Thoughts on Houdini 9?


Hey, folks,

Are any of you CG Wizards out there experienced enough with both Max and Houdini to give me a rundown on the pros/cons of using Houdini 9 compared with using Max? I’d like to know more about that program.



It would take forever. Houdini in general has more in common with MAX, in my opinion, than any other app. H9 is a major departure from previous versions because they’ve radically changed the UI. Why do I know this? Because I’ve spent the last year bouncing between H8, MAX, and H9. The main analogy I like to use is to describe MAX as a race car that you can change out the parts and components easily, though most of the options are rather stock. Houdini is like actually having a body shop with you where you can make any part at any level. Of course, with that power comes both the good and the bad.

MAX makes a lot of assumptions and that’s good for 90% of jobs out there because it’ll allow you to work quickly and efficiently. Houdini takes far more because it’s a giant 3d construction kit. You make tools that do things. Imagine having a Modifier Stack with access to sub-modifers that you can tweak to no end. Often there’s more than one way to do the same thing more or less. For example, I was just working on a quick sparks setup for the show I’m working on. At the same time, one of the guys on my team pulled in an old setup he had and did some tweaks. Sure they do the same thing but in very different ways. It’s like algorithmic art to a degree :wink:

Fast and easy - MAX will always beat Houdini. Complex and difficult - Houdini is the way to go.

Personally, if you’re a MAX techie, particularly an effects guy, knowing Houdini is a wise thing.


Hey Brandon,

we are starting to mess around with a Houdini pipeline over here.
What do u think of Mantra? Are u using it, or do u have a renderman pipeline.

Any thoughts on Houdini rendering options?



Fast and easy - MAX will always beat Houdini. Complex and difficult - Houdini is the way to go

Somewhat generalized, but true.

Some examples:
Houdini doesn’t ship with a set of Materials/Shaders. Even a Checker-Shader needs to be created from scratch. Though only once as the concept of Digital Assets easens the creation and distribution of “scripts”. On the other hand you can create complex shaders/strange stuff without writing a single line of code.

I took me half a year of asking “and where are the scripts? where are the scripts?” until I realized that there are no scripts. But this is not true: Houdini itself is a script editor.
I understand this a result of the “renderman heritage”. Where basically each frame sent to the renderer is a text file containing the scene description. You might say: MAX does the same, but the MAX scene description isn’t accessible in a ASCII way.
Therefore you can assume that a Houdini Scene is a Script that generates the scene description files.

This results in the “procedural paradigm” where you use programming style conventions like “for each”, “if then” to controll the behaviour of your actions. This enables you to find alternative paths through your “modifier stack” which would be hard to achieve in max.

In 6 months of Houdini I learned more about MAX than in the last 5 years. I think MAX does a real good job offering an abstraction layer to acces the world of 3D.

The Mantra renderer is cool and stable. But it’s no vray/fR-killer. I guess this is caused by the fact that Houdini targets mainly at the Motion Picture Industry where other values are considered to be cool than a “one click GI” or “tada - Car Flake Shader”.
I couldn’t get Vrays-DR running for more than a year. After 6 days of *nix-networking&setup-terror it just worked stable in Houdini. You can decide for you self what this realy means.

What is definitively missing in the Houdini-Package is a tool like backburner, though you can use Pixars Alfred or the SunGrid-Engine, but they don’t ship sysadmins …

What’s really cool is the concept of Attributes, something I never really understood in MAX. (I think I read something about this in the help). You can attach “custom attributes” to vertices, faces, objects. Use this attributes in any “modifier” later on: as the depth of extrusion for this face, the color of this vertex, the speed of a object, …

Houdini really becomes powerful as soon as you understand it’s workflow of pushing and pulling information through the scene. It doesn’t play well for most linear tasks.

You have the ability to render geometry just like images and use this geometry(!) in the compositing section to generate masks which you use as attributes in another object. Something like that. In max you spend 90% of your time to write and debug scripts to get something like this done. And then another 5% to build a GUI and even then its just “on top of it” . But this is probably only my impression as I not really a coder/programmer/c++ type of person.

