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The future of rigging.....?


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Hi everyone,

Today in school I was talking to a fellow animator and I told him I was going to start learning how to rig in houdini and try to achieve a rig...

The reply he gave back to me was "best of luck man, but how many here want to animate in Houdini?.... I mean its kind of tough in houdini, with all the interface... for one thing I know everyone wants to animate in an easy GUI like maya; that is why everyone is learning to animate characters in it"

I was totally depressed when I heard that. Not only was it discouraging but also I feel is the reality of the truth... People can make rigs in houdini which is a nice aspect of it, but how many people would like to animate on it for those who never touched houdini before....

Does anyone have any replies to this?


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Well Core feature animation in Toronto are doing an entire CG film animated in Houdini, characters the works. I imagine they would have something to say about it.

Also from a personal point of view I'd ask why would it be so tough? What's so great about the endless menus of the Maya interface? Houdini has handles and HUDs and an excellent graph editor etc etc what is so difficult about that? Does Maya have an animate this character for me button or something?


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I was totally depressed when I heard that. Not only was it discouraging but also I feel is the reality of the truth...

Does anyone have any replies to this?


Another thing to consider is the attitude that animation is hard in Houdini is probably outdated by now. Houdini 7.0 has introduced a lot of features specifically for animation. So I would say, don't be discouraged, give it a shot with all the new tools in 7.0 and see if you like it.

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it's a reasonable question...and the answer a couple of years ago would be to not bother even trying to rig a character in Houdini - unless you just did it for fun and to learn stuff...

but right now that is totally changed...

I started here at C.O.R.E. as a rigger, I'd never used Houdini in production, and did 4 characters all in Houdini under the supervision of, arguably, some of the best character riggers in the industry...and they had never used Houdini before to do anything...at first they hated it - but very quickly we were turning out very impressive rigs...

OTLs and the improvements to the character tools in general have made Houdini a fantastic rigging environment...the only problem is that there are not very many people doing rigs in Houdini - so all the cool tricks, workflows, optimizations etc have yet to be even discovered in the big shops let alone the general Houdini community...but that will just take a bit of time....

as for the animators...

I sit about 20 feet from 35 of them and they are all animating in Houdini - most (maybe all) are first time Houdini users and they are doing fantastic work...and while they all had a tough time at first just getting into Houdini they don't complain much at all...no more than they would about Maya or XSI.

I know it's tough as a student to know where to put your time and energy...the simple fact is that if you have skills you have skills - the app that you're used to or trained in doesn't really matter, all the things you learn in one app will apply to any other.

hope that helps a bit.

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With 7.0 and the new features it brings to the table, like the Channel Lister and such, I find that the Houdini layout is a little TOO flexible. Its ok for people who are advanced users but for people starting out with the character tools it can be a little too much rope to hang yourself with.

What I did is I built a few default desktops in Houdini with some of the new panels exposed so that people could get used to them. I exposed a layout of panes to kinda what is available in Maya 6's preset layouts, plus many Houdini-only features. 80% of Houdini users at DD don't know about the Channel Lister and I'm sure a small fraction of the those know where to find it and have even fewer have built it into their desktops. I do think that Side Effects could stand revise their desktops for the default distribution to make the transition from Maya easier and just to expose these great new tools even to hardened users.

I think the Lister, the handles and the Channel Editor tools make Houdini perfectly capable of character animation without limitation. I think that Arctor is correct in that animation is more about the art of animation than being about which tool you use, especially if the tool you chose has the fundamental capabilities. Houdini certainly has advanced capabilities in this area, but no tool in the world will help you be a better animator.. I know that my code is just as poor if I use Notepad instead of Emacs. ;)

PS. Perhaps we could start a thread for proposed desktop layouts that are most efficent for certain tasks? If we had layouts for single and dual monitors too?

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Houdini certainly has advanced capabilities in this area, but no tool in the world will help you be a better animator..


...Unless you expect a paperclip character to pop up and say "It looks like you're animating a walkcycle. You might want to add a little more anticipation by shifting this keyframe back two frames."

(Look at me, replying to myself. I'm going mad, methinks.)

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Wow, I am pretty impressed that there is hope in houdini's animation part... I am more inspired now to start to learn rigging in houdini... in the hope someone will animate it.

I am also interested in the gui change so that animators can only see wht looks like a maya sort of interface... Visual Paradigms had skins of houdini but the sites closed now.... Anyone have any tips on how to change the interface?

Thanks in advance

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Anyone have any tips on how to change the interface?


Houdini's pane layout is totally configurable. From the Pane menu at the top of each Pane, you can "Split Left/Right" or "Split Top/Bottom". Next, also from the Pane menu you can choose the kind of pane that you want. A desktop is the collection of panes that you see. To create a new desktop, go to the main menu, "Settings | Destops..." and there you can create and save new Desktops. For example, Houdini's default "Build" deskop has three panes: a parameter pane, a network editor and a viewer. The Channel List that Jason is talking about is also one of the pane types. (Hint: hit 'x' to hide the group list from the channel lister, or Ctrl-RMB to see a list of options).

