designer generate flocking, hair, life or whatever generative common techniques ? Or more generally, algorithmic generation ?

    • Well, that was a simple demo showing just MIDI interactivity. Yes, anything you can do with code you can do with TouchDesigner … all 3D stuff (I’m not sure what you mean by “generate life”)

    • bathyscaaf

      Yes, you can do those things with TouchDesigner.

      There is a book called “Generative Design” that uses Processing (the “language”) for it’s examples. The folks at derivative have taken a good portion of the book and replicated the examples using TouchDesigner, so you can use those as an aid to learn if you wish. Though you should get the book in order to get the most out of the examples.

      The book:

      The Touchdesigner wiki page/file links:

      • chap

        I have this book and i didn’t know that you could run this code in Touch Designer.
        I assume it’s written in Python to run in TD ?

        • bathyscaaf

          No, pretty much TD — some scripting, which is Python — but not importing any extra Python libs as far as I can remember. The heavy lifting is done in the CHOPs, TOPs, etc. etc., which are written in C++, Python being used more for API access to those guys. You can import Python libs, though. I think you can, anyway. Been a while since I looked at those examples.

          I would think of it more as the examples have been transposed into working the Touchdesigner way, not just translating Processing into Python.

          Here’s a forum post on implementing Life on TD — the OP used Python heavily in implementation — check out the reply from user “raganmd” where he gives tips on increasing performance by moving more into the straight-up Touchdesigner components:

          P.S. I still have a lot to learn. Check out the forums, there are folks doing some crazy stuff.

          • chap

            Thank you very much. I’ll have a deeper look to those patches !

  • RioGrande

    It’s freaking expensive too : Subscriptions range from 400 to 2200$ a YEAR. No perpetual licenses….mmm…..

    • No – check non-commercial licensing.

      And people are turning around and making more money with it than that. Maintaining and supporting this kind of ultra-niche software is a challenge, so I understand the pricing.

    • Malcolm Bechard

      Hey RioGrande,
      The initial cost is between $400 and $2200 true, however the cost to get an update for each year after that between $150 and $400 ($400 being the upgrade for the $2200 license). The licenses are perpetual as well, they will never ‘stop’ working. They will just not work on newer builds beyond the current paid window. So if you are happy with a feature set, you can use it forever without ever having to pay another cent. You only need to pay again if you want to gain access to the next year’s work.
      Thanks for your feedback!


  • Polite Society

    It’s also a shame TD doesn’t work with intel graphics. While I can always get a new video card for my desktop, I would be performing on my laptop which I cannot upgrade in that department. Still, vvvv does the job.

    • Markus Heckmann

      TouchDesigner does support intel graphics. We just like to warn that not all features are supported on these chips and you have to expect a lower overall performance.

      • Polite Society

        Oh! I misread. When I load TD, the interface flickers, like it’s refreshing really slowly, and i can’t do anything. I assumed it was just because my card wasn’t supported.

        Thanks for the reply.

  • Polite Society

    Also, I am very interested in learning more GLSL, but that github provided seems to be more or less empty, except for a few binary files?
    I did do a very basic tutorial the other day though if other people are interested, using an online compiler, so it’s a bit more agnostic.–cms-23313

    • Markus Heckmann

      TouchDesigner components are saved out as binary files – the supplied examples in the repository are all build in TouchDesigner. The glsl code is not saved separately but inside these components.

      • Polite Society

        Ah, that makes sense. Sorry about that.

  • AntoxaGray

    I’m trying to learn Houdini to make crazy videos for music.