3d artist Alexander Weide talked about the way Houdini can save you time and money during your production.
We’ve had a chance to talk with Alexander Weide – a great 3d and VFX artist, who does some amazing stuff with Houdini. He talked about various features of the software and how you can use it in your daily workflow. Plus he talked about how much processing power do you actually need to start working with Houdini.
My Name is Alexander Weide. I am 31 years old and from Germany. I do 3D animations and all various kinds of image composites, since I was twelve years old. As you pointed out, when I was a child, I thought and looked for ways of filming my own Star Wars Movie. It was a dream and since then I followed consequently the path of doing VFX. Around 10 years, after my dream was born, I was working for Ambient Entertainment in Germany on Impy’s Island 2. After Impy’s Island 2, I was working mostly for commercials projects , pitches for Sartorius, Grohe, Villeroy & Boch A. Lange & Soehne and a lot of others too. This experience as a employee helped me a lot in getting efficient in daily work. Today I am self-employed. Since then I have created some of the major scenes for the short film Phoenix 9 and some heavy water simulation shots for a Toshiba commercial in collaboration with “Region Five”. I have also done some development projects and supportive work for other productions and companies.
In the last years, I built nearly every model that you can encounter in daily life. From houses to bathrooms, to cars, I built all of them with the intention to do it as photorealistic as possible.
Over the years I gained a strong background of working with tools like Maya, Zbrush, 3d Coat, 3ds Max, Cinema4D, Blender, AfterFX, Nuke, Fusion and of course Houdini. Today I work with Houdini and Blender in combination for getting all 3d jobs done and when it comes to collaborations with studios, I have the knowledge of working with the latest tools of Houdini, 3d Coat and Nuke. Lately I started to learn all about photogrammetry and done some nice scans.
I do nearly everything with Houdini not only simulations. Car visualizations, product shots, architecture visualizations, VFX of all kinds. In the last years the tools in Houdini are getting easier to use. With the latest update your are able to rebuild 3d scans without the need of workarounds or other 3d tools. Overall very nice additions. I like this 3d tool because it helps to solve problems in a short period of time.
When you have very creative, complex task, you could get really fast in trouble, when you use a linear modular based tool like Maya, 3ds Max or Cinema 4D. The Reason is that a modular system has a button with a specified function. A lot of this tools have a API, but you are in most cases not able to use them like you want or needed. So you need a developer too. Sometimes you don’t get the entrance to the API because the code is not open or you don’t have time for that. You need more and more people for doing simple things – your manpower will grow for a single project and will consume all of your profits. When the resources are limited you end up by try and error and calling the support. That is in my eyes a waste of money and time, because you look only for a problem solution, instead of really working on your clients vision. Your creative freedom is blockaded in some ways, but there are some nice alternatives.
The Tools of the Foundry and Sidefx are very future driven developments and the best what you can get right now. The idea of both companies, is to give the artists the best tools available and when you read something about their achievements, its like reading film history.
You save a lot of resources and manpower and avoid a lot of bugs while using Houdini or Nuke compared to linear modular based tools, because the entire software comes mostly from one Hand: Sidefx for example provide all the 3d tools you need to get the job done, you don’t need to buy thousands of extra addons. When you buy Houdini or Nuke you buy a fully functional working environment and not only a Demo with a lot of thousands of dlc’s. But thats my own opinion and doesn’t have to reflect the opinion of other users.
I believe, if the world will not turn upside down, I will never go back to any other 3d software. Houdini is what I can call a real “Problem-Solver”.
When you procedurally build something in Houdini you have to think about the overall function and the look of the model, first. Then you have to work a bit like a engineer, procedural modeling or procedural systems in general need a fair amount of understanding on how nature is working.
