Recommendations for a stand alone particle editor & node based shader creator?

Hi. I am looking for the best options for Artist friendly, stand alone particle editor & node based shader creator for a proprietary engine.
PopcornFX seems to be the best option so far.
Any input welcome.

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The only one I can think of off the top of my head is PopcornFX and they’ve done a really great job keeping up with the times.


Stand alone editors haven’t found much success, mainly because of how VFX oftentimes relies on gameplay data. As for artist friendly VFX editors, we haven’t quite gotten that far yet…

I stumbled upon Shade recently, which is a node-based shader authoring tool for iOS. It’s actually quite fun to diddle with shaders on your commute! It also supports exporting your shaders to Unity.

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Looking at the new PopCornFX v2, I like the node setup & think it would probably do the job just fine for the particle manipulation, but it seems to be unable to create new shaders & that is a big part of VFX for me.
Maybe Houdini is the only real option here.

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But Houdini is a DCC and not a realtime particle editor… Hell, the GLSL shader implementation is notoriously bad.

Maybe if you explained what you are trying to do we could help you more.

I was kind of joking with Houdini. :wink:
All I am currently doing is looking at the best option for potentially working with a new proprietary engine with no particle editor, and probably no node based shader editor either.
It is early days, so I don’t know any more details. Personally, I would rather do it all in UE4.

Well, PopcornFX dev here, so I won’t comment on the “what should I use” question to try & stay objective :smiley:

Just some precisions about the fact that “VFX oftentimes relies on gameplay data”: That’s not a problem in all standalone solutions I’ve seen, even fork particle had ways to make effects react with gameplay. It’s such a crucial part of making dynamic effects that I don’t really see anyone wanting to make a serious tool overlook that.

On the other hand regarding shaders, it’s a much harder problem. In-house engines all have different rendering & shader pipelines, and will compute things like lighting differently and from different datastructures (do you get light from a 3D grid of irradiance values? from a list of point-lights? is is something else? how are shadows handled?), so in practise, for all the integrations we’ve seen in in-house engines, all have their own internal formats for shaders, and none are able to import raw HLSL as-is.

For PopcornFX v2, the folks working on the rendering have built a shader system that allows you to customize all shaders used for particles, and send over any number of particle properties you want. And these appear as new pins on the renderer nodes in the graph.
In the UE4 integration, we’re limited to what UE4 exposes, so that’d be 4 float4s worth of data coming from the particle sim (it was less before, they added more for niagara, so that’s cool !).

The thing is, we don’t expose a way to edit those shaders in the editor yet, it’s currently all in obscure config files. The current renderers you have in v2 use that system. The UI interface to edit the shaders should come sometime this year.

And even then, it’ll be HLSL shaders, not node-based shaders, so not sure that’ll help you a lot if your engine doesn’t have a node-based material editor :confused:

Hope this answered some of the questions :slight_smile:


Some good information there. thanks :slight_smile:

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That being said, you could just, like… just use Houdini :wink:

But yeah, both Houdini and Unity (and I’m sure Unreal too) makes it trivial to export data using a generic format like json or xml. If I were in your position and writing an in-engine editor wasn’t feasible, that’s probably the route I would go down.

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