Learning Houdini Journal 03: First Steps
Staff Writer By: Ricky Grove (gToon)
This is the third entry of what will be a year-long journal on learning the 3D application Houdini, created by Side Effects Software. Houdini is a sophisticated application that is widely used in the production of visual effects for Hollywood films such as Big Hero 6, Mad Max: Fury Road and many others.
In my previous Learning Houdini Journal, I discussed my research on learning methods and went over some of the resources I'm using to get started with Houdini.
First Steps With Houdini
I wonder if that's why there is such a plethora of 3D applications that are designed to remove this fear factor; a drop and drag style interface with assets already provided for you. People want to get past the slow learning process and get right to creating something that looks good. I can see this point of view, but there are real benefits to being patient and deliberate in learning a 3D application like Houdini. One is: deeper knowledge that leads to a much better creative experience. Another benefit is that the complexity and professionalism of your work will be higher for having taken the time to properly learn the 3D application.
So, to make my point: Houdini demands a careful, thorough approach to learning. Some of which can be tedious, but you still have to go through it step by step.
Learning the Interface
One of the biggest surprises in getting to know the Houdini 15 interface is that there are traditional methods of creating/manipulating 3D objects in the "Shelf" area of Houdini. For some reason, I had imagined that Houdini was entirely node-based. Quoting from the documentation for Houdini 15:
That makes so much sense: Houdini creates the nodes for you in the Network pane if you use the shelf tools. You can then move over and adjust the created node any way you like. This is a relief as I thought I would only be able to work on objects procedurally. Not sure why I thought that, but I'm glad to rid my self of that misconception.
The nearly 8 hour course uses Houdini Apprentice and has course materials. I'm working my way through learning the interface, memorizing the keyboard shortcuts and trying to get a handle on the various move tools available. One question that came up during a part of the course where you import an .obj model made in another 3D package: Can you use the shelf tools on the imported model, or do you only have access to changing the model via the nodes? This is a question I'll be asking in the sidefx.com forum for beginners.
Just before this journal entry was finished, I was introduced to Chris Maynard at cimiVFX, a professional training company that has very deep learning systems for Houdini. I really like the site, but I'm debating if I really need to work a formal approach to learning the software. Something I'll have to think about.
Note: the "Introduction to Houdini 15" course at pluralsight.com is free for 30 days as are several other Houdini tutorials there.
Next: Getting the Houdini 15 Workflow Down.