Mastering Destruction in Houdini

An 8-week course on creating feature-film-quality destruction effects for film

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Use Houdini and create amazing effects for film

Unleash your inner FX monster, and let's smash some buildings! In this destruction course, students will learn a comprehensive set of skills to develop beautiful work with a high degree of artistic control. This will include fracturing, RBD simulation, dust, debris, and adding details from real-world reference material. However, students will learn more than just the technical setups alone - they'll also learn about production pipeline considerations, and innovative unique workflows for art-directing damage (both with & without simulation). By the end of the class, students will have a feature-film-quality destruction shot for their demo reel!

Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 10-15 hours per week viewing lecture videos, participating in q&a's, and working on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Houdini 17
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Basic working knowledge in Houdini or equivalent | Course Prereq: Intro to FX Using Houdini

Mastering Destruction in Houdini WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Over the course of the entire 8 weeks, we'll be building upon the same scene, adding layers of complexity and realism with every step. In week 1, we'll discuss fracturing our 3d geometry to achieve realistic results. We'll cover voronoi and boolean fracturing, debugging common fracture problems, and then create some custom reusable tools (HDAs) to streamline our destruction workflow! While creating our destruction HDAs, you'll also be introduced to VDB volumes and learn why they're so useful for various types of processing.
In week 2, you will learn how to prepare a building asset for destruction, and how to efficiently fracture the geometry. You'll also learn what packed geometry is and how to work with it. We'll even create some additional HDAs to assist in our destruction workflow.
Now that we've fractured our geometry and prepared it for destruction, we can finally start running our rigid body simulations using Houdini's Bullet solver! We will discuss the following: Simulation setup/parameters in detail | Various options for controlling velocity/activation/etc | Working with proxy geometry | Organic/deforming vs rigid colliders | Artistic approach for the first pass at RBD simulation | The most efficient & flexible workflow for caching your simulations
This week you'll learn how to set up constraints to control our simulations. We will focus on Glue constraints, but discuss other constraint types as well. We'll also develop a mixture of manually-created & auto-generated constraints, and learn various clumping techniques for art-directing the simulation.
In a final & finished shot, only a portion of the detail that you see on screen is simulated. Some of that geometric detail is added as a post-simulation process. We'll look at real-world reference and add procedural rebar construction detail to our scene. We'll also add in some procedurally sculpted damage detail to the building geometry itself. As an optional step, we will discuss efficiently adding extra simulated props to the scene for even more realism!
Once we've developed a nice primary rigid body destruction simulation, it's time to add the finer details. We'll look at emitting debris from the RBD sim, and go over both particle-based & RBD-based options for the secondary debris emission. We'll also create custom HDAs to streamline our RBD-emission workflow.
There are various ways to shatter glass, and the best approach is highly dependent on the scenario you're dealing with in your shot. In week 7, we'll discuss glass fracturing, the various options available for you to simulate glass shatters, and how to choose which technique(s) are best for your shot.
A beautiful dust simulation is one of the most important parts of any destruction shot. It's often the most prominent and most visible element, and often the most difficult element to get right! In this final week, we'll discuss my recommended workflows for sourcing/simulating dust, working with collisions, and efficiently caching. The final look is also highly dependent on the shading/rendering of your simulation, and we'll cover that important part of the process as well. Finally, we'll briefly discuss compositing your rendered elements for a beautiful finished reel-worthy piece.

Unleashing your creativity

Keith Kamholz is a Lead FX Technical Director at DNEG, and he has previously worked at Industrial Light & Magic, Blue Sky Studios, Tippett Studio, and Framestore NY. He's worked on more than 15 feature films, with credit highlights including Pacific Rim: Uprising, Venom, Jurassic World, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, & Ice Age: Continental Drift. Keith has also presented some of his destruction techniques at SIGGRAPH 2018, courtesy of SideFX. He earned a dual-major B.A. in Computer Science & Media Study at SUNY Buffalo, and an M.S. in Digital Imaging and Design at NYU's CADA.


May 6th!

spring TERM Registration

Feb 11, 2019 - Apr 26, 2019




May 6th!

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

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

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