|This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2006)|
|Developer(s)||Side Effects Software|
|Stable release||12.5 / March 14, 2013|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux|
|Type||Motion graphics / 3D computer graphics / 3D animation|
Houdini is a high-end 3D animation application software developed by Side Effects Software of Toronto. Side Effects adapted Houdini from the PRISMS suite of procedural generation software tools. Its exclusive attention to procedural generation distinguishes it from other 3D computer graphics software.
Side Effects also publishes a version called Houdini Apprentice, which is free for non-commercial use.
Houdini covers all the major areas of 3D production, including:
- Modeling - All standard geometry entities including Polygons, (Hierarchical) NURBs/Bézier Curves/Patches & Trims, Metaballs
- Animation - Keyframed animation and raw channel manipulation (CHOPs), motion capture support
- Dynamics - Rigid Body Dynamics, Computational Fluid Dynamics, Wire (Curve) Dynamics, Cloth Simulation
- Lighting - node-based shader authoring, lighting and re-lighting in an IPR viewer
- Rendering - supporting a variety of renderers; besides Mantra: Renderman, mental ray and various 3rd party support
- Volumetrics - generations/population/manipulation/rendering of scalar- and vectorfields
- Compositing - full compositor of floating-point deep (layered) images
- Plugin Development - development libraries for user extensibility
Houdini is an open-environment and supports a variety of scripting APIs. Python is increasingly the scripting language of choice for the package, and is intended to substitute its original CShell-like scripting language, Hscript. However, any major scripting languages which support socket communication can interface with Houdini.
Houdini is available for Windows, Mac OSX and a few Linux distributions including: Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat Enterprise, Fedora Core and Open SUSE. A 64-bit system is recommended with a minimum 4GB of memory as well as a certified video card. Some software functions such as Flip and Pyro dynamics solvers can be used with OpenCL compatibles GPU's, however multiple GPU's are not supported at this time. Most portions of Houdini 12 and higher are multithreaded and will take advantage of multiple core cpus.
Houdini's procedural nature is found in its operators - digital assets are generally constructed by connecting sequences of operations (or OPs). This proceduralism has several advantages: it allows users to construct highly detailed geometric or organic objects in comparatively very few steps compared to other packages; it enables and encourages non-linear development; and new operators can be created in terms of existing operators, a flexible alternative to non-procedural scripting often relied on in other packages for customisation. Houdini uses this procedural paradigm throughout: for textures, shaders, particles, "channel data" (data used to drive animation), rendering and compositing.
Houdini's operator-based structure is divided into several main groups:
- OBJs - nodes that pass transform information (Traditionally these contain SOPs.)
- SOPs - surface operators - for procedural modelling.
- POPs - particle simulation operators.
- CHOPs - channel operators - for procedural animation and audio manipulation.
- COPs - composite operators.
- DOPs - dynamic operators - for dynamic simulations for fluids, cloth, rigid body interaction etc.
- SHOPs - Shading Operator - for representing a dozen or more different shading types for several different renderers.
- ROPs - render operators - for building networks to represent different render passes and render dependencies.
- VOPs - VEX operators - for building nodes of any of the above types using a highly optimized SIMD architecture.
Operators are connected together in networks. Data flows through, manipulated by each operator in turn. This data could represent 3D geometry, bitmap images, particles, dynamics, shader algorithms, animation, audio, or a combination of these. This node graph architecture is similar to that employed in node-based compositors such as Shake or Nuke.
Complex networks can be grouped into a single meta-operator node which behaves like a class definition, and can be instantiated in other networks like any compiled node. In this way users can create their own sophisticated tools without the need for programming. In this way Houdini can be regarded as a highly interactive visual programming toolkit which makes programming more accessible to artists.
Houdini's set of tools are mostly implemented as operators. This has led to a higher learning curve than other comparable tools. It is one thing to know what all the nodes do - but the key to success with Houdini is understanding how to represent a desired creative outcome as a network of nodes. Successful users are generally familiar with a large repertoire of networks (algorithms) which achieve standard creative outcomes. The overhead involved in acquiring this repertoire of algorithms is offset by the artistic and algorithmic flexibility afforded by access to lower level building blocks with which to configure shot element creation routines. In large productions, the development of a procedural network to solve a specific element creation challenge makes automation trivial. Many studios that use Houdini on large feature effects, and feature animation projects develop libraries of procedures that can be used to automate generation of many of the elements for that film with almost no artist interaction.
Also unique to Houdini is the range of I/O OPs available to animators, including MIDI devices, raw files or TCP connections, audio devices (including built-in phoneme and pitch detection), mouse cursor position, and so on. Of particular note is Houdini's ability to work with audio, including sound and music synthesis and spatial 3D sound processing tools. These operators exist in the context called "CHOPs" for which Side Effects won a Technical Achievement Academy Award in 2002.
VEX (Vector Expression) is one of Houdini's internal languages. It is similar to the RenderMan shading language. Using VEX a user can develop custom SOPs, POPs, shaders, etc. The current implementation of VEX utilizes SIMD-style processing.
Houdini is bundled with a production-class renderer, Mantra, which has many similarities to PhotoRealistic RenderMan in its scope and application. Micropolygon rendering is supported, allowing high-quality displacement operations as well as traditional scan-line and raytracing modes. Shaders are scriptable and composed in their VEX language, or by using VOPs; their node-based interface to programming VEX. Mantra (as does Houdini itself) also supports point-clouds, which can be similar in application as brickmaps in Renderman. This allows more complicated light interactions, such as sub-surface scattering and ambient occlusion, to be produced with lower computational overhead. Mantra can perform extremely fast volume rendering, and also Physically Based Rendering - a technique which attempts to more accurately model the interactions of light.
Industry reception and use
Historically, Houdini's main strength has been its particle animation system, and its major weakness is its unintuitive animation tools. As a result, its use was relegated to visual effects. However, in more recent versions these tools have been vastly improved and it has been used in various feature animation productions, such as The Wild, a major Disney feature film as well as the feature animation Ant Bully.
Derivative Inc. is a spin-off of Side Effects Software that markets a derivative of Houdini called TouchDesigner. Tailored toward real-time OpenGL-generated animation, it was used on rock group Rush's 30th Year Anniversary Tour to produce dynamic graphics driven directly by the musicians. TouchDesigner was also used to create live visuals for Amon Tobin's ISAM installation tour.
Version release history
- 13.0 October 31, 2013 
- 12.5 March 1, 2013 
- 12.0 March 1, 2012 
- 11.0 July 27, 2010 
- 10.0 April 16, 2009 
- 9.5: July 17, 2008 
- 9.1: January 30, 2008 
- 9.0: September 20, 2007 
- 8.1: June 2006 
- 8.0: October 2005 
- 7.0: September 2004 
- 6.0: May 2003 
- 5.5: May 2002 
- 5.5: 2002 
- 5.0: 2002 
- 4.0: 2000 
- 3.0: 1999 
- 2.5: 1998 
- 1.0: 1996 
- PRISMS 7.0: <1996 
- PRISMS 6.0: <1996 
- "HOUDINI 12.5 RELEASED". Retrieved March 14, 2013.
- Side Effects Software, Makers of Houdini
- Orbolt, Houdini Asset Store
- Animatrix, Houdini Operator Library
- qLib, Houdini Operator Library
- Derivative Inc., spin-off of Side Effects Software and maker of TouchDesigner.
- odforce - a Houdini artist community site
- 3Daet , A project-based Houdini site built by its users.
- Houdini community page on Facebook
- PRISMS description and screenshots