Up Close with the Developer of the Trapcode Plug-in Suite

We asked Swedish developer Peder Norrby, the one-man developer behind the popular Trapcode Particular, how he got started creating plug-ins and what inspires him within the computer graphics community and in the wider cultural universe to create his addictive, effects-building code.

When and why did you first decide to create your top-selling plug-in, Trapcode Particular?

Peder Norrby: I started writing Trapcode Particular in 2002 because my customers kept requesting a 3D particle system. I got hooked on the idea and went to work. My goal was to create a robust 3D particle system that would be easy to start using and also contain advanced features for advanced users. It took me two years to code the first version which was released in 2004. It is continuously being developed, and in 2006, version 1.5 was released, which included, among other things, a fast and good-looking depth-of-field option. It’s been extremely popular.

When did you know that your new company would take off?  
PN: From the very first day of selling the first product, Trapcode Shine, it was apparent that I had found something extraordinary. I remember that same night, after selling 30 or so licenses, I went out with some good friends and celebrated with sparkling wine. But it was not until the release of Trapcode Particular 1.5 that I began to really understand the magnitude of things.
I think it’s fair to say that Particular, er, in particular, has almost a cult following among those who use it. Does that surprise you?
PN: Well, I’m surprised at the success of Trapcode overall! I do not think cult following is a good description of Trapcode’s fans, but I’m happy and proud that people find my software useful. I think my customers appreciate that I listen to them and do my best to provide fresh tools they can use to express themselves. There is also a business-perspective: our goal is for our customers to wow their clients and make more money using the products than the cost of the products themselves, so it is turns out to be a very good investment for them. Good investments are always popular, and news of them tend to spread.
What recent work created with Particular, or with any of your other plug-ins, really inspires you?
PN: I post all stuff that I admire in the Trapcode Gallery, so really, I think all of them are extremely cool. PSYOP “Coke” is an amazing piece: It takes you on a beautiful journey inside a Coke vending machine and shows well what Coca-Cola is trying to communicate in terms of the experience of drinking Coke. And I love the fairytale style of it. “Lexus Hybrid Drive,” by the German shop, Barbecue Mediendesign GmbH, is also a wonderful piece. I love the light world they created and the visualization of hybrid drive using two energy-spheres that fly around. And “GE-996,” by PISTACHIOS, just blew my mind. I think it is beautifully designed and it takes hold of you right to the very end.
What was your original aim with Trapcode?
PN: To be able to make a living without having a boss and also to be able to travel freely in the world. I am happy to say that this goal has now been reached.
Can you talk about your latest releases, such as Trapcode Horizon-a great tool for creating the perception of depth and infinite space in a 3D comp-and Trapcode Klangfarbe iTunes Visualizer, now in beta? And while you’re at it: what’s a “Klangfarbe”?
PN: Trapcode Horizon came from a need I experienced myself when working with the other 3D plugs from Trapcode (such as 3D Stroke, Form and Particular). I found it hard to orient myself sometimes when moving the camera around. I wanted some kind of infinite distance that would provide a reference orientation in 3D space. Klangfarbe is German for “timbre” or “tone color”. I wanted to create a correspondence between music and color. Aside from being lots of fun to write, it helped me get up to date in GPU (graphics card) programming. These cards open lots of possibilities when it comes to real-time graphics.
Before you got into the plug-in business, what did you do? And what led you to software design?
PN: As a young kid I liked to draw and paint and I also liked music a lot. When home-computers starting being available in the ’80s, I realized they could be used to create moving images and music, I got totally into the world of assembly programming, the demo-scene as it was called then. I was, and I still am, a total computer geek. Basically, I found my passion when I was young, and since then I’ve just kept doing it. I’m fortunate to say that I love my job.
How does fashion, fine art and music influence your work as a software developer?
PN: Very much, of course! All types of creative expression affect me profoundly. I could not live in a world without art! It connects people on a very fundamental level that could be described as unconscious, or even spiritual. I get tons of inspiration from fine art, movies, fashion, TV, and just the world in general.
How does feedback from users influence it?
PN: The feedback is a vital part of development. I mean, after all, it is the people that use the software who know how it should work. I always ask my customers what they think and I always listen to them.
What other non-software related projects are you working on now, beyond what you continue to do with your electronica band, Rymden, and as a partner in the fashion outpost, Le Shop Stockholm?
PN: Trapcode recently invested in an eco-village project on a small island called Gili-Meno close to Bali. I’m very excited to both get a house there and to understand how to build and sustain a house while minimizing our ecological footprint.
Another fun project is that we sponsor the Swedish basketball team, Akropol. They do great work for kids and teenagers in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby. And it's great to go and watch the games; I used to play myself when I was a kid.
OK, back to software…What’s coming up next in the Trapcode lineup?
PN: I’m currently looking over some of the older products, so there should be some updates coming next year. Also, as I said, real-time stuff is exciting, so we’ll see where that takes me.