Learning Houdini - Steep Learning Curve

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Hi there,

I am working on a project for school regarding user interfaces. I've come across various forums on the internet in which new users express ‘a steep learning curve’ to houdini and would be curious to hear from people there impressions on this and why is this? Is the user interface overwhelming? It is difficult to remember where tools are? Is it the subject matter in general? Any feedback on user experience would be greatly appreciated.

My email is ppallotta@gmail.com

Thanks,
Peter
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Hi Pallotta welcome to Houdini's world.
About to learning Houdini the only thing important here is that Houdini is very flexible and powerful.
What this mean?
In Houdini you can make your own solution like cloth, hair, and a lot of simulation of course exist some made material but the power here is to make what you need.
This power you can translate in to see what happen inside the tools or nodes with a simple click.
You can go deep and deep, but this kind of thinking is different from other packages that try to help you hidden the information or put this information not clear and accessible.
To think here in Houdini at first glance is very strange… but after you start to understand the logic you will get a lot of freedom and probably you will never get back again.
But the world is big and you need to understand your real need in order to acquire your goals, for example Blender for simple stuff is very fast, Maya have dozen of tutorials to help, Modo is very popular to modeling and Houdini give to you power and control.
About your learning path the answer is simple, in order to learn Maya I dedicated my time during several month, the same was to Blender for Houdini it took me the same time, if you really want to learn your effort will be the difference.
Here in SideFX site you will have a lot of material, tutorials and interviews for help and improve your knowledge.
But if you really really need some thing simple to learning… the true is continuing in the 3d package that you think is more comfortable and when is possible to you buying a plugin to it…
But again in Houdini you eventually will make your own solution for your needs this is the beauty about Houdini.
Believe in yourself, make a lot of friends here and welcome to the wizard learning path ;-)

(to help in your journey)—> click here :) [www.sidefx.com]
Edited by harryabreu - May 29, 2018 06:52:46
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The reason people say Houdini has a steep learning curve is that Houdini takes longer to be productive than almost any other 3D application. It is more like learning a mid level programming language, and you don't get too far without learning some VEX and hscript, because not much is done behind the scenes for you. For instance, in Modo, Maya, and Cinema 4D, there is a large library of premade assets, shaders, and textures. When one creates a model, a basic UV set is made for you (whether that works or not). For other programs, there is an abundance of introductory paid and free training videos and books available. There are also forums that cater to beginners that are quick to answer questions.

In other programs you can wing it for awhile without really understanding the concepts of good quad modeling, UV texturing, setting up renders, etc - while you are making pleasing models. Houdini's nodes can sometimes be difficult to understand even with the help file in front of you. Commands do different things if you are hovering over the viewport, or network (like “C” is used for assigning color in the network but bringing up a tool for adding extrudes and other things in the viewport and Q repeats last command differently in the viewport and network view if your last command was “edgeloop”).

Most schools teach other 3D programs to students. Maya is most people's introduction to 3D. If one is learning on one's own, Cinema 4D is fast to get started and very intuitive. Blender is free and has a growing community. Houdini in the past was expensive ($17,000) and used almost exclusively for FX in artists who had worked years with other programs to learn basic concepts.

However, Houdini has a logic to it that is lacking in other programs. As you advance, you will find that buying plugins is rarely needed. You don't feel like the program was sort of jumbled together (like Maya). You have much more control over everything and rarely hit a spot where there are no workarounds. Fluids, particles, smoke, etc. are all there.
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Island
The reason people say Houdini has a steep learning curve is that Houdini takes longer to be productive than almost any other 3D application. It is more like learning a mid level programming language, and you don't get too far without learning some VEX and hscript, because not much is done behind the scenes for you.

