Why I turned to Houdini (after years with Maya and Blender)

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Usually I avoid posting here, but after reading so many opinions about Blender around this community pages I want to make a couple of things somewhat clearer from my own experience. You may have whatever opinion you like, but so may I, as long as we respect one another, right?

Here are some background notes just to help you understand I'm not just posting opinions:
* Used a couple of different 3D animation packages since 90:s. (not very seriously)
* University degree in computer science, with a major in computer graphics - we used Maya primarily (2007-2010).
* Freelancing work with Maya a couple of years (freelance generalist, 2010-2013).
* Teaching Blender character creation, texturing, rigging and animation (high school level, 1.5 years).
* Sticking with Blender a couple of years, focusing on characters for realistic VFX.

After all this I regret that I did not learn Houdini from the first day. Why? Maya, out of the box, was not a great experience when it comes to dynamics. It was also confirmed by an industry expert (who worked on major shots for a very known movie from Weta) that for example mentioned that effects that were done in "months" with Maya, were later done in "days" with Houdini. There is also a reason why studios turn to Houdini for dynamics. What about the rest of Maya, well, in my opinion that leads to Blender. If you have the intention to run your own CG/VFX-studio and you do not need dynamics, you neither need Maya because you can do (maybe) it with Blender. In the case of Maya, at least at that time, seemed to depend so much on additional plug-ins for "the real effects". Additionaly, it became obvious that having different type of dynamics integrate well in Maya was either impossible or simply out of reach. Maybe that has improved with time, but the experience all in all was a disappointment to say the least, and stood in stark contrast to the "hype" that existed and probably till exist about how excellent the software actually is.

So I went with Blender a couple of years. That was long enough to basically be able to teach the UI, the character creation part, rigging and animation. Meanwhile, I got involved in the RenderMan for Blender project, at least tried to support it and follow the development. Previously I did the same with another related project regarding 3delight for Blender. Long story short, both those projects became a disappointment for me as well, and a waste of time. Since what was going on behind the public scene was kept secret I (or we) will probably never know the full reasons, for example why great developers decide to go somewhere else. If the RenderMan for Blender project has gained momentum again or not, I do not know, and for my interests neither care any longer.

However, I tried to stick with Blender for a couple of years to see if it was possible to go all the way (and replace Maya, for example). It has been many years since I left Blender, but the main turnoff was the insight that it will not manage dynamics very well. If you're looking for "stylized cartoonish animation" you could get away with Blender, but if you would like to achieve dynamics with realism in character effects you (at least at that time) would probably fail. The tools available, at least at that time, and the "hacks" one had to do lacked proper control, performance and quality. To compare with Houdini I did some tests with the FEM-system and the functionality and quality for character dynamic effects was there out of the box. After all those years of hard studies I never ever was able to achieve anything like that with either Maya, nor Blender.

My summary is this:

With Maya, you can do those generalist stuff, and with the know how and probably some add-ons you could also do some dynamics.

With Blender you can do those generalist tasks, but as far as I've seen myself and anything published (and I've been searching hard) you probably will not be effective with a broad range of dynamic effects. My conclusion for Blender is that it works for some game assets, still image renders, and stylized cartoonish movies. What seeminlgy many "garage enthusiasts" call VFX is a joke. I'm sorry if you get upset, but with sincerety I share with you that I've not found a single VFX-reel from Blender that looks realistic. Still image shots do not count. Game quality renders is not real VFX. However, there are certainly some great engineering inside of Blender, for example Eevee rendering, polygon modeling and sculpting. However, with my experience from Maya and what I've seen so far after struggling with Blender, I am seriously questioning the features that are possible to implement reagarding dynamics.

So what about Houdini then? Well you can actually do the generalist tasks. Probably you might visit ZBrush, or even Blender, for some tasks but the tools are there (there are enough reels and movie credits to prove it). On my workstation (doing this currently as some kind of hobby at the moment) I do integrate Houdini, ZBrush and also Blender, without any serious issues. For example, for a character rig it is very easy to send as mesh to ZBrush and integrate it back using the Blend shape node (to keep all attributes). It is a matter of seconds to do that.

The thing with Houdini that make it superior to the other competitors, as a main package, is the fact that it started out with dynamics (please inform me if I have misunderstood this). In my perspective I could not see the same with the other ones mentioned. In my perspective it will be feasible for sidefx to actually perfect the generalist pipeline tools as well as continue to build the already superior dynamics features. However, I seriously doubt that this will ever happen to the other contestants (as a main package), and I've given them years of my life to support them in this regard, and I'm sorry whoever you are that believe otherwise, but I regret wasting those years.

So please, think about this when you read seemingly "fanatic statements" about other software packages (without the actual experience behind it). They are great in some regards, but if you are looking for realism and dynamics that is already available and superior, Houdini is your reliable package. The generalist tools (which are seemingly easier to implement than dynamics) are steadily under development and are getting better, and you can always use other tools for that whenever you feel like it.

