To learn Houdini, or not to learn Houdini

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Ashervisalis keyframe
I've been using Maya, ZBrush, Substance, for a bit now, but only for modeling. I've recently had the idea that it would be neat to learn how to do effects like stormy oceans, explosions, giant laser beams... So after looking around online, I've seen a lot of people strongly advise to learn Houdini. Apparently, you'll be way more in demand if you know the program, and will be paid more. This really caught my eye.

I've started an online tutorial on Houdini and then realized it'd probably be good to get some advice from more experienced people before dedicating a substantial amount of my life to learning such a massive program.

1) How long will learning FX take me? If you check out my portfolio, it took me roughly 2 (un-directed and awkward) years to get to that point. Of course everyone is different, but is it as steep a learning curve as modeling? I'm looking to keep on my journey with modeling, but would also like to spend an hour or so every day learning this program, and have a slight fear that this will cause me to take 100 years to get good with the program.
 - I really want to start working in 3D soon, so maybe I should just stick to enhancing my modeling portfolio with all my free time, and start learning FX in my spare time when I finally get a job?

2) Do small game studios use Houdini? Or is it just the big studios? Should I just stick to learning FX on Unreal, or would learning the program help me with a career? I'm wondering if I spend a year learning Houdini, if I'll get into the workforce and find out only 10% of studios actually use the program.

3) What kind of pay difference can I expect when knowing Houdini? I've found some very different stats online.

Thanks for any advice guys, appreciate it!

Replies

  • Kevin Albers
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    Kevin Albers polycounter lvl 12
    If you want to do fx for games, learning to do it in Unreal is probably better than going straight to Houdini. I assume most game studios do NOT use Houdini. It's mainly for film and TV fx, but of course can also be used for games in some ways.

    Creating some high performance photo-real fx in UE4 would go a long way to getting a job doing fx for games.
  • RyanB
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    RyanB Polycount Sponsor
    1)  I've been dabbling in Houdini this year and it is a steep learning curve.  It is an amazing program if you stick with it.  It's crazy powerful.  It's like getting the ultimate problem-solving toolbox but when you open it up all you see is lots of tiny pieces.  It's not really comparable to learning "modelling".
    2)  There are game studios using Houdini but it's not a huge amount.  I have seen more and more AAA game studios looking for Houdini experience.  Houdini is used mostly in film and tv vfx.
    3)  If you are awesome at Houdini and you work in film/tv you can make much more than games but the standards are high.  Check out some Houdini demo reels on Youtube and Vimeo.  Very high detail levels.

    Since you are in Vancouver, I recommend joining VCGA and going to some of their events.  You can get some direct information from people in the VFX industry and advice.  https://www.vcga.org/

  • Brian "Panda" Choi
    I'm tempted to learn it so I can be one of the few game developers who do know, lol.  Make myself a little more competitive.
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis keyframe
    Thanks guys. The biggest thing that stood out about Houdini, like Brian mentioned, was making myself more competitive. Maybe learning effects on UE4 first would make a transition to Houdini later on easier?

    @RyanB All I ever hear about with regards to the CG industry are about how high the standards are :p I've gotten used to the idea that basically any path I choose is going to be difficult as hell to get into. I'll join VCGA, thanks for the tip!
  • radiancef0rge
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    radiancef0rge Polycount Sponsor
    It fully depends on what your career path is. If you want to be an environment artist, character artist, prop artist no - if you want to be a technical artist, yes I would recommend learning Houdini. Its quickly becoming the go-to solution for open world games. 
  • Grimwolf
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    Grimwolf polycounter lvl 3
    I'm planning to pick up Houdini, but not for studio work. I wouldn't expect to find a large number of places that use it.
    I'm planning on using it to create assets, after seeing the crazy things I could manage with the procedural tools in substance designer.
    I tried it last year, and gave up on it because of how crazy the learning curve was. I've prepared this time though with some solid training courses.
    That being said though, it took me roughly 2 years to get completely comfortable with substance designer. And Houdini is much more difficult to learn than that...
  • sacboi
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    sacboi polycounter lvl 2
    I'd downloaded the free version (Apprentice) a few months ago for research purposes plus bone up a little on procedural modelling and yep it's been a crazy steep ride, barely scratched the surface at this point but that said it's node based approach enables rapid prototyping of complex environments, which was the primary intent in the first place. At the moment still extreme basic stuff I'm working on. Anyway in my opinion well worth setting aside time, giving it a cursory looksee at the very least.     
  • Grimwolf
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    Grimwolf polycounter lvl 3
    After picking it up again and going over the tutorials, I've remembered what the biggest problem I had before was. I literally could not find a single proper "introduction to Houdini" tutorial that would just guide me through the interface and show me all the basics.
    All I could find were a handful of very specialized tutorials showing you how to do particular things.

