Learning Houdini - Steep Learning Curve

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I was just trying to point out the fact that a lack of enthusiastic “believers” within the H community is not helping it to grow. Reading thoughts in this (and many other) thread just makes it so clear. I was planning on doing some videos that will make sense for people who are new to H or 3D in general. That's what apparently Houdini is notorious for - “what on Earth all these buttons do, in in which order do I press those”.
Just have to do some planning so it does not come disjointed.
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It is about logic behind Houdini being nothing like other apps out there. In nutshell there is no tutorial that will make you wrap your brain around it in few days. However it is made. It is practice practice practice, when it clicks, you will see why things are like that and you will appreciate it. Yes it is hard for beginners, and it takes time. I had solid nodes and math background, and even after 6 months playing with Houdini I was confused as hell. Woke up one day and all of sudden everything made sense. It is no that I had divine touch it was just me playing with it, learning new nodes, expressions, looking at tutorials (which back them was like 50x less that today) and all that accumulated knowledge started working… There are things that are being developed and that asks for more learning, yup I am also addicted to old Point node, but that is life, progress. I had to learn VEX too.
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Not to be defensive, but unfortunately we have a huge mountain of docs that were traditionally written by the programmers, and a shockingly small team trying to keep them up-to-date. If you look at some newer documentation, you can at least see where we're trying to get to:

http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/polybridge.html [sidefx.com]
http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/boolean.html [sidefx.com]
http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/polyextrude.html [sidefx.com]
http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/polybevel.html [sidefx.com]

Besides (or because of) being complex, we don't really have the wide variety of 3rd-party websites that explain things in different ways and make lots of videos, like Maya and Max do. Houdini hasn't been mainstream/required in the industry for all that long (I remember the time when no-one had even heard of it). Hopefully that will slowly improve.

Terminology is a definite problem. Houdini can be set in its ways, and programmers like to call the same thing by three different names. Whenever we have a chance to redo things, I take the opportunity to try to pull us toward mainstream conventions and more consistency.

Regarding C4D's docs, I took a quick look at https://help.maxon.net/#1001 [help.maxon.net] and I gotta be honest, it looks just as bad as Houdini's docs to me. Is there a section that's particularly good I should look at, or a different set of docs somewhere else that I missed?

Thanks for all the feedback so far! Houdini's bread-and-butter is technical improvements and new features, but behind the scenes a lot of us are working long-term on making it easier to use and improving the documentation and tutorials. This feedback helps us out a lot.

Matt
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@mchaput

Just my two cents…I hope as the docs get worked on, and I don't doubt they need some work…that they stay concise and compact…with the intention to be used as a reference and not a learning tool.

To help aid in learning I feel it's better to emphasize more tutorials rather than ‘bloat’ docs.

There is much I can still learn about Houdini…as an example…wading through and making use of hou for python.

Instead of having each method or class become lengthly explicit with many examples and explanation; I would much rather have a good tutorial that would cover the ‘essence’ or rather princials/themes that in turn would allow me to make use of the docs much better.

The two going hand in hand.

That way when I do ‘master’ an element of Houdini and occasionaly need to remind myself of something…sifting through the docs does not become a chore.

For example, and I don't mean to imply I am a master at using vex…but I am quit comfortable using many of the different vex functions in a sop context. But even still, I sometimes forget what a certain argument of a function relates too or needs to be set too…concise and short docs makes it easy for quick look up…keeping workflow going along.
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mchaput
Regarding C4D's docs, I took a quick look at https://help.maxon.net/#1001 [help.maxon.net] and I gotta be honest, it looks just as bad as Houdini's docs to me. Is there a section that's particularly good I should look at, or a different set of docs somewhere else that I missed?

Hello Matt,

Thanks for chiming in, it's nice to know that SideFX is monitoring the discussion and thinking about some of these issues.

I was referring to the built-in help documentation for C4D which is IMHO pretty awesome and helpful from beginner to guru. To also address BabaJ's point, documentation being concise and helpful for more than just advanced users doesn't have to be a mutually exclusive condition. I disagree that documentation should not be used as a learning tool, quite the opposite for many it's the first stop in the journey.

