Using Houdini as an aspiring indie artist

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I so hope this is the right subforum…


Hi there!

(Feel free to skip to the third paragraph)
A little bit about me any my background: I am a young IT student located in vienna and aspiring 3d/vfx artist in my free time. Over the last couple of years I did spend quite some time getting a feeling for different vfx related programs and experimenting around with them. I started out with Cinema 4d and Adobe AE (easier to learn than Nuke) but then changed to 3ds Max due to the highly limited features of c4d and the fact that I never really got realistic renderings. 3ds Max produced way better results after only a few hours and for the first few months or so I was happy with it. Recently I gave Maya a shot and so far I think that it feels far more intuitive than 3ds Max.

However, now that I have grasped the basics of quite a few different solutions I think the time has come to finally settle on one and start to learn the more difficult (and interesting) parts.
I know, that c4d is not what I want to go forward with. It was really great to get a basic understanding of camera controls and modelling but I don't think that I can really get the results I am looking for with it. This leaves me with 3ds max and Maya and while I can understand, why some people would prefer 3ds max, I am probably going with Maya. However, even Maya is not without flaws. It has totally freaked out one or two times while I was working with it, some features are really not intuitive and you need plugins for pretty much anything more than the basics. Don't get me wrong, plugins are great, but when you have to spend a fortune on plugins to replace or upgrade features that should already be included it starts to get annoying. Even more so when some of these plugins come with entirely new interfaces and their own little programs.

And this is where Houdini comes in. From my current understanding Houdini has a better fluid/particle integration and support for procedural content while it's biggest weakness is modelling and animation. I have heard quite a few people mention Houdini on forums but it is kind of hard to find anything concrete or a direct comparison. It kind of feels like listening to the Linux vs Mac debate while being a Windows user. Sort of.

The areas I am especially interested in are:

Basic modelling, scene setup and animation: as already mentioned above according to my research this is one of Houdinis biggest weaknesses. I have no idea if there have been big changes over the last years or if there are updates planned but as long as I can import objs and setup my scene this should be fine. I neither have the time nor the resources to create anything more than some rough background objects. Should I ever want to get started in modelling I would probably have to learn ZBrush or Mudbox anyways.

Large scale outdoor scenes/landscapes (Forest and natural looking rocks). I think that I should be able to get quite interesting results in Houdini when it comes to this. Haven't really researched it but I recently read about someone using packed geometry and instancing in Houdini to massively cut down render times for a huge forest scene. Would be highly interesting for me considering that I don't really have to resources to build or rent a farm for every scene I want to make. Plan B would be to mess around with World Machine and Terragen. But that would mean that I have to spent time learning them too.

Water: Ok, water has been haunting me since my first Cinema 4d experiments. Using a plane with some displacement and reflection worked in some settings for me but foam or cliffs were a nightmare. And using Particles to create an entire ocean like some of the big studios is pure madness. Trust me, I tried.(I was bored and wanted to test my new pc) Is there any good way to combine geometry, shaders and some particles in Houdini to get nice waves that interact with the environment?
I always try to create tropic islands sooner or later, don't ask my why. Without matte painting and too much other compositing trickery. Kind of a weird tick I have.

Muscle and Bone systems. So far I never played around with anything more than the most basic rigging of characters. This would probably require me to get started in an organic modelling software, but it would be nice to have the tools
should I ever want to give it a shot.

Rendering and server farms: Ok, so I am expecting render times similar to what I currently getting with Maya. The real question is what engines come with Houdini and which ones of them are interesting for an indie artist with limited resources and time. And how easy and cost efficient is it to push my entire project to a rendering farm should I ever want to render something really big?


The question is if Houdini is the right software to get started with considering my interests. Are a few hours (10-15h) a week enough time to properly learn it? I did some procedural content in java and C over the years and know how complicated it can be to get things right. And how long does it take to learn the basics? You should also note that I need something that can be used by a single person. The only other person I know that is interested in filming uses Windows Movie Maker and makes political art films.

Would be great if some other beginners or indie artists could tell me a bit about their experiences and maybe try to help me understand the differences to the software I have worked with before. How long did you need to get used to the node based workflow? And maybe someone could point me to some really good (free) tutorials/documentation/examples to get started with? I would greatly appreciate any help.


Jacky
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Moin, Jacky,

I hope I don't sound:
- discouraging
- more arrogant than usually
- all-knowing
- nothing-knowing
- ironic
- not ironic enough
- too encouraging
- too much like a father figure
- not wise enough to give any advice at all

… but I fear even this introduction doesn't help much, so I'll try it another way.

You need to learn:
- modo
- Maya
- Max
- Blender
- Houdini
- zBrush
- Fabric Engine
- Redshift
- Octane
- VRay
- Renderman
- Renderwoman
- Arnold
- Bernold
- and a few dozen of things I forgot to mention, like Clarisse, Kurt and Python.

