Creative Directors Eben Mears and Anh Vu of Psyop used the power and destructive force found in a digital tornado to symbolize the power of their client’s product - a JBL speaker.

To bring this storm to life, the team needed to manage huge datasets and generate custom tools that would help them meet their client’s expectations. Houdini and its procedural node-based workflow was chosen to help them navigate through all of the project’s twists and turns.

The 70 Million Particle Twister

During the 45 second spot, the audience witnesses a funnel cloud emerge from a dark, temperamental sky. The funnel rapidly develops into a full blown tornado that devours all that lies within its path. At the very height of the spot, the viewer finds themselves within the eye of the tornado where they witness massive amounts of debris whirling and crashing about. On closer examination, most of this debris is, in fact, outdated home entertainment equipment.

Using Houdini, the team created and animated the tornado complete with its cargo using a mix of Point Cloud Particle Operators and Pyro FX.


Once the tornado’s initial setup was complete, the resulting network of nodes was turned into a reusable Digital Asset. This asset made it easy to modify the twister’s parameters using a top level UI and a single asset node. This “Twister” tool was used throughout the production and has been kept on file for use in future storm-based projects.

“With the Twister tool it was really easy to scale, deform and re-animate the tornado's features and overall behavior” says Psyop Technical Director Miguel Salek. “We could make revisions and have them ready to go in just minutes”.

With all the AV equipment and other debris ripping throughout the tornado, it meant that an enormous amount of data had to be processed. Houdini’s ability to efficiently handle very large datasets made this a non-issue for the artists. “The ballpark count for total particles generated is approximately 70 million — that says it all,” remarks Miguel.


An Alembic-Based Pipeline

Alembic is an open source interchange format designed to simplify pipeline interoperability. Houdini’s support for Alembic made it easy to export the tornado and all of its rich data for rendering in Softimage using the Arnold renderer.

With Houdini and its ability to export to Alembic, Psyop managed to whip up a destructive force of nature and now have the perfect tool in place should another tornado project spin their way.

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