Houdini 14 review
A brand new Crowd system has been added that is actually a very good showcase of how much the instancing, animation and viewport capabilities have been improved.
There is a new Crowd Shelf which has all the tools required to quickly set up a basic crowd simulation. Even though the resulting node tree can look complex the buttons on the shelf allow for a very simple click-based approach to setting things up. There are tools for putting crowds on a Path and even on a terrain. You can also add obstacles in their paths.
The crowds can be laid out in a grid like fashion or scattered randomly. According to the Houdini help this release contains the basic building blocks for setting up a Crowd system with many more improvements to come in the upcoming versions. But as it stands you can use these basic building blocks to create fairly complex Crowds.
Houdini had added a brand new set of Hair grooming tools into a new Hair grooming shelf set. These tools allow you to do a whole range of hair modifications.
The new tools allow for cutting, drawing and clumping of hair along with a whole host of other capabilities. The new tools also allow you to paint hair guides directly onto surfaces using a brush or even plant individual guides by clicking on a surface. The new tools work on Hair Guides and make it much easier to create longer hair instead of just fur.
They seemed to function slightly slowly in the viewport but this could be just an issue on my machine. But overall they are a big addition to the existing Hair and Fur tools in Houdini, especially for styling long hair.
Position-Based Solver and Dynamics
The other major addition to the Houdini VFX toolset in this version is the new position-based particle dynamics solver. This solver allows for a variety of effects including wet and dry sand and snow. You can also create soft body effects, thin sheets and strands.
The overall system is quite fast and robust. The setup once again is based on a few clicks of button from the shelf toolbar.
A new Pointdeform SOP has been added to the Geometry toolset which allows you to deform geometry based on particle movement. So it’s easy to transfer the PBD soft body effects to its relevant geometry. This is similar to the particle skinner modifier from 3DS Max.
A majority of the parameters are within the Grain Update node in DOPs (Dynamics) and the Grain Source Node in SOPS. These two nodes allow you to set up any kind of PBD effect that you would want. When you create a Granular Solid, Houdini automatically creates the node tree for the Pointdeform SOP. This definitely makes things easier. But overall this a great addition to the already massive and robust dynamics tool set in Houdini.
Other Improvements to Dynamics
Along with this there is now a colored blue line that appears in the timeline when a Dynamics Simulation is cached. It’s similar to the green line that appears in After Effects when you do a RAM preview.
In order to test out the Bullet Dynamics speed, I did a simple test of a collapsing tower made of 6800 boxes. Houdini 13 took nearly 2 mins 15 secs to calculate 50 frames, whereas Houdini 14 did the same simulation in 1 min 1 second. That’s less than half the time, which was quite impressive.
I wasn’t able to test out the other dynamics tools but the help also says that the FEM solver and the FLIP solver have both received similar improvements in speed and memory management.
The channel editor which has been renamed to Animation Editor has received a major overhaul in this version.
The channels are now listed in collapsible groups which makes it easier to navigate. The curve display has been improved and there is also an automatic snapshot of the channel curve once you start modifying it with the option to revert back to the previous snapshot.
The Scale Handle tool has been revamped and enhanced and is now called Box Tool which can be activated by pressing Y on the keyboard. There is also an option to set the pivot of the Box tool to help you better control the scaling.
The other major addition to the animation toolset is the new Animation Layers system.
The system is quite easy to use. All you have to do is select any animated channel, go to the Animation Layers panel in the Animation Editor, click on the little gears icon and create and animation layer. This will create a base layer for your channel. Then you can create subsequent layers to add additional animation to your channel.
In the background this system creates a CHOPs network that stores the animation of every layer in its own Channel Node, which are then merged into a Layers Node. This allows for a lot of flexibility as you can go into the CHOPS network and modify these base nodes as you see fit. However the Layers Node should not be modified as the changes made in the CHOPS network do not reflect back in the Animation Layers panel.
Along with this, major improvements have been made to the animation playback and performance speed. Improvements have been made across the board to everything from Bone Display, Alembic playback, character deformation and even motion capture performance.