    I've found one this time, but it wasn't easy. It was this one on Lynda.com

    It's pretty decent so far, but again, it's the only proper introductory course I've found.

  • Sigmafie
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    Sigmafie polycounter lvl 3
    Grimwolf said:
    I've found one this time, but it wasn't easy. It was this one on Lynda.com

    It's pretty decent so far, but again, it's the only proper introductory course I've found.

    This one by SideFX was pretty decent (by internet tutorial standards) I thought. Sure, it doesn't go in-depth over every item on the shelf or interface, but you get a good feel for how the program works and can experiment from there.
  • Aabel
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    Aabel polycounter lvl 3
    Doing fx  you will need to learn the native particles in the game engine, but you will also need flip books/sprite sheets to make those particles look like something good. Game fx are more than just particles, there is destruction and increasingly meshed fluid fx. Houdini has the best tools for all those things that game engines don't natively do. So yes, you should learn it!
  • Aabel
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    Aabel polycounter lvl 3
    Grimwolf said:
    After picking it up again and going over the tutorials, I've remembered what the biggest problem I had before was. I literally could not find a single proper "introduction to Houdini" tutorial that would just guide me through the interface and show me all the basics.
    All I could find were a handful of very specialized tutorials showing you how to do particular things.

    I've found one this time, but it wasn't easy. It was this one on Lynda.com

    It's pretty decent so far, but again, it's the only proper introductory course I've found.

    Yes, this is a challenge. Houdini is not an easy program to get an overview of as each context is incredibly deep and they work with each other flawlessly. Have you seen this video? https://cmivfx.com/houdini-fundamentals it's a bit dated, the UI looks completely different but the fundamentals are all the same.

  • Grimwolf
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    Grimwolf polycounter lvl 3
    Sigmafie said:
    Grimwolf said:
    I've found one this time, but it wasn't easy. It was this one on Lynda.com

    It's pretty decent so far, but again, it's the only proper introductory course I've found.

    This one by SideFX was pretty decent (by internet tutorial standards) I thought. Sure, it doesn't go in-depth over every item on the shelf or interface, but you get a good feel for how the program works and can experiment from there.
    Hm... It's not nearly as good as the Lynda.com one. He really rushes through things and glosses over stuff due to the length, and uses some Houdini jargon without explaining what it means. It was pretty difficult to follow.
    He was actually kind of stumbling around at points, like he was trying to rush through it so quickly that he lost track of his thoughts.
    He does give an overview of the basics though, if you don't want to pay for a tutorial.

    The more I learn of Houdini though, the sexier it is. I'm finding a lot of features I wish substance designer had, like L (layout all), collapsing networks, and node pass-through.
  • Forged
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    Forged polycounter lvl 6
    Just to chime in with some more learning resources:

    Best free Intro-level:
    Learning Houdini 
    by Jeff Wagner of SideFX, cogent and clear, a good overview of the philosophy/paradigm of the program

    First Steps
    An older one from Ari Danesh of SideFX, I personally wish he'd do a lot more for the current version, his style really helps clarify things.

    As you peruse Vimeo search for "houdini webinar" or "Illume" there's a ton of stuff on all topics, including a growing number dealing specifically with content creation for games.

    Mix Training

    Houdini learning from Varomix who does "Learn Days" (32 episodes and counting) where he covers just about everything.

    Paid Learning

    Houdini Procedural Foundations

    Learn Squared course from Adam Swaab who also has a Jumpstart series for Houdini on HelloLuxx, this is an intro starting off with procedural modeling into greebling/dynamic surface generation and ending with some basic lighting/rendering. 

    Also check out Digital Tutors/Pluralsight who have a crap-ton of material from beginner on up (including a new one on VFX for games). If you find your interest/ambitions exceeding the realms of gaming check out cmiVFX, loads of next-level ish there.

    Hope this helps.
  • Grimwolf
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    Grimwolf polycounter lvl 3
    Game Tutors is another pretty decent source I've found.
    His approach to everything is convoluted, taking five steps to do something that only needs one. The video player of the site itself also has a lot problems.
    In spite of that though, it covers a lot of extremely useful subjects in detail that I haven't found anywhere else, and they're free.
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