So when I build the city tram wires in my current project, I reduced this wires and poles to simple lines, similar to a drawing in 3D. Then I build a automatic system to connect all lines together and feed everything into a wire solver. Then I defined where are cables and where are devices and poles. After that I add physical attributes to the lines and run the simulation. When the simulation was done, I started to model everything from this simulated lines, so I extrude them, made divisions, carved a bit and resampled a bit or added a lot of more detail via copy stamping functions. You can compare it to a tree with a lot of leaves. Every time when my scene has changed or the blocking of the scene needed a modification, I only changed one single parameter and everything works out fine. The best is: I don’t had to write dozens of code lines my asset work with 10 small expressions.
In 3ds Max or Maya or Cinema 4D you couldn’t do this. You have to think about a extra simulation model, a rendering model and you have to setup these models manually mostly hand by hand . So if your client change the project or the overall look, you have to start from scratch or you have to take a lot of steps back and start again. In todays work is this unacceptable and no client will pay for it. Because its your fault, you have wasted the time and money, not the client. So why are so much people working with 3ds max, Cinema 4D or Maya? Personally, I don’t know it. After nearly 15 years of working with all of these non-procedural or linear tools I am done with them. My heart beats for procedural. My heart beats for efficiency.
I think after using so much tools in the past, I think Houdini has the most completed shading tools I’ve every worked with. You have access to nearly all attributes from inside Houdini and you can drive all parameters inside your Material system with these attributes. When I say all parameters I not only mean the parameters in the shader setup I mean all. Even how often the light rays are looping in a shader scattering operation. To work with Houdini is in some sense a sort of visual programming with nodes. Don’t forget Houdini has more under the hood – Houdini has compositing tools too. So you can feed your compositions into the shading network and vice versa. I have never seen something like this before.
So in short words. Houdini has not only a procedural modeling approach, but also a fully functional shading system, a 2D based compositing tool and CHOPS for doing procedural animations driven via sounds or events or values, far better in my eyes than driven keys in Maya. A nice fact is that mostly all new VFX technologies are tested in Houdini first.
I highly recommend to read the making of article about this project.
My explosions are done with a modified version of the default explosion shelf buttons. There is no special thing on it. I changed a bit in the dop networks, on forces, shredding parameters and mostly the colors of the pyro shader itself, nothing more.
When you want to create heavy simulations of water, smoke or fire, what ever, you need a lot of RAM and a good operating system to get cinematic quality, but you don’t need a simulation computer from NASA. My entire system cost only around 500 Dollars not more.
You can go two different ways of gaining more power. You can stay with Windows because mostly a lot of users are familiar with it, like I was until March of 2015. But you can also delete Windows too. We reached a time when everyone speaks about data safety and speed, and budgets.My OS is Linux Mint 17.
I personally know only one fact. I save 5 times of RAM and calculation time compared to a fresh windows system. And my clients data is protected behind a 256 bit hardware encryption. Your client will love your data savety. In terms of speed is Windows a power waster and very unsecure. You can try it with all other tools and games, too and you will have the same results. One example on Linux is that I have 25% more frames in the unreal editor. You have a lot of advantages with Linux compared to Windows. But most users stay with Windows because they think not all tools will work on Linux properly – that is totally untrue and a Myth from the past. Its just a matter of habits.
My current specs are: Intel i5, 32 GB RAM, 4 TB SHDD and a OCZ Vector 180, ASUS Geforce 750TI OC – all hard drives are formated with EXT4 not NTFS that is another key to getting a good workstation performance. For more information read the making of article of my lava simulation.
In terms of cloud computing and Houdini, I can only share the word for Gridmarkets. They have build a true “one click solution” for rendering in Mantra on the cloud. You are able to send simulations and rendering scenes with no additional amount of work onto the farm and will get your simulations and images back on budget and in a short period of time. Everyone who is not using it, make a big mistake in my eyes. Mantra is one of the strongest renderer out there, so I will stay with it, until there is a better solution within Houdini. My hope for Houdini is, that the artists could use Gridmarkets in combination with a GPU based Mantra system in the near term future. That would be a game changer in the entire VFX industry and future. Because in fact to wait more than 10 minutes for one HD frame is unacceptable for most clients and I can fully understand it, because waiting-time is wasted time. But Mantra CPU capabilities are not bad: My average rendering time is between 3 to 5 Minutes on HD. I think that is okay, and when I need more power, I send my scenes to Gridmarkets and get images under one minute.
