Last week I wrote this piece for the blog with a small update on my progress in Houdini. It's been mostly passive absorption of learning materials - I've not even opened the program up that much. I’ve watched a lot of tutorials, switching between beginners and advanced projects and I’m now confident that I understand the functionality, the interface and the workflow. What I don’t know yet it how to best employ the hundreds of operators and expression functions to create complex and customised assets. I won’t worry too much about that yet, as it’s the sort of stuff that comes slowly and with experience, so it’s about time I started getting messy.
My aim now is to create one master scene that contains all the key features of Houdini working together. I’m going for this unified (and ambitious) approach because it better reflects how multiple complex elements fit together in production workflows, but also because it’ll help me focus my efforts.
So, the elements I’ll be learning are:
1. Procedural Modelling: I'll create a tool that can generate variations of stately home architecture.
2. Procedural Shading: I'll create a tool to create variations of brick, marble, grass and stone textures.
3. Procedural Vegetation: I’ll work with Houdini’s plant generation tool to create a reconfigurable ornamental garden.
4. Cloth Simulation: I’ll simulate flags attached to the building waving in the wind.
5. Fluid Simulations: I'll create an ornamental fountain, with dynamically animated water.
6. Particles, Smoke and Fire: I’d use collisions to destroy and damage the architecture.
7. Rendering: Using Houdini’s Mantra renderer.
Why have I chosen this type of scene? It might seem a little frumpy perhaps? Well, many of the ideas that I've been knocking around for the past few months are related to the aestheticisation of disaster. I'm interested in how evolving software has shaped the way developers, technicians and visual effects artists create spectacular photoreal depictions of sublime and cataclysmic events.
In the formal and material qualities of stately home architecture (including their landscaped gardens and ornamental fountains) I see a parallel with software. This architectural vernacular evolved over time from a complex set of political and social circumstances to produce a grotesque and convoluted code.
Perhaps code is the key word here, though not necessarily as programming language, but in the many layers of computational and cultural codes that mediate the production of imagery that signifies power, wealth and value.