Finally, the cost for an Indie license is about, or less, than what you could get for a single day of freelance work. Blender being "free" is not really an argument if you plan to get paid for your work.

Enjoy Houdini!
Full time IT-teacher (8y) / junior TD / Debian11 XFCE / Zbrush (Wine) / Python / VNC / networks / two small kids / BSc CS:CG / Stockholm
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SWest
The thing with Houdini that make it superior to the other competitors, as a main package, is the fact that it started out with dynamics (please inform me if I have misunderstood this).

I would go even farther and be even more general than that. I basically never use any of the dynamics and what makes Houdini great for me is that it is basically an operating system for building 3D tools.

When I was first exposed to Houdini about 10 years ago I completely misunderstood what it was. I thought it was just another 3D application for building and rendering assets like Maya, 3DS Max, Blender, etc. and all of the associated ecosystems around them. What I completely failed to understand is that Houdini is fundamentally a platform for building 3D tools, which also just happens to include some prebuilt tools out of the box.

Ever since coming back to Houdini about 5 years ago, and actually realizing what it was this time, I've been kicking myself for not getting it the first time around and wasting all of those years.
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What I really don't understand is why this monogamist attitude? What's wrong with using various tools for what they're good for?

For sims, nothing out there beats Houdini (for the time being). But for other tasks such as sculpting, modeling, texturing, painting, etc. I think there are much better solutions.

Do you think VFX studios set on a single DCC for everything and god forbid if someone brings up the name of a different product?

I say use what is needed based on the strengths of each application, there is absolutely no need to denigrate other apps just because you decided that you need to be "married" to only one -- talk about not thinking outside the box!
>>Kays
For my Houdini tutorials and more visit:
https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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I've used many DCCs in my life (3dsmax+plugins, XSI, C4D, Maya, Houdini, ...) and I wouldn't say any of that was the time wasted
all of that helped me to see different approaches and workflows, learn what's possible and understand how things work
I've been using Houdini for 15 years and I wouldn't claim it's the best even in dynamics, highly depends on the task
what I love about Houdini though is that it's pretty flexible and open to roll out my own solutions if necessary, not that I always want to
but it's always good to keep your eyes open for all the amazing tech other DCCs are implementing, its a good source of inspiration or even useful in production to be able to leverage other tools without waiting for something similar to be implemented in Houdini
Tomas Slancik
FX Supervisor
Method Studios, NY
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Midphase
What I really don't understand is why this monogamist attitude? What's wrong with using various tools for what they're good for?

I mean... the OP clearly stated he uses Houdini+ZBrush+Blender and he likes it. I read it as less a monogamist mindset, but a "fuck-you-maya" article :p
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Kays, nothing wrong with that. No, I do not believe that.


tamte
highly depends on the task

Tomas, thanks for your input. We all come from somewhat different backgrounds, live in various situations, and have more or less different directions. I've never worked for a larger studio though.



jedfrechette
it is basically an operating system for building 3D tools.

Jed, it is interesting to read other people's stories. Yes, when things take long to figure out I try to remind myself that it is almost like developing a program that can be reused. You need to make a basic concept, test it, and keep developing and refining it. The (Python) API of Houdini is huge to say the least.
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Controversial points for me, mostly around the "Game quality renders is not real VFX". VFX is about faking what is happening in real world (to some degree). You are saying that faking should somehow be "real"? That is ludicrously self-contradicting.
Pretty much all of Arcane VFX were hand-made (drawn/designed) and stylized, virtually none of them were "real VFX", and yet it looked amazing and above and beyond most productions of the last... decade?

It's not an attack on you, it's just your phrasing is not le best. I understand what you are saying all in all with that thought. I just could not read that and not reply, i can't help it

ps - i am currently doing some stylized VFX for a game using H
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osong
Controversial points for me, mostly around the "Game quality renders is not real VFX". VFX is about faking what is happening in real world (to some degree). You are saying that faking should somehow be "real"? That is ludicrously self-contradicting.
Pretty much all of Arcane VFX were hand-made (drawn/designed) and stylized, virtually none of them were "real VFX", and yet it looked amazing and above and beyond most productions of the last... decade?

It's not an attack on you, it's just your phrasing is not le best. I understand what you are saying all in all with that thought. I just could not read that and not reply, i can't help it

