Old Git. New Software. Houdini by SideFX.

For the past few months I’ve developed a love affair with the 3D software package Houdini. So I’m going to occasionally blog about my journey with it. This first blog will be just a few musings on the software. I don’t expect very many people will read this, it’s more like a personal diary for my own (failing) memory.

According to their web site I first created an account with SideFX in 2015. But I started to get really interested in Houdini sometime early 2018. Since then I’ve watched hundreds of tutorials and tried to create a lot of my own stuff. It hasn’t been easy, this is a piece of complicated software with a long quite steep learning curve.

I’m totally hooked though, it’s the most fun I’ve had with software in a long long time and a lot of that is down to how it works. It’s extremely enjoyable to create with and occasionally very frustrating as I come across things that don’t work as I expect.

At the core of Houdini is the network of nodes that you place and attach together in the correct way to create whatever you want. This is completely different to how my previous 3D software (3D Max by Autodesk) works and takes a bit of getting used to. But when you understand the power of the nodal approach it really makes some things possible that would be difficult if not impossible without it.

Here is a very simple example of a network of nodes. The first creates a sphere – I’ve hidden the node settings page for clarity but if it was open I’d be able to change the size and number of polygons etc.

The second node, Mountain, is used to randomly deform the vertices of the sphere using noise. Again the settings are hidden but you can drastically change the type, size, etc. of the noise.

The last node in our network adds some colour – a lovely shade of teal in this case.

This is all very good but a bit simple. Now let me show you the magic of nodes.

Here I’ve used the same network but replaced the sphere node with a box. Instantly the network rebuilds using the same settings but a different shape. This may not seem too big a deal but imagine a network with many hundreds of nodes. At any point you can change any setting and the effects will percolate down the network. 3D Studio Max tries to do this sort of thing with its stack, but all too often it’s unable to change things lower down the stack without breaking something higher up.

This has only really brushed the surface. Everything inside a node can be keyframed – you could make the noise change overtime, or change the colour etc. Don’t like the intricacies of keyframes? Houdini contains 3 different languages (HScript, VEX and Python) which, again, could allow you to change the noise, colour, etc. over time.

The final reason I’m in love with Houdini is nothing to do with the software and all to do with the licencing. Houdini Apprentice is totally free – it can do almost everything the full version can do but has a limited output resolution (720p), a small watermark and you can’t output anything that can be used in other packages. It is not time limited. This gives you an ideal learning tool for no money. Houdini Indie is for people earning less than 100k a year, it costs around $250 a year. It is a full version of Houdini “limited” to a max resolution of 2160p. Finally there’s the full Houdini for the rich folk – licences for these run into the thousands.

This is such a sensible approach – letting people learn for free, get to know the software, see what it can do for them etc. Then when you want to do something properly productive with it you can move to Indie. And if you’re a studio making Hollywood movies you can afford a few hundred full licences without blinking.

I wish other companies would take the same approach.

Here are a few of my projects so far, very much in a learning phase.

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