Reading Network Anatomy

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Most of our time working with TouchDesigner involves using the Network – for that reason it’s important to learn a few things about network anatomy, how you can visually debug what’s happening, and how to edit your work quickly and efficiently. Operators are the building blocks of our networks, and they can be found in the OP Create Dialog. Operators are separated into multiple families that are largely classified by their data types. TOPs, CHOPs, SOPs, MATs, and DATs are stand-alone building blocks that we use when building networks. These operators have left / right connectors (inputs and outputs respectively) and can be connected together with both wires and links. 

Wires can only be connected between operators of the same family and have the same color as their respective families. Wires can be static or animated. An animated wire in your network is a visual hint that there is a flow of data that is actively cooking between operators. This is very helpful, visually, for knowing at a glance what data is being updated (cooked) in your project. 

Links can be used to connect operators of the same or different family (like with Select OPs), and are also seen when data is converted between families. Links appear as dotted lines in the network and can be hidden or exposed by the hotkey ‘x’. Links share the same characteristics of animation as wires – animated links are a visual cue that there is a flow of information that is actively being evaluated (cooking) in your network. 

Components (COMPs) are another operator type that are present in nearly every TouchDesigner network. Unlike other operators, COMPs can hold complete networks – this makes them powerful organizational tools for building modular and extensible networks. COMPs have top / bottom connectors that are used for parented hierarchical structures. COMPs can also have left / right connectors in some circumstances – In / Out OPs from each family can be used to move data through COMPs. 

The TouchDesigner network also features a “Parameter Dialog” for the most recently selected operator, and a timeline for the TouchDesigner project. The parameter dialog is used to control operators. This is docked to the right side of the TouchDesigner interface and can be hidden and exposed with the ‘p’ hotkey. The timeline is featured on the bottom of the TouchDesigner interface and controls a master timeline for any given project. Time is used to drive animation elements in TouchDesigner, and the timeline is a control for how we go from one frame to the next. The timeline’s frames per second is often the same as the frame rate of your display.

In some situations you may find that your network is not updating – the first place to check is that your timeline is running. The spacebar is a hotkey to play / pause the network timeline and you may find that your network is unintentionally paused – making it look like your project isn’t playing forward as expected.


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