Houdini Part One and Ships

This week I started a deep dive into Houdini and how the ocean simulations work. Since I currently have limited experience in Houdini I have used resources such as books and tutorials to help me. The Magic of Houdini by Will Cunningham, Peter Bowmar, Jason Iversen and Dave Johnson has been an extremely valuable resource as it goes into extreme detail about every aspect of the program and is still understandable by an extreme novice to the program.

After looking at and doing some of the exercises, I moved to playing around with a lot of the different ocean tools that Houdini offers. The primary one that I explored was the ocean waves tool. This tool allows the user to simulate well you guessed it an ocean and the waves that you would normally find there.

Houdini uses a node based system which a lot of visual effect artists are finding more efficient and very user friendly. Especially when compared to programs such as After Effects, where you have to deal with layers and changing one thing can cause problems down the track which could be hard to fix.

An example of a node based workflow can be seen below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 3.10.30 PM

In the above photo the area is split into two parts, the options for the selected node and the actual node interface/workflow.

Below is a video of one of the many water tests I have done in Houdini.

Houdini Water Test 1 from Benjamin Read on Vimeo.

From this test you might have noticed some areas that were a blueish green colour, this is caused by waves crashing on themselves or in more technical terms the choppiness (chop) was set too high and caused the geometry to run into itself causing problems with the algorithm that is meant to be smoothly creating the waves.

Unfortunately after a lot of emails and asking people in the industry that use Houdini on a regular basis making a maelstrom is just not possible in the time frame I have before the assignment is due. So without scrapping the entire idea I have gone for a different approach, I have decided to create a stormy sea which will cause the waves to hit the side of the ship, and will include thunder and lightning.

A screenshot of the ship that I’ll be using can be seen below.


I have chosen a green background as the backdrop in the above photo because by default Maya renders out with a black background and you wouldn’t be able to see the entire model against a black background.

Cunningham, W, Bownar, P, Iversen, J & Johnson, D 2006, The Magic of Houdini, Thomson Course Technology, United States.

Zerouni, C, 2007, Houdini on the spot: Power user tips and techniques, Focus Press, United Kingdom.


  1. I’m glad that you’ve managed to get some help for your project! Learning a new program is definitely difficult, especially when there aren’t many tutorials to explain all the different tools. As someone who knows very little about the creation of visual effects, explaining what was happening in your screenshots and comparing it to other programs helped me understand their differences. From what you’ve done so far, the water looks awesome and the addition of the ship moving with the waves as well as the ensuing storm will bring that extra level of realism. Have you planned any sound for the final clip yet or have you just been focusing on the visual effects at this time? Also, alongside the thunder and lightning, are you planning to add rain to the clip? I’m not sure if you have time to add it in, but it’d definitely be a nice extra touch to the final product. Great work either way!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is looking really cool! It sucks that you aren’t able to create a maelstrom, but judging from what you have already made before, it looks like it is going to be so intense! I like the simplicity in which you have communicated the processes of your work and what challenges you’ve faced. I think it is really inspiring to see others learn something so technical from scratch and succeed, which is what I believe you’ve done. Congratulations! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have never heard of Houdini, but the way you explained it was quite helpful, clear and concise. Your video looks great, and the fact that you know why parts are going blue/green shows your understanding of the program. I did not know what a maelstrom was until reading your post, but a massive whirlpool storm scene would have been epic, however, the waves are just as impressive. Add the ship and you will have a really effective scene that I am excited to see.
    Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s a shame you can’t create the maelstrom. I suggest ensuring that you’ve completed a detailed storyboard so your ambitions are concise and can be easily understood. That way even if you can only create a few seconds of your cut-scene, you’ll still be able to show that you’ve planned the whole package.

    Also well done on trying to actively seek out answers to your issues online, and it’s good to see that you’re walking in to the program with realistic expectations of what you can achieve in the time period allocated.

    Also well done on learning the program, especially since it seems like a program that many people in the industry your seeking entry into are using.

    Good luck with your project, and good luck on your journey!


  5. What I’ve learned over this semester in particular with my bigger assignments is that scale and ambition often get in the way of a the achievable goal. While a full scenic maelstrom would be incredible, those professionals are right to reassure you that what you have will be fine. I’m sure you’ve not dwelt too much on it, but despite this set-back the end result will still undoubtedly look fantastic. If it’s simply a matter of rendering and fiddling about with technicalities rather than coming to grips with HOW to make that effect, this experience will inform you to start those particularly troublesome elements earlier than others. Can’t wait to see the waves with the ship in action!


  6. Such a shame about the maelstrom, but it was something I mentioned to you early on haha
    “Ben do you seriously have the time to do that?”

    Would’ve been amazing but maybe not for a project done in such a short time frame 🙂
    What you’ve come up with so far, especially considering you learnt a new program in order to be able to make it is pretty astounding, those waves look absolutely fantastic. I know you said at one stage you might have had to go for a more simple looking ship to help with the time frame of animating it, is this the simplified version or what ended up happening with that?

    Regardless, can’t wait to see the finished result, i’m sure it’ll look fantastic


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