Isn’t it time for doing more than destructions on a world full of war and violence?Personally I have a enough of destructions in the movie theaters, television news and games. I saw New York destroyed in over 20 movies in the past five years. Sorry to say, but its time to create new stories of building some cool things and ideas.
Maybe we as Artists can do our work of forming and building a good and peacefull perspective into the future. I believe Mankind is more capable of then celebrating war, a half century ago we set footsteps on the moon. So I was stunned by the movies: A World Beyond, Interstellar or The Martian. These Movies showed us, that Houdini is capable of more than doing destruction shots. We can build new or beautiful worlds with a heavy amount of detail inside Houdini too.
Destruction simulations are a heavy undertaken in terms of resources and complexity. Today we build houses for destructions with an entire set of household props, all the real stuff into one big simulation. Even books and pages for closeup shots are real tasks in destructions sequences today.
Here comes the magic of Houdini, you can cache every single step and every single attribute in your simulation and start from there to go further. With this workflow you can break down large simulations into smaller chunks. So you are able to debug your simulations step by step and add more detail, if necessary on a procedural basis. I think that is the reason why Houdini is heavily used in destruction shots.
In game development, Houdini made some significant steps into the future. I know that some artists build cool FX inside Houdini and brought them to unity or unreal engine. All of these tests are looking very nice and very photo realistic, but I believe large scale explosions like on blockbusters in 4K are not possible right now. We speak about Gigabytes or Terrabytes of data for one single shot, a playable game in that detail is not possible at the moment. I know and deeply believe Houdini will provide a solution in the future for this undertaken.
The Future of Procedural Technology
I have a little story, happened in the years of 2007 to 2010. I was working in a Studio on a project where we had to build thousands of images for one of the world’s leading supplier of sanitary fittings named Grohe. We build all of these catalog and online-configurator images entirely in 3dsmax and Vray. In fact we had to place thousands of bath tiles in all the digital sets. We couldn’t do this with textures, because our sets had to be absolutely photo realistic till the smallest detail. We produced photographies. sometimes only the bath tiles where changing in the shots. So we had to rebuild all tiles from scratch, every time and every week on a daily basis. I know Houdini was there, but I don’t get approval to use or buy it. So we had to do all the stuff hand by hand – even experienced development artists where not able to fill our needs. Since then I am done with 3ds max. In fact I suffered a lot after a burnout of working with 3ds max.
But over all frustration, what all have done was stunning and amazing and I think to earn a red dot design award is award enough.
In Houdini, one single person is able to build a completely photo realistic procedural bathroom based on rules within days. A team of five areable to save month’s of working time in the overall process. I think that explains a lot.
The future is made for Houdini and other non linear based tools like Nuke. We are building games and movies with so much detail, exploring the world of VR content, but we have not the capacity, manpower or budgets, to raise the bar with every new title. So in the end Houdini will probably win the race in the future, I have no doubt about it. The unstoppable growing Houdini community is a heavy symptom for saying those words. I made my own experience on projects. I done projects within 3 days based on Houdini and Blender where other 3dsmax based studios of five to 10 artists needed 14 days.
Imagine how much more you can do within 14 days, with a staff of 10 Houdini artists?! How much manpower can work on other projects or tasks? The required amount of content in the future, in games development or movies will facilitate rise of my so called Problem-Solver Houdini.
Right now I work on one of the largest game mod projects in my life, for the game stellaris. Just because I can help to build hundreds of space ships procedurally inside Houdini within a small amount of time. I hope I can show some more stuff from this fan project when it is finished. In the meantime we have to spread the word for Houdini, Nuke and all the other nice tools like Blender, because they are not only future driven projects – they are helping to save a lot of working time and in the end they help us to save a lot of life time and avoid frustration and thats quitemore important – bring back the magic into our daily work.