In Battle: Los Angeles an extra-terrestrial invasion is captured on film using a documentary-style approach. While a sense of realism was clearly the goal, lots of visual effects were still needed to bring the “alien” elements to life. Vancouver’s The Embassy VFX played their part in the invasion and used Houdini to help them develop effects for the movie’s advanced alien technology.

The Embassy used this film to launch a brand new Houdini-based visual effects pipeline that was designed to keep them organized while allowing them the creative freedom to create great shots. Using Houdini Digital Assets, the shot management system, called SH Master, was used as a key component of this pipeline.

SH Master provided them with many operational benefits that supported collaboration amongst their artists. For each shot, the team could independently manage different sections of a Houdini scene by breaking them down into elements that could be created and approved separately. This approach made it easy to recycle simulations and distribute an approved look over many shots in a relatively short period of time. Multiple artists could also work on the same sequence and maintain a consistent look and feel throughout their work.

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With an invaluable organizational tool in place, The Embassy could then turn their focus to the work at hand. Many of the shots involved elaborate details in alien hardware and effects to define how items such as UFO engines operated.

Houdini’s Digital Assets were used to make these engines function. A “thruster” asset was created using many sub-assets nested into the main asset. The thruster asset was designed to generate a staccato effect within the UFO engines. Houdini’s expressions made it possible to fine-tune the look as well as control the individual flames generated by the thrusters.

The referencing capabilities of Houdini Digital Assets was also put into play. Assets could be set up in a shot early as stand-ins, then when the final look was approved, they could be easily updated to match the approved asset.

To create the dust kicked up by the alien drone aircraft, the artists found Houdini’s gas up-res capabilities to be especially useful. This approach let them work with simulations that would have otherwise been too unwieldy and time consuming to handle. The dust created with Houdini’s gas simulation tools were rendered with Mantra.


The Embassy discovered that with Houdini digital assets, they were able to significantly reduce the development and maintenance time of their shots. Their work in Battle: Los Angeles demonstrates how Houdini can be leveraged to build tools that not only allow artists to get the job done, but keep them organized through the entire process.

Robert Kelly : Lead FX TD
Paul Flanagan : Lead FX Artist
Charlie Bradbury: Lead VFX Producer
The Embassy VFX Inc.

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