One more quick note about panes, there is a number in a circle at the top of each pane. This number represents a "grouping". All panes with the same number will try to stay in synch with each other for when you switch to a different network or change the current operation.

I agree with Jason also, the default Houdini should either ship with a different Animation desktop that is more suitable to character animation or have a new one called "Character".

Hope that helps.


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I don't really comment as I'm biased. But I'll chime in anyhow. Note that I work on the product and not actually an animator. I think very few animators have actually used Houdini in production. And for those that did, they were basing their opinions on older versions of the software.

How easy it is for an animator depends on several things.

1. A good rig. This makes all the difference IMHO. It has to have all the necessary controls, easy to tweak, fast, etc. I think that this achievable in Houdini. Coupled with the encapsulation of Digital Assets and the use of easy capture weight transfer, I think it speeds up rigging workflow considerably. In other packages, I think a fair bit has to be done in order to preserve capture weights in the midst of modelling changes?

2. Keying workflow. This is divided into two parts. There's keying in the viewports and then there's the channel editor.

2. a. Viewports. I think Houdini has a very strong viewport workflow now since we first started in H5.0. Picking handles, scoping cuves, keying, etc. is like how one would expect it.

Blocking animation in Houdini is a breeze now with the new flipbook timing tool. Specifically, it supports a more efficient pose-to-pose animation workflow. See http://www.keithlango.com/popThru/popThru.html for a detailed discussion. The animator blocks out their animation in poses and then flipbooks a set of channels. A picture gets generated for all frames that have keys. In mplay then, it plays back as if the curve interpolation were constants. The animator directly shifts keys in mplay's playbar to adjust timing. Since we're just changing the frames that the images get played back, you get very fast feedback on timing. When you're all done, you tell mplay to synchronize the keys on the channels in Houdini to timing adjusted within mplay.

2. b. Channel editor. This is often used during the tweaking stage. I've talked to animators who have been totally converted to Houdini's channel editor. And this was back in H5.5. I've had comments along the lines of "Wow! This is great! Why don't more people use Houdini?" once they got use to the channel editor. And it's often the small things like:

- Being able to switch between 3 modes (graph, table, dopesheet) using easy hotkeys. They get into a "flow" thing here.

- The table mode is something that they've found extremely useful in Houdini unlike in other packages.

- By default, moving keys in graph mode restricts you to 1 axis depending on what you pick.

- You move handles in the graph mode directly using the left mouse without needing to first select them. This applies to key values, times, slopes, etc.

- The default is cubic interpolation. Although it's different from beziers, character animators I've talked to actually like cubic better. The difference is that the slope lengths are always the same for cubics. It's hard to describe why they're better until you've animated with them for a bit.

- Graphical scaling of keys in graph mode (both values and time).

I think it means the most when after the show finished, some of them who are now animating in other packages that they missed Houdini and would prefer animating in Houdini again. And these were animators who were using H5.5 in production.

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Ed was in the thick of it enhancing and developing the character rigging tools arguably amongst the best riggers in the world. I include Arctor in that elite group now. Me? I am still looking through the frosted cold window on that world. Did I mention that it is -25 Celcius out my window today? Crap!

I can tell you that I got thrashed quite a few times. Until particuar rigging features got implemented I literally was an extension of the UI running from rigger to rigger running scripts and re-doing capture bits to suit the rapidly changing software. Fun times!

So with that experience, we got the rigging and capture tools up to a standard where you can build a pro rig. But what about the animation side of things? Well another large studio came along and I got thrashed again! It was the actual animation interface this time. Comparing us to Maya, we didn't do the simple things easy. I can honestly say that the second experience was just as profound as the first and generated over 100 RFE's (Request For Enhancements).

We now have a great channel lister, unified hot-keys, ability to create channel groups directly from nodes, takes, and much much more. There is the mplay blocking feature as well! H7 goes a long way to simplifying animation in general and we are not done yet. More enhancements for H8.

Oh, and by the way, I have had many a maya animator complement us on our channel editor once they brought themselves to use it that is. :) What do they say, "Ignorance is bliss?"

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thanks Jeff :)

Ed and Jeff's comments about the changes in Houdini brought about through RFE's are really key...only Side Effects (IMO) are that quick to see just /how/ their customers (and Apprentice users) are actually /using/ the software! a feature might look good on paper and the code might be really slick and smart - but if it doesn't meet the needs of production it's useless - SESI are really great about adapting and changing the way that Houdini works to meet those needs - and because they're all really smart folks, they often find even /better/ ways to do things...it's a feedback loop between SESI and Houdini users...can't be beat.

once more people have rigged as few characters in Houdini I predict an explosion of knowledge for all to use and learn from.

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