Article by Peter Kirn
Marius Watz’s Processing-generated, laser-cut wood engravings, from Brooklyn’s systemsystem show in October.
In the world of visualists, even more than other media, it’s what’s ahead that looks brightest. 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 development milestones:
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 Andrés Colubri promise to really make Processing the must-have visualist programming tool.
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. 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.
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.
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. But with a fleshed-out feature set and entirely new UI, Blender 2.5 promises to change all that.
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.)
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.
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. The result: anyone with a device like an iPhone or iPod touch (tens of millions of units alone), and soon other gear too 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.
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.
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.
Most of the subjects touched upon in this article directly relate to things I’ve been studying/struggling to learn. As a whole, I think it stands to reinforce the inevitability of collaboration with all platforms, formats, styles, methods, and the list goes on. For anyone getting into this sort of thing, it is a great read if you need any sort of encouraging speech to familiarize yourself with the influx of new technology and the creative methods it brings to the table.
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