I am attaching a couple of screen grabs from C4D and the also-mentioned Solidangle Arnold online manual which is also extremely intuitive and well compiled. If you look at those examples, you'll see that documentation can be clear and pertinent without being bloated.
Edited by Midphase - June 11, 2018 19:52:33

Attachments:
Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 4.43.32 PM.png (670.4 KB)
Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 4.44.09 PM.png (469.5 KB)
Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 4.45.32 PM.png (425.0 KB)
Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 4.46.00 PM.png (289.1 KB)

>>Kays
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To also address BabaJ's point, documentation being concise and helpful for more than just advanced users doesn't have to be a mutually exclusive condition.

Being concise doesn't mean for only ‘advanced’ users, nor only accessable to/for ‘advanced’ users.

And it does have to be mutually exclusive i.e. documentation and tutorials (how to).

You can't document what someone doesn't know nor explain/provide in a way that will satisfy all users.

And I'm not seperating that into two camps - new/advanced users.

Even amongst new users, there will be a very wide range comprehension and experience.

Don't try to satisfy those needs in documentation, satisfy those needs through tutorials.

Such an approach can utilize different authors and teaching styles to reach more people.

Try to do that with documentation - and it will become bloated.

I disagree that documentation should not be used as a learning tool, quite the opposite for many it's the first stop in the journey.

From my expeerience and what I've seen…tutorials are usually the first stop.

There is a reason why documentation is called documentation - and tutorials called tutorials.

Not denying there isn't benefit for providing more information and help for both new and advanced users.

Let's just not mix the two up. (documentation/tutorials).
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BabaJ
Let's just not mix the two up. (documentation/tutorials).

With all due respect, sounds to me like you're mixing up manual and reference document. I agree with you that a reference document should be lean and mean, but that's not the same thing as a manual by any definition.

Perhaps then the solution would be that we need two separate documents, one that is a comprehensive manual with a lot of examples and visual aids, and the other a very concise and technical reference document.


P.S.

Tutorials have a role as well of course, as does school, but once again…not a replacement for a well written manual.
>>Kays
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With all due respect, sounds to me like you're mixing up manual and reference document. I agree with you that a reference document should be lean and mean, but that's not the same thing as a manual by any definition.

How could I be mixing up manual and reference document? I didn't introduce the idea of a ‘manual’ nor ‘reference document’..you just did.
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Just to make things clear:
I am not trying to badmouth manual or docs or anything like that. Possibly, if I were more experienced when I was trying to read them, they would be making so much more sense. But this is exactly the point - steep learning curve.
At any rate, I would love my hand at trying to be helpful, my goal in mind is to change the perception of Houdini from a strange scary beast to “I can not believe I have not started using it earlier”. Hopefully it clarifies my intention.
Sorry if my thought came out on the offensive side.
Edited by glitchi - June 11, 2018 23:12:40
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BabaJ
How could I be mixing up manual and reference document? I didn't introduce the idea of a ‘manual’ nor ‘reference document’..you just did.

BabaJ
I hope as the docs get worked on, and I don't doubt they need some work…that they stay concise and compact…with the intention to be used as a reference and not a learning tool.

It sounds to me like what you really want is a reference document.

What I want is a comprehensive and easy to understand user manual.

The two are not the same, and they can co-exist.

Is that more clear?
>>Kays
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my 2 cents:
the improvements that have been made in the last 4 years are great!
Is it perfect? No.

I realy liked the small example scenes. I hope this gets more attention again.
The example scenes could now also include (background) images.
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glitchi
I am not trying to badmouth manual or docs or anything like that. Possibly, if I were more experienced when I was trying to read them, they would be making so much more sense. But this is exactly the point - steep learning curve.

I don't think you have anything to apologize for. The manual/docs/whatever they're called are currently fairly cryptic for new users and really shouldn't be so. I commend SideFX for promoting tutorials heavily on their site and even when launching Houdini itself, but to me that tells me that they themselves are quite aware that their software is not exactly easy to pick up.

What it is, is powerful as F——!

The question is, can some of the suggestions brought up on this thread be used to bridge the gap a bit and make Houdini not quite as intimidating to new users? I believe so.
>>Kays
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It sounds to me like what you really want is a reference document.

What I want is a comprehensive and easy to understand user manual.

The two are not the same, and they can co-exist.

Is that more clear?

It wasn't unclear to me to begin with, like I said before I'm not against any endeavors to create more sources of help for beginners and long time users alike;

Whether that is through tutorials like the Master Classes or your proposal of a ‘manual’, it matters not.

