What is TouchDesigner and why should I use it?

Last updated: April 3, 2020
In this setup I control LED Strips and Motors and on another station Daniel Dalfovo animates the Lasers with TD as well.

TouchDesigner is a visual programming environment aimed at the creation of multimedia applications. There are many tools for what we call today “Creative Coding”. The main idea is, that programming should be accessable for artists and designers also without a formal programming education.

There are different approaches to achieve this and one of the most popular ones is called “Visual Programming”. Visual programming is a type of programming language that lets humans describe processes using graphic instead of text based metaphors, and indeed visual programming has opened the door to interactivity for many creatives that never got into text based coding.

TouchDesigner will allow you to connect “everything to everything” in the digital media world. Everything that can be digitised can become an input to a TD application and everything that can be controlled digitally can be output from TD. It allows you to build your own, specialised applications which again allow you to do things that may be impossible with standart creative tools like the Adobe ecosystem.

Much of what TouchDesigner and the most similar tool VVVV can do for you can be done by game engines like Unity and Unreal nowadays. They support a lot of high level user interaction (walk up the stairs, grab the gun) that would be super difficult to program in a node based environment. So why choose TouchDesigner?

The Real World

What sets TouchDesigner and VVVV really apart is their ability to interweave digital media with the real world. It is easy to control lights and lasers on a stage in sync with music and several projections. That wouldn’t be an easy thing to do in a game engine. You could achieve similar results with a VJ software like resolume, but you couldn’t at the same time generate and render high resolution realtime 3D content, based on what some viewers were selecting on their mobile devices or on the newest updates of the weather channel.

There are toolkits like openFrameworks that would allow you to cover a similar scope, however you will need to code on a whole different level. Why should I choose TouchDesigner over VVVV you ask? Well, you shouldn’t. Both are just as good as the people using them. None of them does the work for you. Both tools will allow you to achieve great results. I personally prefer TouchDesigner as I feel more comfortable with the interface. VVVV seems even more modular than TouchDesigner and is maybe a bit closer to code based programming, while TouchDesigner offers a bit higher level tools.

Lets have a look at how other people use TouchDesigner…