Independent Study:

Real-Time Interactive Visuals for Live Events

In this study, I will be exploring different software solutions that are commonly used for the production of real-time graphics. More specifically I will be examining how these individual programs compare to each other in various aspects (feasibility, industry-standard, UX/UI, etc.), while also producing small scale real-time interactive graphics projects along the way. Notch and TouchDesigner will be the two applications in focus.

At the end of the semester, all research gathered will be compiled in preparation for a final presentation: a live event I will be designing and realizing. My intention with this event is to demonstrate my understanding of how the creation of real-time interactive visualizations plays an impactful role in audience engagement when experiencing live entertainment.

Software: Notch

This blog will be following my journey of learning Notch. 

Software: TouchDesigner

This blog will be following my continued journey of learning TouchDesigner.

This blog will be following my journey in learning Python. 

This section will be comparing the Notch and TouchDesigner software. 

Purpose

One of the last major aspects of this independent study was for me to compare the Notch and TouchDesigner software. I know that I will not be able to touch upon every single aspect that each application has to offer, so I will be basing my observations on personal experience of things that stood out to me the most. For this, I will be comparing and contrasting 3 different areas – Learning Curve, Capabilities,  and Industry Standard. In the end, I will be giving my final thoughts on each software. 

 

 

Learning Curve

 Notch

From my experience, Notch is way easier to learn and work with than TouchDesigner. This semester was the first year I have ever worked with it and through the help of tutorials and just fiddling around with the program I was able to gain a very good base understanding. Taking a look at Notch’s website it has a great “Learn” section where you can find Notch Academy, big files you can download and play with, and now they are even offering Online Courses. I found great help with Notch Academy as it is almost 5 hours worth of tutorial basics that I followed along to, but I found even greater help with their Manual.  The manual goes into detail into almost every aspect of Notch you have a question with. One feature I really enjoyed was the ‘Example Nodegraph’ it includes on almost all the Nodes, showing you how the specific Node you are looking at can be implemented. It is also very easy to start creating just by connecting nodes together and seeing what happens just by doing some light reading. The last thing that makes Notch easy to use is the lack of coding involved. I know that Sara Cox said that they wanted to create any node you could possibly need so that you wouldn’t have to code at all. It is entirely node based, although there is a JavaScript node that I did not get a chance to check out. If you don’t want to learn how to code, Notch is the way to go. 

Some of the drawbacks I found are that you are kind of forced to buy the educational license if you want to really start working with the program. I definitely understand that the company needs to make money, but you can do a lot more with TouchDesigner’s free version than you can with Notch’s Trial version (the biggest one being able to save and the codex of the videos you import. Another aspect is the number of tutorials that are found on YouTube. Most of those that you do find come from Notch itself, which is not a bad thing, but when you compare that to the many different users who are creating tutorials for TouchDesigner it is a disadvantage. That leads me to the Notch Community, specifically the Facebook group. They don’t seem to be very responsive there, unlike the TouchDesigner community which is very active. Although this might not be entirely part of the learning curve, I think it is important to have a strong community that you can ask questions to when you are stuck and cannot find the answer to on the software website.

Overall though, I think Notch has a great learning curve and it is easy to get started with from the get-go. 

 

TouchDesigner

Right off the bat, TouchDesigner is not easy to use if it is your first time ever using a program like this. I first learned/used TouchDesigner during my Sophomore year of college, about two years ago. It was taught for a couple of weeks and by the end of it, I had no idea what I was doing.  The second time I used it was a year after that, this time it was in a formal class and although I learned a lot more than the first time, I would not have been able to do it through just the use of videos. I think it is very important to ask a lot of questions when you are learning TouchDesigner and that is exactly what I did. I asked my instructor about everything I was having trouble with and even the smallest things. I took what he taught me and made sure I did not forget it. The great thing about TouchDesigner is that it has an incredible online Facebook community. I have used that community many times to pose a question about an issue I was having and I have always gotten a response. The users there are very active and almost no question goes unanswered. That being said, there are so many tutorials out there that are present on YouTube and even on the TouchDesigners website. I have learned so much following various tutorials and there are some great individuals putting out these amazing pieces of content. The TouchDesigner wiki has great information that pertains to a lot of the coding syntax and about what every parameter found in its nodes does. Like Notch, it is also node-based.  You don’t necessarily need to know how to code, you can do a lot without it, but the more you want to do the more you will need to learn how to code.

Like mentioned earlier, the learning curve is not easy. As someone who came into it with no previous knowledge of these types of programs, I don’t think I would have been able to teach it to myself. There is so much you can do with this program it can get overwhelming. There is also the matter of knowing how to code. I have begun to teach myself how to code Python and it has definitely been even more useful as I go deeper into my TD adventures. I think you can get away with not knowing how to code for a while but eventually, you’re going to have to if you want to utilize TouchDesigner’s full potential. 

Overall, not an easy program to learn quickly, but definitely worth it. 

 

 

Capabilities

For this section, I am going to be mainly focusing on the Capabilities when it comes to Audio Reactiveness/Cloning/Particles as these are what I used the most.