I came from C4D about 6 months ago and have been playing with Houdini on and off. this was my first thought, say to make a series of edge cuts in C4D, I can do that in under a minute but with Houdini it take a lot more time because I have to keep selecting the knife tool/node. But I love the procedural method in Houdini
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The loop edge cut in Houdini seems to be about the same as C4D in being able to freehand the cuts or restrict to divisions of the edge length (quantize: C4d's term, edgesnap: Houdini's term). Houdini has the advantage that you can add a bunch of edge cuts all at once by increasing the “number of loops”. The Q key in Houdini's viewport will bring up the last command, so it is marginally more time consuming than C4D, that keeps doing edge loops without having to press any key.
Edited by Island - May 30, 2018 13:25:07
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There are several things I think that contribute to the steep learning curve besides what other people mentioned above.
- Very low “discoverabilitiy” of features inside Houdini. There is no way on earth anyone would ever guess to use $F or $YMIN by just playing around and exploring inside Houdini. You have to go outside, read the manual, watch tutorials, look at other people's sample hip files, etc to learn many things. Learning Houdini almost feels like learning to code in Visual Studio but minus any Intellisense to help you discover anything.
- There are many nodes with not always straightforward names and some of which do almost the same thing. Nodes have changed over time so you might find a tutorial that tells you to use a node and it now behaves differently than it did in a previous version. For example, the Mountain node has nothing to do with making mountains in the terrain height fields. You have to understand the basic Houdini vocabulary and a decent chunk of nodes before you can start to be really proficient.
- Non-locality of data makes it confusing to follow along when learning. If you begin to understand that nodes link to one another to act as parameters you might be surprised when you discover that you can refer to nodes by path to make invisible lines.
- Many parameters are very hard to tell what reasonable ranges of values you should use. If you guess wrong you could totally lock up Houdini and have to kill. It's also not always obvious if you should increase or decrease a parameter. Some nodes, a smaller number increase the resolution of an object or simulation and in some cases it's the inverse. Tool tips over the parameters vary from helpful to blank.
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Houdini is like Linux in the beginning hard to learn and when you feel comfort you wont change the system.

Other DCC apps are more like Mac OSX shiny interface you can click around but most of the user will never use the build in python! when you want to make simulations or making complex GC stuff it will start crashing and you don't know why.
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What RobotHeadArt said is spot on. Logically Houdini is very intuitive, in fact more so than other so-called “easy” CG apps like C4D (I still don't understand the logic of a deformer being “inside” an object). However Houdini quickly becomes its own worst enemy through oddball nomenclature of its nodes and functions. Cubes are boxes, polygons are primitives, the Delete node doesn't do what you think it does, what you really want is Blast. The above-mentioned Mountain node which should really be called something like Displace or Noise Warp, or a variety of other more intuitive names. Then there is the sheer number of nodes that seem to exist for no real reason; for instance the Primitive Wrangle, Point Wrangle and Vertex Wrangle are the same exact node as far as I can tell with the only difference being that Primitive, Point or Vertex are pre-selected for the user in the drop-down menu. In addition, several nodes should have common functions that many users typically want access, such as randomization in a Copy node. And don't get me started on all the “deprecated” nodes which just add to the confusion.

The list goes on — I suspect this is a result of SideFX's efforts to continue to improve and expand the app while dealing with resistance from veteran users who are not particularly open to change.

Lastly, I will add that the difficulty in Houdini needs to be taken within the context of the breadth of the app. Let me clarify — A C4D user is not necessarily dealing with high-end functions like fluid simulations, or terrain, or crowd simulation etc. They are likely going to get better acquainted with the basics of C4D before they even consider adding 3rd party tools such as Turbulence FD or RealFlow, so the learning happens in stages. In Houdini, all of those tools are immediately present, and the result can be overwhelming.
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https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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hehe…'the Delete node doesn't do what you think it does, what you really want is Blast.'

Actually it does do what I think it does, and I don't really want the Blast node instead.

I only mention this to illustrate - Houdini really isn't it's own worst enemy “through oddball nomenclature of its nodes and functions.”

The only ‘enemy’ Houdini has, and which will never be able to tame( completely ) is the - wide difference of assumptions, perspectives and feature desires of the end users.
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I agree to some degree, and I don't want to turn this into a never ending discussion which ultimately yields no real solutions. I would however invite developers and experienced users alike to consider the perspectives of brand new users. It's difficult for sure, but useful.
>>Kays
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https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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I think the comments from RoboHeadArt and Midphase are right on. As a fairly new user of Houdini, I find the various nodes that basically do almost the same (except one click box difference) not helpful.

A lot of tutorials older than a year use the old point SOP and earlier copy stamp a lot, and I am not sure why downloading an older file doesn't give an option to convert to more modern nodes. I've figured out alternatives, but older files still keep the old nodes but you can't add many of these nodes yourself. It would be helpful to have a conversion of older nodes to more modern node equivalents.

I think some of the autoUV mapping systems need to be simplified. While manual UV mapping in Houdini is pretty good (not up to 3D coat or unfold 3D in my opinion), setting up UV maps for sweeps is not easy. Getting good UV maps procedurally out of a polywire is even more difficult. Could some of these nodes have an option for some sort of logical procedural UV map creation?

Compared with a year ago, there are much better tutorials available for new users and users coming from other 3D programs. However, there is still a deficit in good tutorials on managing material nodes. Fiddling with these is pretty unintuitive if one is doing anything beyond the basics. In contrast, it is pretty easy in Maya or Cinema 4D to add fresnel to the color channels or luminance without gettng lost in strangely named input and output channels of nodes.

