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Abstract Effects in Houdini

An 8-week course using Houdini as a design tool that focuses on abstraction and non-traditional FX

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Create abstract effects using Houdini

Virtually every tool in Houdini can be used for abstraction. Houdini is a means to an end, but not the end in itself. This class will focus on using Houdini outside of the traditional FX pipeline. Houdini can do much more than simulations and explosions. Here, we’ll be using Houdini as a design tool, focusing on abstraction and non-traditional FX. We’ll be looking at lots of inspirational forms from nature and architecture and learning how to create procedural networks that capture the essence of them. Rather than completing one large project, we’ll be tackling small tools and concepts that you can use as building blocks for larger ideas and visions. The goal is to get you thinking procedurally, embracing the core concepts of Houdini and pushing you into new creative territory by expanding your tool set. *Lectures are recorded by Adam Swaab; the course is currently being taught by Alex Lombardi.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded lectures each week
Feedback:   Individually recorded
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Deadlines each week
Q&A:   Live recorded session
Materials:   Houdini, Nuke
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Working knowledge of Houdini and some coding experience is recommended.

Abstract Effects in Houdini WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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We need to start from an understanding of design principles and how they relate to CG image creation. It’s not enough to press random buttons and hope for a good result. We need to know why we are doing something, not just accept that it “feels right.” This week is about establishing our methodology and way of thinking. We’ll also learn some fundamental tools of procedural modeling and create our first abstract image. | CHAPTERS: We discuss the fundamentals of abstract design, using examples. | Discuss the challenge of making tools for abstractions (i.e. automation vs. control, chaos vs/ complexity) | How does procedural modeling work? How can we insure our designs can really be “procedural” and able to change and adapt at any time? | Walk-through of various modeling tools in Houdini | Grouping strategies | Using attributes to control modeling functions | For/Each loops for modeling
What does it mean to make something “more organic?” A lot of times it means we need to add variation into our designs. So, how do we do this? This week, we’ll be discussing ways of adding randomization and subtle variation. We’ll look at the available noise functions, understand their uses and differences, and build upon our knowledge from week 1. | CHAPTERS: Difference between randomness and noise | Understanding of different noise functions and how to use them in each context | Displacing and warping noises | Understanding the different spaces that noises work in | Using noise functions for modeling | Using noise functions to add variation to elements | Using noise functions in channels to create time-based noise
This week is a hard look at all things related to the copy SOP. We’ll dive deep into copy and instancing attributes, stamping expressions, and learn how to harness the full power of the suite of copy operators. We’ll also discuss when and how to instance geometry at render time and do so efficiently. | CHAPTERS: Basic copying | Using attributes to manipulate copies | Understanding rotations and how to align your copies correctly | Inheriting point attributes | Stamp expression fundamentals | Building a controller to animate copy properties | How to instance geometry at render time and control instance properties
Volumes are used all over Houdini, but for the average user, are little understood. This week, we are going to discuss all things related to volumes in Houdini. We’ll specifically discuss VDB workflows, and how we can create forms that would be almost impossible to model by hand or with other processes. | CHAPTERS: Understanding voxels and the data they hold | Difference between Houdini volumes and VDB volumes | Special considerations when using VDBs | Merging and blending volumes | Smoothing volumes | Understanding the Volume VOP and Volume Wrangle | Displacing volumes | Volume analysis tools | Different ways of rendering volumes
Point clouds can be used for all kinds of effects, but can seem intimidating at first. We are going to make them simple and easy to understand, looking at ways of using them in various contexts. We’ll do a small amount of coding here, assuming you have no previous coding experience. | CHAPTERS: What are point clouds and what do they do? | Understanding how to invoke a point cloud lookup in an attribute VOP | Coding primer | Understanding how to invoke a point cloud lookup in an attribute Wrangle | Filtering points | Looping through the points in the point cloud handle | Using point clouds for modeling operations | Using point clouds to direct particle systems | Using point clouds in shader context and generating point clouds from a shader
Fractals: recursive and repetitive forms are a hallmark of a specific genre of abstract effects. We’ll look at different ways of “fractalizing” geometry in Houdini, from implementing simple fractals to L-Systems. | CHAPTERS: What are fractals? | Writing code to make a fractal flame system | L systems - understanding node rewriting and node replacement | Recursive particle systems - creating trees and grid patterns with particles | For-Each Geometry recursion
Emergent and evolving systems give a mathematical approach to mimicking nature. These systems evolve over time to simulate growth processes that are analogous to the real world. We’ll look at a few growth algorithms and learn how to make our own system with our own rules. | CHAPTERS: Understanding the Solver SOP | The Space colonization algorithm | Game of life | Cellular division and evolution
We have assembled a large amount of tools and knowledge. This week, we’ll focus on how to bring that knowledge into a final product. We’ll look at rendering tips, material settings, and how to finish a piece. | CHAPTERS: The principled and classic shader | Lights and cameras | Tips for rendering with Mantra | How to pass geometry attributes to shaders | How to rebuild your beauty pass in Nuke and make tweaks and compositing adjustments

Unleashing your creative potential

Having worked in some of the biggest Hollywood VFX houses Alex brings a wide range of Fx experience. Whether it's smashing up vehicles, setting up automated systems for sequences, or complex character effects, Alex offers a unique view into approaching the most complex effects. Alex is the co-founder of Stormborn Studios in Vancouver, Canada, a boutique studio that specializes in Houdini effects.


July 21st!

winter TERM Registration

May 14, 2019 - Jul 23, 2019




July 21st!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

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