Learning Houdini

Simple Houdini pipeline. from Vlad Yudin on Vimeo.

Houdini recently released it’s fully functional and commercial “Houdini Indie” product for $200 (for companies making under $100k per year).

With that annoucement, Zak had asked me, “Where a great place to start learning?”  Yes, it can be very intimidating, but if you have a specific use in mind it is TOTALLY doable without the years of experience that some expect. That being said, ya gotta know the basics and here’s some resources to get you started… starting with the free stuff!

Peter Quint: This guy is my hero and his videos are priceless. Here’s a direct link to the “Basics”… but don’t forget the other 150 videos that he has online.

3DBuzz: Houdini Fundamentals for H9

SideFX: Creators of Houdini have a huge selection of tutorials, including an introduction to the interface. Once again, don’t forget to check the sidebar to see the massive collection they have available.

Paid source for training include CMIVFX and Digital Tutors.

Other sources include the SideFX online forum or odForce.net.

Video Card for Professional 3D Work

Time to upgrade the video card and it’s been a tough decision.  “Professional 3D card” like nVidia’s Quadro versus a consumer grade gaming card like the GeForce cards.  Is there a difference?  There’s a lot of debate out there, but it ultimately depends on the budget and how the card is going to be used.  I’m a professional 3D animator who does quite a bit of character work in packages like Maya, but I also do some FX work in Houdini and some digital sculpting in 3D Coat.  Houdini and 3D Coat can take advantage of the CUDA cores and according to this thread in the 3D Coat forums, the CUDA performance has been degraded in recent releases on the GeForce cards. They seem to be settling on the Geforce GTX 580.

After much research, I’ve decided to replace my Quadro 600 card.  It has been reliable and doesn’t consume much power, but the frame-rates are killing my eyes.  I’ve opted for the Geforce GTX 580 w/ 3GB of RAM.  Cost me $260, used on Amazon.   The other option I was considering was the Quadro 4000 w/ 2GB of RAM…  but I would have had to talk a seller down from $450.  Considering the benchmarks and the stats below… well… I’m going to take a gamble on a “non-professional” card.

Quadro 600
CUDA = 96
mem interface = 128
max power = 40w

GeForce GTX 580
$389 (or $225 used)
RAM = 1.5GB
CUDA cores = 512
mem interface = 192
max power = 244 W

Quadro K4000
CUDA cores = 768
mem interface = 192
max power consumption = 80W

Quadro 4000
$665 (or $430 used)
CUDA cores = 256
mem interface = 256
max power consumption = 142W

Quadro K2000
CUDA cores = 384
interface = 128 bit
max power = ?

Here’s some links to some of the Quadro vs GeForce debates.




Radial Menus

image via globalmoxie.com

Play games much? What’s your favorite way to choose your destination, toggle options, select items or swap weapons?

I prefer radial menus as the best way to turn “lists” of options into “branches” of option. Some say “touch means a Renaissance” for the radial menu and I agree! Unfortunately this leaves mouse users with the typical lists… which only get smaller and smaller with each increase in resolution. GAH!

I created a post on odforce.net about radial menus and how I’d love to see something like this in Houdini. Maya has something very similar that they call “Marking Menus”, which are great…  especially since they can be customized.

I’m a big fan of gesture based control as it helps eliminate mouse strain AND helps the digital artist stay more focused on the task at hand. I find lists to be very distracting, and I end up devoting too much energy into “searching” instead of “activating“. Radial menus create option gestures!

Speaking of gestures and radial menus, I just came across this update for the Leap Motion, where the artist is molding clay without getting his hands dirty. So much fun, though I’d have the weakest wrist of all clay sculptors. I can only imagine that UIs that are in development. Hopefully the big corps don’t pattent the ideas before they become widely available.

Oliver’s Twisting to Glitch Mob

An old friend of mine contacted me to do some filming, after he returned back from a yoga island in Thailand.

We recorded this.

And now I’m inspired to apply a little bit of this. (To be watched in Fullscreen mode)

Forms (process) from Memo Akten on Vimeo.

Efficient Dynamics in Houdini

I’ve been trying to put together a Tron-like effect in Houdini, and so far it’s coming along great… other than it being REALLY REALLY SLOW.

However, it turn out that there’s some SOPs in Houdini that I’m using that aren’t very efficient, plus instancing of shaders has some issues as well. On top of this, I’m not using ODE rigid body dynamics, which are supposed to be pretty fast. This video from the opening credits of film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button demonstrates someone using ODE in Houdini… with some pretty nice results, like this…

Although, with a little more research, it looks like Bullet is the way to go. Oh… oh yes, this slightly more powerful. 😛

Thought for Food – Uploading from McDonalds

We’ve pulled our RV off the road for a nutritious meal at McDonalds, somewhere in Oregon, and now I’m uploading my entry to the Houdini Cook-Off contest. Although my submission could be better, I don’t have the CPU horsepower, nor the time to re-sim or re-render.  Oh yeah… and I’ll be in the middle of the desert in a few hours.