The original author of this thread asked about the learning curve, and I think some of the issues brought up do address this. Even if an experienced user of Houdini finds the delete node intuitively obviously different from the blast node, that is probably not the case with new users. The fact that hscript and VEX use different names also does not help.

Lastly, there are not infrequent crashes - not all of which are user error. Today I submitted a bug that UV flatten routinely crashes the latest build when invoked using the radial UV menu. (it works as expected when added as a node in the geometry view).
Edited by Island - June 1, 2018 21:24:23
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Even if an experienced user of Houdini finds the delete node intuitively obviously different from the blast node, that is probably not the case with new users.

I started using the delete node as a new user and long before I came across the blast node.

That was why I made the comment.

I actually hope Houdini always has a step learning curve even for ‘new’ users.

The reason it has a steep learning curve is because it has a many ‘nuts and bolts’ meaning so many things can be done in so many different ways.

Your free to develop your own work flow.

Hope it never gets watered down, if anything I hope Houdini continues to be developed in the same manner.
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Hi,
Crashes - these are the worst “features” of any software. If there would be two development branches of the softwares, an “aviation grade” with half of the features but months of hevy duty testing and virtually bug free… and the other which are the actual ones, I definitely chose the first one. Twenty years ago VFX artists did lots of great scenes, with fraction of the featuresets of today's softwares (worth to read the recent Jurassic Park articles on VFXblog). Now we have sw bigatures and tons of features, but some of them are very fragile (that's why I dropped Clarisse last time…). Luckily it seems Houdini tends to be more stabile and when it crashes, usually saves the scene…. but for a new user, it's likely that he/she will just restart the software and redo the work without knowing that the previous attempt isn't lost… just there is no “Houdini crashed and there is a backup file in the $TEMP dir” or something message at restart. There is no mention in the intoduction, basics etc. that you can find it in the temp directory of the OS. Big mess that they don't mention this on the very beginning of the docs in a red framed boxout, it wouldn't be shameful, every CG sw crashes… and I think it is better to bravely tell that Houdini does care your work and tries to save in the event of a crash.

This is a good example when any feature fails without proper documentation/communication. Basically a feature which isn't documented, doesn't exist for me. I have no time as a VFX artist to do deep learning level of research and reverse engineer what the developers had in their mind…. Of course the reality that I SHOULD, no other option. Spend hours to scratch all the parameters and DJ together a packet of knowledge and store it in my mind… and it may popup mentally when I need to solve a specific problem for which they developed that node.

So documentation is not the strongest part of Houdini, there was a recent topic about the concerns.
I'd really help SideFX to improve the docs, kind of a perfectionist I'd enjoy to level up some parts of it to a manual of a big airliner jet

Luckily SideFX recently released a long-missing “welcome, your new car just arrived, this is the key, congratulations…, we will now run through how you can operate the heating, the radio etc..” kind of friendly first steps introductory book, which was existed for Maya newbies a long time ago: Art of Maya. Interesting fact is that the author is the same, Robert Magee. Great stuff, highly recommended!

These are just quick thoughts came in my mind reading this topic…
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The worst problem of Houdini learning curve is not that it is hard to learn, but actually everyone and their mother just casually assume you have 5 years of TD experience behind you when you ask even the simplest questions. Honest, when I tried to find help for ridiculously easy things (as they seem right now), people shared their project files which made me even more confused. “Oh that's easy, you just have to compute Tangents, but write them as Normals”. wat? (I remember when I came across this exact thing I felt so miserable and stupid)

Next problem: the manual. It's written in Protoss High Templar language, everything there is some Xel Naga prophecy or worse. Sometimes when I exactly know what the node does, the actual help for the node does not make any sense.

Next tedious task for me was to learn rendering with Mantra. Mind you, Houdini was my first “serious” 3DCC app ever, so I was not exactly well versed in building shaders and such. Again, virtually nothing is explained. I know how to develop procedural shaders now, but that knowledge did not come easy, far from it. I watched every H16 masterclass on rendering with mantra, while they explained what's new, it was still baffling to build your own stuff.

The list goes on. BUT I would not switch to anything else than H right now.

PS - Paul Ambrosiussen suggested on twitter that I were to record a tutorial on procedural textures and patterns in Mantra using VOPs. So, expect that to pop up soon.
https://twitter.com/oossoonngg [twitter.com]
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Next problem: the manual. It's written in Protoss High Templar language, everything there is some Xel Naga prophecy or worse. Sometimes when I exactly know what the node does, the actual help for the node does not make any sense.

