Openframeworks: C++ for artists

August 29, 2009 by nicolas, tagged programming and art_and_code, filed under commentary

Three enthusiastic iconoclasts talk about Openframeworks, or OF.

OF is a software development package with ready-made tools to write interactive, audio-visual programs in the C++ language.

Why C++? The enduring success of this industrial language has provided a great deal of much desired libraries to it. Its success as a system language has also ensured a good baseline performance. The OF project was started to let more people take profit of this situation.

Installations and standalone programs are written in parallel with OF. In its current pre-release state, getting feedback from projects helps defining its core and improving it.

As general philosophy, users are encouraged to improve OF and make it evolve.

Teaching C++ to artists? Are you insane?

C++ made easier could be the unofficial slogan for OF. The tools it offers ‒ APIs ‒ avoid using fancy C++ concepts, and generally try to look like their counterparts in the successful JAVA-based package, Processing.

The authors themselves started with Flash (Fun), Lingo (Poetic) then Java (Learning by decompiling) and ACU, an earlier C++ based library written used internally at the MIT.

And returns on the first OF-based projects say those without a programming background have managed to learn and make use of it.

The main role OF is playing here is to provide wrappers for existing C/C++ libraries. OF hides their guts behind an easier and consistent facade.

OF is organized into two area:

  • OF Core
  • OF Addons

The OF Core represents the stable part of the wrapper, and OF Addons are libraries supported by third-parties and often quite experimental.

At the time of the talk it can be used in Mac, Windows, Linux and the iphone.¹

Similarities with Processing are numerous: The idea of not focusing on one single type of application, and rather trying to support various types such as installations, standalone programs, mobile phone programs, even print-based projects². The role as a meeting point for a community of creators. The label / brand it carries with it. And also the challenge that its founder face as they integrate a selection of libraries.

A great number of demonstrations is given then during the talk, and we especially like the last few minutes of the talk which concentrated on the community aspects.

The framework in its pre-release state is breathing through its internal forum. This gives the OF team and their users visibility of each other’s projects and encourage collaboration. The question is how to preserve this once OF has been released more widely? The team’s answer has been to organize events, workshops, coding parties in order to build and extend a tradition of collaboration around the OF project.

¹ No word was said on what often happens with multi-platform libraries. The tools offered through its API look the same yet when they are implemented by different libraries on different systems or device, then of course the output cannot be guaranteed to be the same. The supported inputs ‒ for example file formats supported for video content ‒ will also vary, for example.

² As with the examples given in the processing session, there is a strong fascination with giving a concrete manifestation to programs, to let them escape from the computer displays, or even to let the computer disappear. Is it because computers are too profane? Is it because while displays nowadays can be huge and high resolution, they are a limitation of their own?