If you want to do it all, you need to know it all. There is no magic button “make me rich” (artists usually call this “make it awesome”, but in the end it's about “make me rich”). In no software. (here SESI marketing chimes in and whispers “except Houdini 16, of course”).

All solutions have their merits. If not, they'd be long gone. Well, SI is, even it was one of the best, but that's just proving my point.

Houdini has a background of moving points around without connecting them, while Max has a background of moving connected points around, but not too many of them or it might crash. If you want to do particles, fluids, smokes, simulations of all kinds and a bit more, start with Houdini, the more recent versions are so easy to get into that you'll forget having considered Blender in no time.
I don't relly get the point of “Houdini being bad at modelling”, because in my world it is *me* who is bad at modelling. I know some artists, who can model things even without using a computer! Many “3d artists” I know claim that modo is the best modelling application out there - and then there are those who say that anything is better than modo, but those are people who never model at all. If you want “pretty pictures”, have a look at Bryce, if you want to do walk cycles, try DAZ studio.

————————

STOP

————————

Houdini has come a long way with the latest releases and the upcoming version, as far as usability, UXP, rigging, animation and even modelling are concerned.
Modelling: Houdini is not modo (as far as subD modelling goes), but it actually has a few kicks that make it *better*, even in the modelling department. It isn't zBrush and never will be, and it, so far, does not provide the most “approachable” modelling layout, but there are external (plugin-like) addons AND Houdini's modelling toolset is getting improved. Including UXP/UI. Houdini's development is rapid, and its developers are not only “listening” (like on other platform I witnessed), but actually interested and open to suggestions, that they, often enough, turn into features.
Animation in Houdini is strong, but it is a bit “hidden”. I am on a mission to help making people see that they just to have tear that blanket away to see H's power in animation. Rigging in Houdini is exctasy on … err … well … speed? Powerful, easy to grasp, flexible. It's not Messiah (yet ), but Messiah isn't as vivid, constantly evolving and getting better every single night (thanks to constant releases).

There is a FREE version of Houdini to get you started (Aprentice). There are lots and lots of tutorials out there giving you some heads ups on almost every aspect of Houdini. There are some very, very active communities, in forums and on various chat systems (IRC, Slack and something like “Dixie Klo” or so).

Rendering: Houdini both has a good renderer “on board”, but Mantra can be slow. There is support for external renderers (like Redshift), and you can, of course, export your data to Alembic or FBX to utilize other render pipelines. It depends on what you want to render … and how fast …

Scene sizes: This is something all software packages have to deal with over the coming months and years. Models are getting heavier every year and even flagships like Maya definitely have NOT kept up with requirements in production (at least in some aspects like polygon heavy geometry). Here tools like Clarisse fill a gap that even Houdini cannot, for the time being. BUT Houdini has some quite usable, stable reference/deferred loading mechanisms that, in my current experience, can be considered “better” than some other products' states.

Learning curve: People kept telling me that it's impossible to “get into Houdini without years of hard work”. I found out that this is complete utter bullshit - for me. It took me about 30-60 minutes to get familiar and comfortable with most of the navigation and fundamental UXP guidelines and a couple of weeks of 15-30 minutes a day to understand enough of the internal workings to seriously break Houdini beta versions. I personally find Houdini (15.5 and the upcoming one) one of the most approachable, most logical, easiest to understand (fundamentally) 3d applications available today. Far, far, far easier to understand than, say, modo - for a simple reason: Houdini is *consistent*. You need to understand the basic structure, how it “ticks”, then, in most cases, you can work your way around most cliffs. You may not find the *best* workflow, but that's where the community is of invaluable help. But different to other software, there (usually) isn't some jibberish that just works COMPLETELY different than all the rest.

But, again: Houdini is no silver bullet, it won't provide you with everything plus something. I do think that the recent version(s) are absolute “musts” in any generalist's toolbox. Especially at the entry price range offered for “small freelancers and/or aspiring artists” (read: people who don't really make any money from their work)

Marc

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TL;DR

jk

Wow - that was an amazing response, Marc. Thanks!
Chris McSpurren
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wow that is a long post

only thing I can say is I'm a freelance artist using Houdini and Only Houdini doing all sorts of jobs, all that with the Indie version, been doing that for 5 years now, so can it be done? yes I'm doing it right now
and I have so much work that I shouldn't be responding to forum posts

Cheers!!

final note: I have so much work because I use HOUDINI, that's why people come to me.

final note 2: I have a wife and a daughter so, is not like I'm a student living of this and 2 dogs
Edited by varomix - Jan. 25, 2017 12:51:23
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Wow, that was a fast response. And I never thought that a staff member would take the time to drop by.