The best manual and online help I have found is for Solidangle Arnold followed by Maxon C4D. I wish all developers would take a look at those guys' approach to explaining what something does. A picture is indeed worth 1000 words, and in both of those cases the explanation is more often than not paired with an image or series of images which conveys the effect that a certain function creates. I wish SideFX would use more images along with descriptions of their nodes, it would help tremendously to understand exactly what a node does and how it affects other nodes.
>>Kays
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https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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The worst problem of Houdini learning curve is not that it is hard to learn, but actually everyone and their mother just casually assume you have 5 years of TD experience behind you when you ask even the simplest questions. Honest, when I tried to find help for ridiculously easy things (as they seem right now), people shared their project files which made me even more confused. “Oh that's easy, you just have to compute Tangents, but write them as Normals”. wat? (I remember when I came across this exact thing I felt so miserable and stupid)

Next problem: the manual. It's written in Protoss High Templar language, everything there is some Xel Naga prophecy or worse. Sometimes when I exactly know what the node does, the actual help for the node does not make any sense.

Next tedious task for me was to learn rendering with Mantra. Mind you, Houdini was my first “serious” 3DCC app ever, so I was not exactly well versed in building shaders and such. Again, virtually nothing is explained. I know how to develop procedural shaders now, but that knowledge did not come easy, far from it. I watched every H16 masterclass on rendering with mantra, while they explained what's new, it was still baffling to build your own stuff.

The list goes on. BUT I would not switch to anything else than H right now.

PS - Paul Ambrosiussen suggested on twitter that I were to record a tutorial on procedural textures and patterns in Mantra using VOPs. So, expect that to pop up soon.

I'm exactly on that “”Oh that's easy, you just have to compute Tangents, but write them as Normals". wat?" phase, and have to agree with every word, node documentation sometimes is a nightmare, and sometimes basic documentation is missing or not in-deep, such as shaders building, so I'm really looking forward to your tutorial on that topic!

At the same time, on a positive note, the Houdini philosophy has really ‘clicked’ in my mind, I can't imagine working with any other 3D software right now. And kudos to SideFX for the Indie license pricing schema.
Edited by jarenas - June 9, 2018 01:41:35
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coming from C4D I agree with glitchi, the manual leaves me mystified and at times dumbfounded . . it seems like it says: you clickity clack the VOP CHOP SOP then wrangle the dangle - no pictures no examples . . . it leaves me staring at the monitor thinking “now what the heck did I just read.”

I do like the software, it is powerful and I know I need to concentrate on one aspect modeling/hardsurface modeling so as not to get overwhelmed by the depth of Houdini. Therein lies some of the problem in that most of the help files, tutorials etc are not designed/written for hard surface modeling and those which do use a 2 or 3 generation ago version and not everything translates exactly having me contact the creator of content. I look in help for a replacement node but help does not say, this is the old method which has been changed to this .. but I persevere
Edited by bobc4d - June 9, 2018 10:21:59
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@bobc4d

yeah, take for example some of Rohan's tuts on modeling. The Point SOP he likes so much? Deprecated and considered a bad strategy since H16. The newer version of that is actually explained in Jeff's “geometry workflows” webinar. Basically, to learn H you have to learn how to learn it, you know? Translating old workflows into new ones, figuring stuff out, etc.
Most of the disappointment of that sort goes away when you understand what attribute VOP does.

But like I said, most people think that you will understand everything at once. It's overwhelming. Just stay consistent. And wait for new courses and in-depth tutorials. I think it's time we just acknowledge that there is not such a thing like eyesdsgn or greyscalegorilla within H community, and it's about time we would do something about it. I'm up for it.
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glitchi
I think it's time we just acknowledge that there is not such a thing like eyesdsgn or greyscalegorilla within H community, and it's about time we would do something about it. I'm up for it.

I've been slammed since pretty much January with non-stop work, but I've been planning to start a YouTube series of Houdini for C4D users, trying to get as much done while staying away from VEX which is a big turnoff for many creatives. MOPs has just made that strategy a whole lot easier.

Anyway, as soon as I can get a break from work I'm planning to start making the tutorials, but it'll be at least another month or so before I can start, so if someone else wants to get the thing started…go for it!

BTW, I heard that Chad Ashley from GSG has been eyeing Houdini for some time (and has possibly started toying with it). He seems like he'd be a great person to tackle some tutorials. The issue is that GSG tutorials are driven by wanting to sell their products for C4D, so for them to start considering teaching Houdini, they would also have to start creating some HDA's for Houdini (although many of their products could probably be easily translated into HDA's, like Signal and GorillaCam). I dunno, everything is possible.
>>Kays
For my Houdini tutorials and more visit:
https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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