Is Houdini a good 3D package for everything? - Programmer alert

Hi! I’m Juan Carlos (JC), a game programmer that just started getting into Real-Time VFX, I’m from Spain but I’m currently at the UK doing the last year of a Bachelors degree in computer science.

Last year I started doing some VFX in Niagara and I find it so fun and satisfying, I never thought I would be my cup of tea, so I decided to focus my career more towards that part (VFX, Tech-art), I’m currently working on a flocking simulation in Niagara to mimic birds, insect swarms and so.

I’ve never used a 3d package and I know it is a must have for a VFX artist so decided to do the basic donut in Blender, Maya and Houdini.

With Blender and Maya I felt lost as f*, so unintuitive and harder to learn (toooooo much macros to learn to do basic things), on the other hand I find Houdini super fun, intuitive, and logic!

And now, my questions.

Does Houdini have enough tools to do everything a VFX artist needs? From creating basic geometry to something more complex.

Will I find my self in the future learning Blender or Maya to do something Houdini is not capable of?

My primary focus is Unreal Engine. Is there something related to Houdini and Unreal I need to know?

Any advice is welcome!! (Yes, I’ve read Getting Started in Real Time VFX? Start Here!)

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Nothing does everything. :slight_smile: It’s more of a “right tool for the job” sorta thing. If you work professionally in games or film, you’ll end up using a variety of 3D packages.

That being said, yeah, Houdini is a very strong package for FX work. It’s my preferred tool for most things. Epic (Unreal) and SideFX (Houdini) have a relationship, so the integration with Unreal Engine is getting better and better. Pretty good choice for the primary 3D package a VFX/Tech-art person would use.

I do still use Maya occasionally. I spent some time learning to model in Maya, and find it somewhat better for that task. I’ve done FX work (for film) in Maya as well, though not recently (like 10+ years ago).

I think Blender is more of a hobbyist thing. I’ve never seen it used in a professional context – like, not even once.

Picking up some basic Photoshop skills ends up being useful, too.

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Hey, welcome.

Most general modern DCCs like Blender, Maya and Houdini do everything well.
Depends on what kind of workflow you’re looking for. Of course it’ll be confusing and difficult to learn something for the first time. Don’t expect to watch one video and get comfortable with a new 3D package, especially without any prior experience. Stick with something and work through it.

It also depends on what you want to do. I still think it’s extremely beneficial to have some experience with traditional box/poly modeling/uv/texturing and then going on to learn procedural techniques like Houdini/Designer.

The most important software IMO is your engine of choice, you’ll spend most of your time in it.

And of course, these are all just tools. You just use them to create meshes or shapes or data to use creatively in a more holistic effect. All of them are used by professionals all the time. For example, I’ve only ever used Blender at work. And it’s great.


In Houdini you will spend a lot of time learning.

Every minute you spend will be invested in becoming more skilled and in control of your work.

If you spend time in less powerful DCCs you will get bruises on your forehead working around problems like this:

As a programmer you will understand Houdini very easily: it’s completely non-destructive and procedural (since day one.)

Yes but if you want to make RT VFX, you’re better off spending that initial time in the engine. Do not take it as me having something against Houdini. I don’t. I love it. This is just extremely goal based advice. If someone wants to get off the ground and make effects asap, I think it’s better to keep it simple on the DCC side first and learn the fundamentals. If you want to learn Houdini, go for it.

That’s just two lines in most in-DCC scripting languages (MEL/Python)

I strongly disagree with this mentality.

Everything is problem solving. If anything, if you’re a programmer you’d want to go for the simplest, straight forward approach that gets the job done first. And the job here is to make visual effects for games. It’s not like you’re bound to the software you start with. These skills transfer well. But if someone doesn’t even know how to model a simple straightforward mesh, yeah no. Just go spend a month and learn it. I don’t think it’s good to send people on wild goose chases learning Houdini when they’re starting out.

Oh, also one more thing to keep in mind is Houdini does cost a bit. And if you get a job, your studio might not budget it for you. It’s easier if you’re freelance, though. But even if you start with Houdini, please try some traditional poly modeling in it :smiley:


I think you have made some valid points! Thanks for adding to the thread, and great sketchbook!

Thanks for all the feedback, to be true, yeah, I don’t know how to model a simple mesh but I find it easier to do in Houdini using nodes than modeling it myself (Also with textures, I find easier Substance Designer than creating my own in photoshop).

Said that, I totally agree that I should focus on Niagara (In fact I feel pretty comfortable working with it) it’s just that sometimes I know what I have to do in Niagara but I lack the skills to create some mesh or texture for it.

So, I’ve been working (professionally) in VFX for film and games since around 2003.

The more complete answer to your question is this: if you’re successful in your career, you’ll learn dozens of software packages over time. So, it’s mostly arbitrary where you start. There’s really no “best starting point” in terms of developing the skills. Every single project I’ve worked on has required slightly different skills; the real challenge is picking things up quickly.

But you need to be sharp, excited, and knowledgeable about what you do. So, the best way to learn is to make something real. Make a game. Make a short film. Struggle through learning everything you need – modeling, texturing, painting, animation, etc. – because that’s the job. Pick the tools which work best for whatever you’re creating. But know why you picked those tools, and understand the tradeoffs.

All that being said, most of the more complex projects I’ve worked on have used Houdini. And for FX, Houdini has been highly in demand for at least the last 10-15 years. The fact that it has a steep learning curve is exactly what makes it a valuable skill – not everyone can learn it.

Good luck!

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