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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
The new VELLUM multi-solver, Material-based Destruction Tools, erosion feature, 3ds Max plug-in and more from the newest release of Houdini 17 Banshee.
Houdini 17 Banshee is a huge release for SideFX which will definitely excite the fans of the software with some powerful new features. The list of the updates goes on and on, but we’ve talked with the team behind it and tried to highlight some of the most important features. There’s definitely a ton of R&D going into this fresh release, with the big three being the VELLUM multi-physics engine, big improvements in Fluids, and new Material-based Destruction Tools.
The new VELLUM multi-solver brings cloth to Houdini, as well as integrated effects such as hair, soft bodies and grains. Initially this feature was inspired by XPBD (original paper by Miles Macklin and his colleagues could be found here). The key feature here is that Vellum is GPU-accelerated (Open CL), so it’s pretty fast. Thanks to this you can iterate much faster and build more amazing simulations. Share your thoughts in the comments. As it’s the first iteration of this new system, SideFX is looking at this as a starting point to an even better toolset in the future, but it’s already very stable, and quite fast.
The one other cool feature of Vellum is the addition of the Vellum Post-Process node. It helps you to manipulate your project after the simulation, which saves a ton of time and gives you much needed flexibility.
Grooming tools with Vellum also shine, adding amazing new workflows for hair and fur.
A huge improvement was also done to soft bodies. SideFX introduced a new feature called Strut-based soft bodies, which works 8x faster than FEM (which was shown last year). This is not a substitute to FEM, but it’s definitely faster. There are are cool elements, like pressurized soft bodies, soft bodies with glue constraints, tetrahedral soft bodies. The videos should give you a better overview of the whole thing.
White Water Solver
The Whitewater Solver in Fluids has been rewritten to achieve a more organic, foamy look, with realistic cellular patterns and repellant forces and a more accurate relationship to the source FLIP sim. Houdini has had whitewater for quite a while, but it needed some attention. For Houdini 17, the developers completely rewrote the solver. They’ve added inter-particle forces, which help create realistic foam patterns on the surface. With this tech, particles actually evolve over time and shift from state to state. Whitewater can also be used with Ocean Deformer, so you have these beautiful realistic ocean waves. The test results look amazing.
Material-based Destruction Tools
Another huge feature is the introduction of the Material-based Destruction Tools. It’s part of the bigger Destruction Framework, which also includes auto-generated soft constraints and convex decomposition. The idea behind Material-based Destruction is simple: every material breaks differently. So a glass cube and a concrete cube will shatter in different ways and you’d probably want to build the constraints in different ways.
SideFX actually combined different parts of Houdini to achieve this. They’ve used voronoi shattering and boolean shattering. This opens up a lot of different possibilities. Plus constraints are generated automatically.
Here are some examples of the destruction of wood and glass and concrete in one object.
Character Animation Tools
Character rigging and animation tools got an update as well. Character animation has been improved with a newly designed Timeline / Playbar that supports a more animator-friendly keyframe workflow. And on the rigging side, facial auto-rigging tools have been added to the already existing auto-rig toolset, to provide a complete top-to-bottom auto-rigging solution.
There’s a cool Interactive Modeling tool called PolyDraw, which lets you use the interactive “TopoBuild” tools anywhere in your scene, free from dense reference geometry. There is also fast construction plane alignment and positioning, rotation snapping, view and construction plane memories, and new geometry alignment tools.
Terrain Tools: Erosion, Improved Scattering
Terrain tools got a new update as well, with realistic erosion, tectonic distortion and collision-aware multi-scattering. Houdini had erosion in the original release of the Terrain tools, but it tended to give soft results. For Houdini 17, they have rewritten the erosion simulation from scratch, providing better detail with far fewer iterations. You can use this solver to generate all kinds of erosions: wide rivers, fluvial lines, river banks and debris.
Houdini 17 also has a new set of tools, which lets you modify terrain in different ways. This feature is called the Smear Mode. It’s very neat to use for the creation of sharp peaks, or some places where you need to tweak the geometry of your landscape. There’s also a swirl mode, which is exactly what is sounds like: you basically twist your mountains, swirl them a bit to give the landscape even more variety. This works great for different stylized terrains with high detail.
Scattering was also significantly improved, which is especially useful for gamedev. Single scattering allows locking items in the terrain, so they don’t move randomly – providing designers more control. SideFX has also introduced Hierarchical Scattering. This is probably the feature that world-builders at Ubisoft, Insomniac and environment artists at large are going to appreciate. Now Houdini places objects much more organically and intelligently, which helps to achieve more realistic landscapes. No overlaps, everything is logical and structured.
UVs are a necessary evil, but you do need them. Houdini tries to solve this problem in a way with a node called UV Autoseam. It generates the seams for you by analyzing the mesh and finding the locally flat areas. Once you get the edges you can then feed them to the UV Flatten node. So far most of the examples shown were hard surface, so we’re still waiting to see how it works with something more organic.
UV Flatten was rewritten to be more accurate. Plus, some new tools were added to help with the overall unwrapping process. This could be extremely useful for texture artists.
UV Layout was completely rewritten too(!), and is basically a brand new tool. There’s a stack identical islands option, match mirrored islands option (for characters), and stack on non-group islands (it’s like taking pieces and placing them on the correct spots on the already created UV layout). This is extremely useful for games, where you always need the best packed UVs.
3ds Max Plugin and Unity 2.0 Plugin
Houdini’s game development tools were also recently updated and revised. The coolest things begin with the plug-ins. First of all there’s a new 3ds Max plug-in, which is extremely useful. This plugin was developed by SideFX and it will be supported in the future, so you can rely on it. You can use it in countless ways (for example generating some windows geometry for your interior).
There’s also a completely redesigned Unity plug-in. It has a ton of advantages, including the ability to import very complex terrain data into the engine instantly. You can take the actual height-field data and plug it directly into Unity. It allows you to use Unity tools to modify Houdini-generated terrain. Plus, there have been important enhancements to the Maya and UE4 plug-ins.
Houdini also supports GLTF Import and Export, which is a popular format for showing your work on Facebook or Sketchfab.
SideFX is also constantly updating the GameDev Toolset, adding new tools almost every day. The SideFX Games Team has been working hard to align Houdini’s procedural platform to workflows in the game development process. So far there’s Mesh Tiler, Texture Sheets, Vertex Animation, Simple Baker, OSM Importer, Imposter textures tool and about 100 more!
While there are a lot more features to discover, we’re mostly interested in the upcoming Project Solaris, which is going to be a new architecture for rendering and lighting. So we’re extremely excited to learn more of the things to come.