Just don't put all that in the Documentation - whether you want to call it a ‘reference document’ or not.
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BabaJ
Just don't put all that in the Documentation

We disagree.
Edited by Midphase - June 12, 2018 13:41:40
>>Kays
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mchaput
Not to be defensive, but unfortunately we have a huge mountain of docs that were traditionally written by the programmers, and a shockingly small team trying to keep them up-to-date. If you look at some newer documentation, you can at least see where we're trying to get to:

http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/polybridge.html [sidefx.com]
http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/boolean.html [sidefx.com]
http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/polyextrude.html [sidefx.com]
http://sidefx.com/docs/houdini/nodes/sop/polybevel.html [sidefx.com]

Besides (or because of) being complex, we don't really have the wide variety of 3rd-party websites that explain things in different ways and make lots of videos, like Maya and Max do. Houdini hasn't been mainstream/required in the industry for all that long (I remember the time when no-one had even heard of it). Hopefully that will slowly improve.

Terminology is a definite problem. Houdini can be set in its ways, and programmers like to call the same thing by three different names. Whenever we have a chance to redo things, I take the opportunity to try to pull us toward mainstream conventions and more consistency.

Regarding C4D's docs, I took a quick look at https://help.maxon.net/#1001 [help.maxon.net] and I gotta be honest, it looks just as bad as Houdini's docs to me. Is there a section that's particularly good I should look at, or a different set of docs somewhere else that I missed?

Thanks for all the feedback so far! Houdini's bread-and-butter is technical improvements and new features, but behind the scenes a lot of us are working long-term on making it easier to use and improving the documentation and tutorials. This feedback helps us out a lot.

Matt
C4D help needs to be open in C4D for you to get all the visuals/animations. My post about Houdini's help is that it comes off as being cryptic for new users.. I did not mean to start a this app vs that app war.
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Houdini is an extremely professional tool, which has its place in certain areas of the CGI, it is a complex tool and that means that its learning is long, all the control offered by houdini has its cost, it is sometimes slow to do things that with other packages you do it automatically, the nodes can end up being endless in complex scenes, this whole process takes time to compile and you can see the performance, but the good side is that you have all the control over what you are doing. No magical things all this amount of control must be optimized. I would not recommend houdini for general things. I repeat that this tool is for a professional use where there is a work team with very complex scenes and that require concrete effects. To enjoy the CGI there are other packages such as Maya or Blender that are really quick for general things. Forgive my English field. Greetings to all!
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^^^^
I respectfully disagree with 99% of the abovesaid by Fco Javier
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Everything is relative. So Houdini docs is cryptic, but check this example



However these manuals are great and every knob in the cockpit is well documented with crystal clear descriptions…



Some other screenshots of this manual [a380flightdeck.tumblr.com]
artstation.com/scivfx
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However these manuals are great and every knob in the cockpit is well documented with crystal clear descriptions…

You still couldn't fly an Airbus after reading all that;

Nor would you know how to use many of the items mentioned.

Oh wait, it's made for a pilot who already has been trained - so it serves as a reference.

Just like Houdini:

Du VEX function

Returns the derivative of the given value with respect to U…..

http://www.sidefx.com/docs/houdini/vex/functions/Du.html [www.sidefx.com]

No long in detail explanation of how to do calculus….just a ‘crystal’ clear explanation of what it is, just like in your example…it's expected that if your going to use derivatives, you already did some math studies to understand what a derivative is.

Same with matrix.

matrix3


Nine floating point values representing a 3D rotation matrix or a 2D transformation matrix


{ {1,0,0}, {0,1,0}, {0,0,1} }

Again…crystal clear.

http://www.sidefx.com/docs/houdini/vex/lang.html [www.sidefx.com]

The way people are talking about the docs is that this is not enough.

Would you really want all the content of these 77 videos on Linear Algebra stuck in the docs so you have a better understanding of what a matrix is and how it can be used - like it is in many different aspects of Houdini?

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9rTsvTxJnx1DNrDA3Rqa6A [www.youtube.com]
Edited by BabaJ - June 21, 2018 09:21:29
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What I don't want is this discussion to turn into throwing stones at each other for no reason.
What I do want is a thriving and inclusive community that is not afraid of Houdini because of the “you have to write rocket science code” notoriety.
Anyone who wishes to remain “too cool for this” are welcome to go about their own respective routines.
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