Giant touchscreen Mac VJing for Ford

Nice work if you can get it: visualist Toby / tobyz, aka *spark, had one heck of a live visual rig for the Geneva Motor Show’s Ford booth. One ongoing challenge for live VJs is making it clear what they’re doing. Solution: “VJ Crew” t-shirts, lovely women (can’t hurt), and, of course, giant touchscreens for interfacing with the Mac software. Live visuals made the client happy (interactive text!) and made guests happy by snapping photos (happier clients!). The software rig was the glue:

  • VDMX5 from Vidvox (still in beta), which looks the ideal interface for the work they were doing. Custom, modular palettes and windows also lend themselves nicely to the touchscreen.
  • Quartz Composer patches, built with Apple’s free visual-patching developer tool for custom visuals, integrate directly into VDMX5. Result: a modular, custom system that works live and gets the job done!

Photos and notes on the install/performance
Video montage of the event

Open Source Tool for Easy, Live Titling

But you don’t have to just silently drool over this setup. Toby is nice enough to give away one of the tools he built to make it happen, open sourced so the community can improve upon it.

Spark Titler, GPL-ed Quartz Composer patch for live text titles

Quick titling? No problem. Toby describes it thusly:

the titler’s interface allows you to take between two sets of title/subtitle, with the choice of four backgrounds: black / green / a quicktime movie or a folder of images. the output window will automatically go full-screen on the second monitor if it detects one is available at launch, otherwise it will remain a resizable conventional window.

it is released with the intention that it can be reused for other events without changing a single line of code: you can design the animation and incorporate quicktime movies in the design by editing the ‘GFX’ macro in the quartz composer patch, and its a matter of drag and drop replace the logo in the interface.

And if you’re up for patching some improvements (with a little light Xcode use), you can dig into the source, as well.

Why Live and Interactive Rules

Quartz Composer patch

But enough about the technology. Part of the whole philosophy of this site is that we believe “rendered”, wonderful as it can be, sometimes must make room for “live.” Quartz Composer is just one of a generation of tools that allow visualists to move in this direction. It’s part of our interest not just in the “Final Cut” (ahem), but the live cut. Artists are moving in this direction for creative reasons, but it’s equally encouraging to see it working well on gigs. It’s a practical, technical issue as much as it is a philosophical one. Toby explains in a caption to a recent blog entry on his Quartz Composer titling patch (pictured here):

this picture is but a snapshot of the revolution. it really feels like that. a real let-down of the geneva motor show pre-production was the inability to translate the creative agency’s after-effects rendered text animations into the live, dynamic setup. there just was no way to implement anything vaguely sophisticated without seeing the framerate drop to near zero. structure record, something driven by video sampling and seemingly tangental [sic] to text rendering, is the key to solving that problem… and so here it is solved, as if on cue for the frankfurt motor show.

(emphasis mine)

Structure Record looks like some kind of custom patch. Not sure how it works — Toby, if you want to enlighten us, please do!

So have a look at that patch, and viva la revolución!

(Via the Quartz Composer dev list and vade.)

  • Thomase

    Insanely great. Toby actually helped me out becoming a vj in the first place. Peter, you might want to correct the "Tony" to "Toby"…

  • toby *spark

    …well that let the cat out of the bag, and its certainly not every day you see yourself appear in your rss feeds. do i win a prize for the most tags on a post =]

    in short –
    - props to creative agency imagination for making the ford vj project happen, no mean feat. its nice work once its working and the clients are happy, getting there was one of the most stressful periods in my life.
    - next motorshow featuring the ford vj crew is frankfurt next month. i'm looking forward to the pushing the creative side stepping up now that the technology is established.
    - osx+vdmx+quartzcomposer is a very powerful platform, if still very much in beta (qc as much as vdmx, we're all waiting for leopard)
    - the qc text sequencing is enabled by a beta of the structure tools nodes. go check cwright and smokris's trailblazing work there.
    - the qc titler app was separate to the ford project, developed for a festival i was involved with.

    there's a mkII spark website featuring the ford project and more in the works, but i'm waiting on a) finishing the damn thing and b) the new server is taking time to get sorted. so in the meantime, there's a beta test site living at


    ps. i was just reading today how "In these days of quick-hit Web reporting, it’s too easy to skip a step and not contact the person you’re writing about." in an macworld article on, ahem, "stickergate".

    pps. there is a higher quality version of that video where you can actually read the text if anybody wishes to email me for the link. we'll see how long the dotmac hosting keeps up before complaining of transfer limits (theoretically increased recently…).

    ppps. thomase – your commission is in the post

  • vade

    Toby – that site has some really powerful tools for QC. I was not aware of people really getting into extending QC like they are. Great for the ecosystem. Any other good QC patches we should know about?

    Not sure we missed this before. Really nice stuff. Thanks for the heads up!

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