Notch

That being said, when it comes to the capabilities of creating Audio Reactive content, I think that Notch is incredible at it. It was so easy to use I was blown away. As a beginner,  I love how you can easily fine-tune things and make things look audio-reactive. If you look back at my blogs you can see how painless an audio reactive visual was to create. I really liked how I could get down to specific audio bands and use those to create my visuals. The program I used to input sound from my computer to Notch was VoiceMeeter, and this is not Notch’s fault, but it wasn’t a very easy program to connect to it and I kept getting a lot of feedback that then in turn messed with the way my visuals worked. 

Cloning in Notch is also pretty great. There are many different cloning options and attributes that are involved. You can just connect like two nodes and you already have a workable system. What I think is really useful is how you can control the objects that are being cloned separately, they are not just one entity. I don’t have many complaints about how cloning works. 

I know I have used the word easy so many times, but creating Particles in Notch is also not hard to create. There are different types of particle systems and different ways to manipulate the particles to do what you want. 

 

TouchDesigner

Now I know that TouchDesigner can also create some amazing audio-reactive visuals, but it is not easy to achieve as a beginner. I watched several tutorials of people creating audio-reactive visuals and they each did different things to the audio that, if I’m being honest, I did not and still do not completely understand. I wish it was more like Notch when it came to choosing what specific band of audio I want to use.  One amazing thing I did find was BlackHole, it isn’t just for TouchDesigner, but it works perfectly with it to feed any audio that is playing on my laptop into TD. 

TouchDesigner’s cloning is instancing. Instancing is not very intuitive. It is quite difficult to use and I’m still also trying to solidify my understanding of it. There are many different ways to use Instancing to clone objects, more than there is with Notch, which I think is very unique and helpful, the only problem is figuring out what those different ways are. I have grown to like instancing, but I still have a lot to learn when it comes to it. 

Particles are not very fun for me in TouchDesigner. There is a particle node, and then like a particle system file, they both do different things but they are still kind of hard to use. I do my best to avoid these particle systems as they make my computer go very very slow.  I have seen some really cool uses and I hope that in the future I can keep working with particles and learn how to manipulate them better but so far I am not a fan.

 

 

Industry Standard

Notch

Notch wants to become the standard for real-time graphics and I believe that they are capable of becoming one of the top programs the better their iterations of the software get. I know that Notch wants to be the new After Effects. They want their users to complete the workflow from beginning to end in their program and not have to switch elsewhere. I think they have a long way to go until they achieve this because their timeline is not the best part about them. I did take a look at their biggest projects and saw Burning Man and even Coachella but that’s just two of many. They do anything from Broadcast & Film to Events & Installations down to Theater.

I’m not sure if this falls under an industry standard, but one thing I do dislike is that you can only use Notch on a windows computer. As a Mac user myself, I had to borrow a computer to use the program. Understandably so, not a big complaint, I do plan on getting a Windows laptop in the future, and I do know that Mac is also not the best system to handle programs like these, but TouchDesigner does at least offer a Mac version. 

 

TouchDesigner

While I couldn’t find what year Notch was created, I did learn that TouchDesigner was created in 2000 using Houdini as its base. I think TouchDesigner is one of the leading designers of its kind and this is emphasized by its community. If you look up #TouchDesigner vs #NotchVFX on Instagram, there is a huge difference in the content that is being put out. There are a lot more installations that TD is being used for than Notch. Notch generates incredible visuals, but with TouchDesigner you can create it all. Someone described it as “Processing, mashed with After Effects and then mashed with a 3D modeling/rendering software like Cinema4D” but that completely leaves out the fact that you can use it as a Playback system to host different programs and that is what makes TD so great. It’s being used for small personal projects up to huge music festivals and art installations, the capabilities are endless.

As stated above, I love that TouchDesigner has a Mac version, although I do know that it comes with its own problems. I remember my old instructors saying that TD is better suited to be running on Windows (something about Windows TD uses the GPU better while Mac TD uses the CPU better) and I even do have experience with my files crashing in Mac but running perfectly in Windows. Nonetheless, I still appreciate being able to run the program on two different platforms making it more versatile. 

 

 

Final Thoughts 

I will be the first to admit that I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to these two incredible programs. I did my best to compare/contrast them, but even that is a bit difficult to do because there is so much they can each individually do that I did not touch on. I didn’t dive into an intensive 3D rendering in either one. I didn’t touch TouchDesigner GLSL Shaders which opens up a whole other world or Notch’s timeline feature that they want to rival After Effects with. 

Notch’s slogan is “Create Amazing Motion Graphics and Interactive VFX in Real-Time” and from what I was able to see on their demo real, they are doing a great job of doing that. In the next few years, they are just going to get better and better and I am so excited to see what they come up with. 

On the other hand, TouchDesigner can do so much more than Notch can. In Notch, you are limited by the tools and nodes that they give you. With TouchDesigner, you are only limited by your knowledge. I have created an entire playback system in TD, something you can’t do in Notch (at least I do not think you can). Maybe I am biased as I have used TD more than I have used Notch, but I like the multipurpose that TD has to offer me.

I still have so much to learn when it comes to these two programs but I think they are both respectively amazing real-time graphic software creators. They each serve their own purpose and the even more amazing thing is that you can even use them together (something I was unable to do as I do not have the paid version of TD… yet.) I could go on and on about these two applications all day, and I could spend hours upon hours researching the two. The bottom line is that I will continue to use both programs and keep learning as much as I can from all the resources out there. I don’t think one is better than the other, and I will keep strengthening my abilities in both.