Look development and lighting play a key role at the back-end of the pipeline. This process involves creative tasks such as scene assembly and lighting, and mechanical steps such as asset and shot management. Lots of tweaks and changes occur throughout this process and these iterations must be turned over quickly. Houdini’s procedural approach is ideal for assembling scenes and then managing the process right through to compositing. Along the way, you can use Houdini Mantra or any other third party renderer to perfect the look of your shots.

Houdini’s node-based workflow creates a natural flow of data as you work through the back-end of your pipeline. You can import static or animated geometry and feed it into an artist-friendly network of nodes to prepare it for rendering. As you make changes to your models or animation, these edits will automatically flow through the same network. Technical details are handled quickly and you will not have to rely on lots of coding for day-to-day tasks. Whether you are working on feature films, television VFX or high-end commercials, this approach offers a number of key benefits which will make getting shots finished on time easier than ever before.

Scene Assembly

Bringing together shot elements and managing them throughout the creative process plays a big role in a successful lighting pipeline. In Houdini, you can utilize Digital Assets which let you encapsulate geometry, materials, textures and motion into single nodes which can be reliably referenced into multiple scenes. The assets can be shared throughout a production and easily updated to accommodate changes.

Houdini also supports geometry caches saved out using either Houdini’s bgeo format, FBX or coming soon - Alembic. Using Houdini Batch, a non-graphical version of Houdini, you can also build an external asset management solution which assembles Digital Assets into scene files at render time for maximum flexibility.

Non-Linear Lighting Workflow

Houdini’s lights can also be set up as digital assets and distributed throughout a production. Lights can be bundled into custom tools so that senior artists can control the big picture while junior artists do the shot-by-shot tweaks. This makes it easy to manage the results while allowing for lots of iterations. Assets can be easily updated and distributed to all the necessary shots.

Production-Proven Mantra

Mantra is a hybrid renderer which combines a traditional scanline approach with a more accurate physically-based approach. You can use Houdini’s interactive shader builder to set up your materials then use fast motion blur, depth of field and sub-surface scattering to achieve highly realistic results.

Houdini and Mantra can also be used to render out 3D Stereoscopic images. Use the Stereo camera to set up your shot and determine the ideal interaxial distance. With 3D movies being released all the time, being able to make the right decisions in your 3D app is important.

Volume Rendering

In line with Houdini’s reputation as a great tool for VFX artists, Mantra is an ideal solution for rendering volumes. These 3D grids which are often created during smoke or fire simulation contain valuable information such as density, heat or temperature. Mantra is able to grab this information and use it to generate high quality results. Point clouds can be generated inside the volumes to add sub-surface scattering and light the effect from inside. You also have control over edge filtering to either sharpen or soften the rendered look of the volume.

Multiple Render Engines

Houdini’s open architecture is designed to handle multiple render engines. Pixar RenderMan support is built-in including a node-based RSL shader builder. A Python-based back-end called SOHO lets you hook in your favorite renderer as needed. Once the renderer is connected then setting up a shot in Houdini uses the same workflow as Mantra and different renderers can be used to output different render layers belonging to the same shot.

In cases where you are committed to a third party renderer, it is possible to use your unlimited Mantra tokens for turntable animations and test shots then use the same user experience to output to your chosen rendering solution for final output. Along the way, you may actually find the Mantra output meeting your needs and actually use it for your final shots.


Houdini lets you output render passes using a wide variety of image planes or AOVs (Arbitrary Output Variable). From depth, to diffuse, reflect and refract, Houdini lets you break down your shot on a per light basis to provide the compositing team with maximum flexibility. You can also set up custom attributes inside your materials and export them as custom image planes for your compositing team. There are even diagnostic channels available which give you information such as which parts of a shot are most efficient and which are taking the longest to render.

Robust Back-End Tools

At the back-end, the use of Digital Assets can be used to organize your shots and optimize your output. You can use Delayed Load Archives to import geometry to manage memory at render time and allow for unlimited levels of complexity. Houdini also supports point instancing and render procedurals for hair and fur.

Every copy of Houdini comes with unlimited Mantra tokens making it easy to load up your farm. Renderings can then be distributed using either Houdini’s HQueue or a wide range of third party render farm solutions. You can also use HQueue to render to the Amazon EC2 cloud to fulfill your on-demand needs.

Learn how can you light your scenes with Houdini and Mantra:

To try out Houdini and experience the advantages of going procedural with your lighting and rendering, you can use the Houdini personal tools to evaluate, learn and develop real projects or contact Side Effects at to talk about your needs and to arrange for a webinar demonstration. There are many ways that Houdini can help you in your work and we look forward to helping you find new levels of productivity in your day-to-day work.


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