Evolution is a multimedia dance performance at the University of Texas that is put together through a collaboration between multiple courses. I’m in a visual programming course where we are learning Touchdesigner and will be designing interactive visuals for one of the dance performances. I’ll be using this Medium post to document my process as work continues.
Our team is made up of two visual programmers, a lighting designer, and a choreographer. We want to work as closely as possible with each other so we create a cohesive and compelling piece. From our initial meetings we’ve agreed to have our piece focus on competition and idolizing of an object and how this can become a source of conflict between people. We decided to have a prop on stage that symbolizes these idolized objects in our lives. To give the prop significance and impact on stage we’ve decided to track the object and embed LED lighting within it.
From these meetings it is clear that the three main challenges for myself will be tracking the prop, controlling the prop lighting wirelessly, and creating flexible interactive visuals that respond to the position of the prop on stage.
These are some images that inspire me are helpful in informing the kinds of visual effects I want to create. Light painting, flocking, and lines are all visual elements I want to include in our performance. These can interact with dancers as they move around with the prop and create interesting and dynamic patterns.
This is a reference image for the kind of shape we want our prop to be.
Wireless LED Prop
For the prop the biggest challenge was figuring out a wireless lighting solution that was responsive and controllable through touchdesigner. I decided on using a wifi enabled micro-controller and using UDP as the communication protocol. I did all of the technical research, programming, and wiring for the prop. I wrote these two articles below that cover the specifics of the programming and wiring processes.
In this tutorial I’ll go over how to wirelessly control addressable LED’s with touchdesigner. This is great if you want…medium.com
This article documents the construction of a wireless LED prop that was used for a multi-media dance performance. I’ll…medium.com
The spatial tracking of the prop will be done using the HTC Vive tracking system. A single tracker will be attached to the top of our prop and allow us to get fast and precise positional data. We want to use this data to control light effects on the prop and to effect the projected visuals.
When creating the touchdesigner network it was critical from the beginning to keep everything organized because we had a lot of data coming from different places. I started by thinking through the needs of the project and creating a rough layout of how everything should be organized and connected. This gave me a great starting point for the project and allowed me to create a structure from the very beginning that allowed for flexibility.
A Key feature and visual effect I wanted to include in this performance was a flocking system that would follow the dancers throughout the choreography. I knew this was an effect people had worked on before so I did some digging and found some already built code and shaders that helped me achieve the effect I was aiming for. Below is an article where I go through the different resources I found and how they were useful to me.
This is a collection of demos and github resources that are related to boid flocking systems.medium.com
My final network ended up being similar to my initial network plan but like every project new features and ways of organizing came up during the process. Here I walk-through my final touchdesigner network and explain how it is organized and the different visual effects we ended up using.
Footage from our Dress Rehearsal.
Footage from our first performance.
Overall I was very happy with how the project turned out and the level of quality our team achieved. The Projections at the beginning could have been more present but I think we did well with creating a sense of building and changing action throughout the performance.