motion trails in houdini, part 1

I haven’t posted in a long time mostly because I’ve been spending the majority of the last month devouring Houdini tutorials on the internet. Houdini is capable of handling incredibly complex visual effects, and its node-based architecture makes it ideal for effects R&D… if you can get past the learning curve. I’ve never seen a more complicated-looking program.

Anyways, after beating my head against the wall for the better part of a month I’ve finally started making sense out of this program, and I want to share an effect I’ve been researching for an upcoming spot, and turn this into a sort of tutorial for dealing with particle systems, creating objects on the fly, and manipulating shapes using audio. Later on I’ll also go over how to make the effect into a “digital asset,” meaning packaging the effect into a single node with its own interface that you can then use for other shots or share with other artists.

I really dislike video tutorials so I’m going to try to write this one out. The first segment will be about creating the trails, the second will be about modifying the trails using CHOPs, and the third will be about repackaging the effect as a digital asset and building an interface.

Anyways, here’s the effect we’re creating:

I realize it kind of all turns to spaghetti in the end, but that could probably be fixed with a little more fine-tuning, and I wanted to show a little complexity to the effect. Hit the jump for a big huge post about how this is done.