No, you are definitely not discouraging. I already realized a few years ago after I finally managed to render my first scene in Cinema 4d (without Vray) that getting into the vfx community was and probably will be a long term project. Right now I just want to settle down on one software and get really good at it. I am not looking for a do it all software but something that has solid implementations of the basic features, is not going to die in the next few years, a lot of additional features to study once I have the basics down and a decent learning curve.

A consistent UI and background logic sound very promising. Is there any specific quickstart guide you would recommend to someone coming from maya? And is there a recommended order to learn the other features?

And could you maybe drop some server/cnames to a few beginner friendly irc channels? Having a bit of friendly competition could probably help me a lot.


Thank you for taking this much time to help me, I really really appreciate it.

Jacky

PS: Octane/Redshift? Aren't those GPU based renderers? I am kind of surprised that you mention them, the last time I informed myself about them I read that their only advantage lays in allowing the user to keep working on stuff while they run in the background. As far as I am aware they don't really pay of in terms of speed/hardware price.
(I am currently using a hexacore 3.2ghz intel, 32gigs ram, and nvidia 980 ti 2gig pc due to my non cgi related IT classes. Should I consider going more into the gpu direction if ever have the budget to update my workstation? Its not like I can't run my scripts on the gpu…)
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Hi, Jacky,

learning: Start with SideFX' own “Learn” button top on this page. Their tutorials actually are good. Their master classes (as long as nobody messes with zoom control …) are MASTER classes.
Luiz Kruel is putting together some learning path links with more recent choices of tutorials: http://luizkruel.com/houdini-learning-links/ [luizkruel.com]

Here is one of the chats I mentioned: https://www.sidefx.com/forum/topic/47530/ [sidefx.com] There is a somewhat more “active” one on Discord, but you need some stamina with the traffic and, sometimes, you need some callousness with the tone there: https://www.sidefx.com/forum/topic/47336/ [sidefx.com]

“Quickstart”: Choose a project and try to do it in Houdini. Start simple - like animating a snake, model it, rig it in Houdini, animate it. Once you have that done, send me all the videos you made and I'll sell it as THE MASTER COURSE

GPU renderers: I won't get into a religious debate here. Let's just say: GPU renderers - and Redshift is a good example for that - can fly and make your work *a* *lot* easier if it includes “delivery of finnished renders”. *A* *LOT*. Like … sparing years of your life watching some buckets sitting on the same spot for hours …
My personal perspective on rendering is: Do rough previz at home and leave the rest to render farms. Why should anyone have to do EVERYTHING on his kitchen table?

Marc

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https://www.marc-albrecht.de [www.marc-albrecht.de]
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Thanks for all the input. I will try Houdini as soon as the download is complete.

In the meantime I am watching videos of snakes on youtube. Now I really want to figure out how I can create spline like ik chains…

Never considered using a gpu renderer for previz. Not sure how easy it is to use the same materials for different render engines.(unless I use an engine that supports both cpu and gpu) Will definetly give it a shot when I have nothing else to do/learn.
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Jacky2611
Thanks for all the input. I will try Houdini as soon as the download is complete.

In the meantime I am watching videos of snakes on youtube. Now I really want to figure out how I can create spline like ik chains…

Never considered using a gpu renderer for previz. Not sure how easy it is to use the same materials for different render engines.(unless I use an engine that supports both cpu and gpu) Will definetly give it a shot when I have nothing else to do/learn.

Dude, GPU Rendering is here and is thriving in Final Frame rendering, PreViz is an afterthought. Redshift is being used for Film, TV, VFX…you name it…by big Studios.
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OpenGL/Vulkan/Metal GPU rendering is the future - any longer than 1 sec a frame it too long
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Here are some recent shots rendered in Redshift:

Blackbird VFX for The Brand Agency


Tim van Helsdingen (Personal)


RayOn FX for NHL


Simon BAU for LEGO Batman Contest


Here's some more popular shots that you may not have known where Redshift:

Kaiserlicht for Netflix


BLUR for Blizzard (Redshift in their Pipeline is at 39:00 mark)
Edited by Daryl Dunlap - Jan. 25, 2017 16:38:51
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This looks way better than what I have seen the last time I checked out GPU rendering. Thank you for sharing. Impressive how fast this has developed in the last few years. Kind of wondering now how much time this took to render and how much they were edited after rendering.
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Jacky2611
This looks way better than what I have seen the last time I checked out GPU rendering. Thank you for sharing. Impressive how fast this has developed in the last few years. Kind of wondering now how much time this took to render and how much they were edited after rendering.

If you skip to the 39:00 mark in the Blur video, you'll hear them discuss how they evaluated several Renderers and chose Redshift 3D. They mentioned going from hours per-frame on a CPU farm, to 5-20mins per-frame on a GPU box.
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