ps - i am currently doing some stylized VFX for a game using H

So when I wrote that my mind was telling me that this will step on a couple of people's toes. However I still wrote it and retain this opinion. However, you could write "VFX for games" and that I would accept fully. Let me explain a little. I studied animation and VFX for TV, webb and movies, and not for games. You mentioned the expression "stylized VFX" and this is a very good description, and I would use the same also for certain movie effects that does not look believable or realistic. Let's look at the bigger picture regarding movies. When people go to cinema, or maybe even watch a good movie at home, at least for great movies they are supposed to enter a state I think it is called "suspension of disbelief". They are supposed to start to think that what they are seeing on the screen is actually happening in front of them, at least in their sensation of the movie. It is not until the movie is finished and the credit text shoes up that they actually start thinking about that it was "only a movie". Movies people usually do not really like, or with very poor rating, do not achieve it. That could simply be because of the acting and have nothing to do with any visual effects. You think about such movies as something made by a film crew, while you are watching them. Great movies will make you think, for a while, that what you see is really happening and will touch you emotionally. You might start caring for the protagonist (main actor), and hope he or she will survive or manage the drama or action. This leads to the importance of "real" VFX. That is the type of visual effects that does not break the suspension of disbelief. Imagine seeing the Benjamin Button movie, and suddenly there is water simulation that looks really stylized. You would probably jump in your seat and wonder what happened with the movie? Another label for "real VFX" is "invisible" effects, meaning you see it but do not think about it as effects. There is a software called "realflow", I think the authors who named it are playing with words and relating to the same idea, but this is my guess. Invisible effects just seem to match the movie perfectly and "non-VFX" people do not think about them as effects. However, I think nowadays you have a lot of movies with stylized VFX where the audience maybe not really start to believe that what they are seeing is actually happening, but they are simply entertained by a bunch of massive visual magic. I remember watching "Lord of the Rings" (can not remember which part) and when there was this massive slaughter scenes with just a few superheroes my mind could no longer accept what I saw and I lost the suspension of disbelief and simply just started watching some events on the screen and did not really care what happened any longer. So "real VFX" is opposed to "stylized VFX". There is something called "practical effects", and they are actually not done in a computer. What is "real" just looks real for the audience, but all know that neither the effects or anything is actually for real (neither the camera, the set, nor the actors). I guess there are many experts who would like to argue about it, but I would point out that there is a difference between those VFX people who know how to achieve the effects that really would trick anyone, and those who simply can push out what is obviously just effects. Personally I do have a special respect for those people who has developed the know how to achieve that type of effects that can really trick the eye, i.e. invisible effects. However, there are plenty of genres and especially games where you can simply have a good job doing stylized effects. Additionally I think there is not any point in trying to achieve "invisible VFX" in games, because then everything has to reach that level and I do not think it is possible (it is too expensive). It can be extremely time consuming and challenging to push effects to that level and with the wrong tools it is not possible. Sorry for the first chapter of my book here, but I hope it clarifies where I'm coming from. To make highly believable VFX or invisible effects one must be able to have precise control of the moving geometry as well as the lighting and rendering, to support compositing well, and any artifacts are unacceptable. This is not easy or quick to do. This was a long explanation of the difference between believable VFX and stylized VFX.

If you do stylized VFX there is nothing bad about it, actually personally I do believe it can be a little bit more fun to do stylized, because it is so demanding to make anything look very realistic.

Feel free to express your thoughts and I do not mind if you have other opinions. However, it is preferable if you ask for an explanation for something rather than feeling bad.
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like i said, i understand what you are saying. and i don't feel bad about any of this (doing stylized vfx or whatnot), i've done my fair share of realistic renderings through the years

There's a lot of movies that are relying upon "fantastic" vfx, anywhere from Harry Potter franchise to Disney remakes. I don't want it to be real or invisible, i want it to be "magical", far from "real" if you get what i'm saying. They still look very high quality despite being surreal.

Essentially, if we replace the initial wording about "game quality vfx" with "not good enough vfx" , this will solve the contradiction for me.

Then there's whole animation industry that has explosions drawn by hand and all that. I guess what i am saying is that narrowing down the VFX types, roles, and definitions is nothing but putting a restriction on your own point of view on the matter.

... and low quality is bad, however it was made. I think we can call it... "not good enough VFX"

hopefully this clears up a bit what i am trying to say
Edited by osong - Sept. 19, 2022 12:42:55
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Paragraph breaks people....paragraph breaks!
>>Kays
For my Houdini tutorials and more visit:
https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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What is amusing to me is that while there's this idea that we're all busy doing massive destruction and simming devastating natural disasters -- the reality is that most of us in VFX are working on painting out booms mics and crew members who walked into the shot, compositing (poorly shot) green screens, and adding the occasional set extension.

On a current feature film project that I'm working on, the extent of my CG expertise was pushed to the limit as I was tasked to create...electrical panels and switches on a wall!

I've done smoke sims for my films, but when working on someone else's project on a tight deadline with an equally tight hourly rate, I rely on filmed stock smoke elements which do the trick just fine and please the client.

Of course there are those who are currently engaged in working on high end Marvel and Star Wars types of projects -- kudos to all of you lucky fu--ers. But for many of us, the extent of VFX work is stuff that nobody in 100 years would think was a VFX shot in the first place!
Edited by Midphase - Sept. 19, 2022 12:54:13
>>Kays
For my Houdini tutorials and more visit:
https://www.youtube.com/c/RightBrainedTutorials [www.youtube.com]
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Paragraph breaks people....paragraph breaks!
I have two small children, and had to push the button man.
Edited by SWest - Sept. 19, 2022 15:29:57
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