Illuminating the visual arts industry
So here they are, three guys from Tulln on the Danube, putting the small city in the state of Lower Austria on the map of performing visual arts. The two brothers Markus (35) and Josef (33) Dorninger, along with their childhood friend Matthias Fritz (33) are the proud creators of a gadget called Tagtool, which won them the Content Award (2013), the Mercur Award (2008), the Europrix Award (2008) and the Multimedia Staatspreis (2008).
Photo credit: OMAi/tagtoolA round face, jiggly eyes, a pot belly and two small feet. Nothing unusual so far, just a cartoon figure that Markus Dorninger has been drawing on his tablet in the blink of an eye. But soon a hand is waving, the background is changing color, the cartoon figure is changing color, another cartoon character appears and one’s curiosity is hopelessly trapped in the drawing game.
Tagtool for iPad is a collaborative artistic instrument. It can be used for creating visuals and animations. When connected to a projector, it can light up creative events. The app has been on the market for a year now and Josef, who is in charge of the financial side, has reasons to be proud: “So far we have sold Tagtool in over 60 countries. In five countries we have been leading the charts”, he says. Their current customers are painters, animators, performance artists, VJs, teachers, art students, youth workers and art educators. “Members of our user community informed us that Tagtool was used outside during the protests in the Ukraine several weeks ago. We were also told that it was used in several cities during the Brazilianuprisings,” says Markus.
The creative software is the star product of the three friends’ company called OMAi – Office for Media and Arts International, a GmbH based in Vienna. Well encrypted in the company name are the owners’ origins and these can, of course, be tracked back to Tulln. “Oma” in German means “grandma” and their second office is in the house of Markus’ and Josef’s grandma, whom they recall with admiration.
The three friends have been working together as a team since 1995, when they organised a Sci-Fi exhibition in their hometown. “We were more interested in the social element of it,” Matthias recalls laughing. Within the exhibition they had connected their computers to a common server and played DOOM, the well-known sci-fi horror-themed first-person shooter video game. The journalists who witnessed the event were appalled by the virtual violence of the game, so the three of them made headlines in the local newspapers – “unfortunately for the wrong reasons,” says Matthias giggling.
Struggling with education
But the element of fun seems to be crucial to their career choices. Markus, for instance, first worked in Vienna’s British Bookshop because he simply didn’t feel like studying. Then he decided to take on a computer animation course. There were a few good programmes to choose from but the National Centre for Computer Animation in Bournemouth tipped the scale because the town in England “had a nice beach,” he recalls. His brother Josef first worked on a construction site, then did some social work in India and finally joined the Commercial Academy in Tulln, which disappointed him a bit.
Here, tagtool is being used to display patterns on an oil storage tank. Photo credit: OMAi/tagtoolTheir friend Matthias also struggled with the education system. He studied Multimedia at the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, quit it for the Salzburg University of Applied Arts, quit this one too and finally got his degree from the University of Applied Sciences. “I was keen on studying experimental animation but my curiosity clashed with their structural thinking. They had fixed ideas about how to teach stuff,” he says. While studying he took an Erasmus exchange year in Berlin. It went well, he was booked all the time, following street artists with his computer and a camera. The only catch was that he didn’t have time to take his exams, so he eventually had to return the money for the scholarship. “I learned a lot but I had to pay back the 666 euros they had invested in me,” he remembers laughing.
But apart from studying, the three friends joined the emerging Austrian VJ-scene, projecting videos on walls and creating music videos for their friends. Markus had a toolkit for 3D animation while Matthias was in charge of live video mixing. The two “laptop artists”, called so by the press, worked together as a team and were invited to performances all over the world. But working conditions were hard, “our improvised hardware setup weighed over 20 kg,” Markus remembers. In 2006, Markus, Josef and Matthias joined forces with Richard Radlherr a.k.a Lord Bike, who became the main programmer of the Tagtool software. He sadly passed away in 2009 at the age of 37 and with him the team also lost a lot of know-how. They transformed their quest for an optimised VJ-toolkit into an opensource project and discovered a passionate community of people all over the world sending their own DIY versions of Tagtool and sharing their ideas about how to improve it. In 2009 and 2010 they even hosted a convention (Tagtool Think Tank and, respectively Tagtool Chink Chank) in Oma’s house in Tulln, gathering Tagtool aficionados from three continents.
The big breakthrough came with a generous funding from Departure, the Creative Agency of the City of Vienna, worth 100.000 euros. An additional amount of 26.000 euros has been put at the team’s disposal by Departure for the production of a new Tagtool version, due to be launched in autumn. The same amount will be invested by the team members and a business angel – negotiations are ongoing. The new version of the app aims to reach wider audiences and appeal to anyone who is visually creative. So for the visual arts industry worldwide one thing’s certain: at least one road leads to Tulln on the Danube.