The brain pulsing will be slowed down and I would like to have roto-scoped her fingers, it looked like it was IN her hand, not around it.

All visual elements created by myself.
SynthEyes used for 3D camera tracking.
Modeling, shaders, animation and compositing done in Houdini.
Sound recorded and edited using Audacity.

Food for Thought – Audio/Video Sync

This is what I got, so far.

Hoping I have time to render some effects. Here’s the notes that I just took at lunch. Thanks to the waitress for supplying the scrap paper and pen.

Food for Thought – Audio Track

ZombieEat 013 by verbal007

Here’s a screencap of the 6 layers of audio. Was fun to do a few different zombie types… and, of course, the eating sounds.


Thought for Food – Baking Bre… Brain.

Grown Brain

Modeling a brain sounds like a pain.
Pulling points in the wrinkles is driving me insane.

So I’m trying to puff it up with some baking.

Step 1. Rebuild this from scratch. The gyrus need to be smaller and the sulcus (wrinkles) need to be more frequent.

Step 2. Use this popping accident to my advantage.


Ok, this looks more like a brain.

Voxels at Siggraph 2011

Real quick, I wanted to point out the many recent uses of voxels demonstrated at Siggraph. I can’t help it, but I get pretty excited every time I hear about voxels. Even the developer at Atomontage states that we need a voxel “revolution”, and I couldn’t agree more.

Apparently Blue Sky’s “Rio” used Voxels for terrain and the rendering of large crowds. I hope the talk is released soon so I can see the details, first hand.

I was made aware of a game engine called Atomontage, which uses voxels [thx Ruslan].  In the video below, you can see the potentials of (for example) truly destructible terrain, as the user unearths rocks from the sand or strips the plaster from the walls, revealing the bricks underneath.

SideFx’s release of Houdini 11.1 allows for the integration with Sony Imagework’s open source project, “Field3D“, a format for working with 3D voxel data.

Prep for Burning Man

I’m going and I have a ticket. Some travel details need to be worked out and I still have some equipment prep that needs to be planned and executed.

I’m still working on my SideFX Cook-Off challenge entry.

I also just purchased the new turn-based strategy, “Frozen Synapse”. Some would say this will kill my productivity… and they would be right. The point is to use my computer for something completely not work related between little successes.

Also looks like MEC has the Injinji toe-socks that I need to get before burning man. What else will fit my toed Vibram shoes?

MRI: Not Yet Given Up… Yet

I just about gave up on this MRI cloud thing, when I discovered this blog post by a fellow Houdini user, where he mentions a Volume from Attrib node that will allow me to alter a volume using point attributes. I think this may be the answer I have been looking for in order to avoid using metaballs. We shall see.

On top of that, he mentions a major performance issue in Houdini 11 when dealing with instanced shaders. Specifically, it’s an issue with the displacement being calculated, even when it’s not needed. And he posted a link to a fix in the SideFX forums.

And on top of that… through his Vimeo profile, I found this slick MRI plugin for Lightwave.

I also have the opportunity of getting my own brain scanned.  How creepy is that?

Thought for Food: Brain Cloud

MRI slices for a cloudy mind.

Thought for Food: Tracking Test

What is all this crazy techie 3D madness that I’ve suddenly been flooding into my blog? Well, I’ve officially entered SideFX’s Houdini Cook-Off contest. Win or loose, I think it’s going to be good experience and sometimes deadlines can be helpful.

I have 7 more days till my apartment lease is up, then I’ll primarily be working on my laptop, on the road, from some unknown location between here and Vancouver. I’m hoping to get as much done as humanly possible, before I move out.

So, here is my latest update to my Houdini Cook-Off entry, “Thought for Food.

Initial test to see how well I can integrate something without without and masking by hand. Who’s a fan of rotoscoping masks by hand? *shiver*

I’m using some sphere’s here to act as masks to cut out my hero brain object.

Houdini Cook-Off: Shots Filmed

I have entered the Houdini Cook-Off challenge and will be hosting the images from my blog, as it will allow me to insert them in-line at the forums, plus it’s nice to have a local sketchbook of my progress.  I’ll spare everyone any technical details, but if you’re curious, just go checkout the SideFX website for more details.


Just doing a little playing with a SSS shader in Houdini.

Zombies Ruin Vacation

Zombies chomping (and being chopped) in reverse, for Zombie Island trailer. Houdini was used for rigging, animation, effects and rendering. A nice score for Toronto based SideFX software!

Read the VFX breakdown here.

Procedural Bridge

Just a tad more deep than your typical SimCity type bridge building. A great demonstration of the power of Houdini.

Scattering Ray-Projected Metaballs

Why I love this program. I cannot remember the last time, if ever, I made a mistake in a 3D application and got usable results. However, in Houdini, it happens almost daily.

I cannot look back and cannot image even trying. Sorry.

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