This article was commissioned by Dazzle Pictures, and appears in their website.

Although 3D modelling is now a ubiquitous part of the media and entertainment landscape, it didn’t start out that way. Like many of the coolest toys we get to play with in our professional lives, it began life as a tool for the military and high-end scientific institutions. This was probably because the government was the only entity able to afford the enormous costs associated with the computers that were needed to run this, and pretty much any other, software. To bring a little context to this, these computers occupied entire floors in the buildings in which they were housed. Moreover, interacting with the software required all commands to be rendered as text or mathematical formulas. 

Back in the day, scientists were pretty much the only people who were able to do the programming.

Computers occupied entire floors, and interacting with them required scientific knowledge

Then along came something called Sketchpad, which was revolutionary in a number of ways, not least of which was that it allowed users to communicate with the computer using a light wand. Thus, the world’s first GUI was born.

Today, most of what we think of as 3D software had its genesis in the 1990s. Falling prices of both software and computers meant that more people could access these applications. Universities started to include courses on 3D software. And soon 3D design in its various forms and manifestations became a viable career choice.

There’s been nothing short of a digital arms race when it comes to VFX software.

Since then, there has been a veritable explosion in the range of options, entry points and applications, with many moving to the cloud, which has of course ushered in a new era of collaboration.

As one of our colleagues put it, there has been nothing short of a digital arms race when it comes to technology, features and tools. And while software such as Maya, 3D Studio Max, C4D, Blender and many more have all brought their own unique flavour to the industry, there is one piece of software that is set to change not only how we approach 3D animation, but how we think about it, too.

If you hadn’t already guessed, we’re talking about SideFX’s Houdini.

Houdini is what is known in the trade as Full Digital Content Creation (DCC) software, which is just a pompous way of saying that it’s capable of producing many different types of outputs related to the creation of visual experiences, including film and TV, game development, motion graphics, web content and even virtual reality. 

What distinguishes this type of software from more traditional types of CAD software – that’s used, for example, for things like shipbuilding and car design, is that DCC software allows for direct editing, where the user interacts directly with the mesh independently of dimensional or geometric parametric constraints. This speeds up the creative process considerably and adds a significant level of flexibility.

As the VFX industry continues to evolve, the demand for complex and highly realistic effects continues to grow, Dazzle Pictures has recognised that Houdini plays an essential role in any modern VFX workflow and have made it an integral part of our delivery pipeline. 

Houdini is special for a number of reasons. 

Let’s explore some of them here.

  1. Procedural Workflow
    Houdini’s procedural workflow allows artists to create complex 3D content using a node-based system that enables non-destructive editing and faster iteration times. This workflow is especially beneficial for VFX work, where complex scenes need to be created and edited quickly.
  2. Strong VFX Capabilities
    Houdini has a strong focus on VFX and simulation, with powerful tools for volumetrics and dynamics, making it especially good at creating fire, smoke and cloud simulations, as well as fantastic fluid simulations, among others. 
    It’s also used extensively for character rigging and animation, making it a popular choice for film and TV studios.
  3. Flexibility and customization
    Houdini’s node-based system allows users to create their own custom tools and workflows, making it highly customizable for specific project needs. This customization extends to its user interface, which can be completely customized to suit the needs of individual artists or studios.
There has been nothing short of a digital arms race when it comes to VFX software

Procedural workflow FTW

A procedural workflow in 3D art is a way of working that is based on rules and algorithms, rather than manual processes, for example, scattering a bunch of objects like trees and bushes on a landscape, without having to create elements of the scene individually. 

With this method, artists create a network of nodes that defines the properties of 3D objects and how they interact with each other. If you ever used the software Shake back in the day, you might be familiar with how it enables complex image processing sequences via the connection of effects nodes presented to the user in a graphical workflow interface.

This approach allows for non-destructive editing, where changes can be made at any point in the process without affecting previous work. It also facilitates faster iteration times and scalability, as artists can quickly make changes and adjust the level of detail in their work on the fly. Procedural workflows are particularly useful for creating complex scenes and models in VFX, video games, and animation. By using procedural workflows, artists can work more efficiently and effectively, while still maintaining a high level of creativity and artistic control over their work. 

In praise of Houdini’s VFX prowess

Houdini is widely considered to be one of the best software applications for high-end visual effects of all kinds. Its powerful tools for traditionally difficult VFX such as particle effects and destruction simulations have made it a favourite among VFX artists. So much so, that it’s used everywhere, and by all the big names.

Walt Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, ILM, Sony Pictures – all the big names are known to use Houdini in at least some part of their workflow, on movies as diverse as Angry Birds’ “Rio,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” and “Stranger things.” 

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” also used Houdini extensively for its VFX work, including creating complex destruction simulations for the movie’s climactic battle scenes. 

With its powerful tools and customization options, Houdini has become a go-to software for effects animation in the film and TV industries. 

Flexible customization where you need it most

Houdini offers a vast range of tools and features that can be customized to fit the specific needs of individual users and their workflows.

One of the key ways in which Houdini can be customized is through its node-based workflow, which allows users to create their own custom nodes and workflows using a visual programming language called Houdini’s node network. This means that users can create their own custom tools and pipelines that can be shared across projects and with other users.

Houdini also provides a wide range of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow users to script and automate tasks and create custom plugins and extensions for the software. This level of customization allows users to integrate Houdini into their existing pipelines and workflows, and to create specialized tools that streamline their work processes.

Additionally, Houdini’s user interface can be customized to fit the individual preferences and workflows of users. Users can customize menus, toolbars, keyboard shortcuts, and hotkeys to make the software more efficient and user-friendly.

The flexibility and customization options provided by Houdini make it an ideal choice for studios and artists who require a high degree of flexibility and control over their workflows.

A final word before you escape this article

In our opinion Houdini represents the future of 3D in the VFX industry thanks to its raft unique capabilities, customization options, and forward-thinking procedural workflow. 

It’s no surprise that Houdini has become a go-to software app for the VFX industry, and it is likely to remain so in the future.

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