We proudly present CGIris – a series of informative blogs, each unpacking a different topic in the field of 3D and computer animation.
In this instalment of the CGIris series, we look at the 3D procedural software, Houdini: why it’s different from other 3D applications and why it’s becoming a common tool in animation studio pipelines.
In 1987, computer scientist, Kim Davidson and engineer, Greg Hermanovic acquired PRISMS source code from Omnibus Computer Graphics, after the company filed for bankruptcy. Upon acquisition of the rights to this 3D animation software, they embarked on their own venture, SideFX Software.
Over the following 9 years, using the insight they gained from working at Omnibus, Davidson and Hermanovic took the acquired source code and rigorously developed it into a procedural graphics application that could bring 3D graphics to a wider audience. By the time it was phased out, PRISMS had evolved into a suite of separate products. It had set out the groundwork for Houdini, which was later released in 1996.
Houdini is a node-based, non-destructive procedural system. This means artists can create multiple iterations of their work, without needing to restart from scratch each time a change is made. It is compatible with the major 3D applications such as Maya, 3ds Max and Cinema 4D and is becoming increasingly used with the GPU render engine, Redshift.
Houdini also allows you to write your own code. If there is a tool that’s not available, or if you’d like to make adjustments to the tools you already have, you have the ability to refine your pipeline.
A non-destructive workflow means you can make changes without destroying the work you've already done.
A node-based workflow is a network of nodes connected by virtual wires. Each node contains a set of parameters, make a change to one and the whole network will be altered accordingly.
By using a procedural workflow, visual effects artists who wish to create dynamic and particle simulations, have the ability to automate these reactive shots. This gives studios more creative control over the finished product and allows them to produce content at a faster rate.
With the ability to change nodes, no matter how deep you are into production, you retain directability throughout the creative process. By storing each action in separate nodes, you can build a network that can be tweaked and refined to your, or your client’s, specific design. When a node is changed, the alterations are automatically cascaded through the entire network, without you having to manually change each one.
Houdini is not the ideal tool for every situation. While it can be used in most stages of CGI production, it isn’t the most efficient at all of them.
It also takes a long time to learn how to use Houdini effectively. The user interface can be trickier than other software applications, so it does require more practice.
We asked one of our Houdini artists, John, how he found learning the software. Here’s a graph he drew to represent his progress…
However, when you can grasp its many functions, Houdini can be a really powerful tool in your pipeline.
By combining Houdini’s flexible, customisable procedural workflow with a powerful render engine, such as Redshift, artists can unlock greater potential in their work. We expect Houdini will continue to go from strength to strength!
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