It somehow fits more into my way of thinking and creating stuff.

my 2 cents.



I’d actually like to hear more about Mantra, i’ve spent some time learning H8/H9 and i love the whole workflow, but when it comes to the render part it is such a bitch to setup and get good looking shaders. While i love the way you create the shaders in the vex editor they should ship with some generic shaders like mia_material/vray_advanced etc. (i know about the super-material but in my opinion its not up to par with the default mr/vray shaders, that or i suck at using them which is more likely :slight_smile: )

Brandon, have you had the time to play with the fluids of H9? Can one compare them with



We use Mantra quite a bit for our Houdini renders. It’s good for effects elements and the latest PBR stuff in Mantra9 is good, but in some aspects I think it lags behind other renderers. I honestly I wouldn’t go out of my way to do entire shots with it, just FX elements. It’s build around the Renderman spec, does point rendering and motion blur quite well.

When I work on commercials here, most tend to be done with MAX, but there are times when it makes a hell of a lot of sense to use Houdini. In those cases, I use Mantra, PRman or MRay (or Storm) to render my elements. But there are also situations where I’ve brought in animation from MAX, tweaked it in Houdini, then sent it back out to MAX for rendering. That’s a more complicated pipeline, but it works. It’s much easier on the Houdini side because you can literally make an object importer (point displacer) using standard Houdini SOPs. On the MAX side you’ve got to do some work to read in the object with all of their attributes.

RDG, I agree 100%. I was generalizing for a reason, but yes, you’re spot on.

The new fluids in H9 are pretty amazing. Not only because of what they do, but because they’re integrated into DOPs, which basically means you have a unified solver - fluids affect objects, affect cloth, affect etc.


My experience with Mantra is that is makes a very good feature film renderer, since it’s very comparable to PrMan and its feature set. It fits the model of a fast, high quality micropolygon/raytracer with (easily) programmable) shaders which supports render layers (AOVs). It has a multitude of features that make it very good for feature pipelines, procedurals, [recursive] displacement, multi-segment motion for deforming and transforming objects, shader unwrapping, point clouds, very powerful volume rendering, python pipeline, IPR, etc. Until H9 it lagged behind in “whizz-bang” type of features that make V-Ray and such good choices for commercial work; it takes a bit more tweaking to get an image as pretty as V-Ray right off the bat. However, as the PBR features get improved, I think that programmable nature of it will give it much more potential power to be a strong player in the V-Ray (and I suppose Maxwell Render- for stills) arena.

AFAIK, Side Effects are actively pushing and improving Mantra as a flagship product so expect continuous improvements to it, even in the very near future.


And there you have it, about as close as you can get to the horse’s mouth :wink:


Whaddayacallme? :bounce:


Hang on, let me get you another slightly dirty martini :thumbsup:


… brings a tear to my eye - I miss your cool parties. Please don’t forget to write when you have another one!


If you go to the material palette in Houdini 9 you will see that there is a default gallery of about 50 materials to get things started. These all come with parameters that can be used right away or you can dive down the VEX builder level and rewire the node interactively to change how it works.

Have you tried out any of these materials?


If you go to the material palette in Houdini 9 you will see that there is a default gallery of about 50 materials to get things started. These all come with parameters that can be used right away or you can dive down the VEX builder level and rewire the nodes interactively to change how it works.

Have you tried out any of these materials?


Sure, I have tried some of them - but I didn’t count them.
If you take a look at my work, you might notice that I probably will be happy with a constant shader - regardless the app I use :smiley:
I don’t think this is the right place to start a “you didn’t present this application in the right light” thread, though.
There are deep structural differences between MAX and Houdini. And this is good they way it is. I wouldn’t even sign a paper that the new material workflow is better now, just because it now tries to conform to others apps mathaphors.

I have been using max since version 1.x and the way both application handle materials is one of the main differnences. Someone who used Houdini for 10 years might put things differently … but I sure will not be singing a advertising song here - on what I consider as friendly terretory.

I’d like to put it that way:
I am not even sure if there is a now checker material among the 50 ones, but it wasn’t the materials that made me using houdini - maybe the way it handles materials - but not the materials.



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