Around half an hour into the demonstration, after setting up the HUD and preferences, Jeff turned to the group and said, "Now, select your cube, and press the 'Fireball' button, then press play!"
Houdini has a Fireball button! Instantly, a simulation that would've took me over an hour in Maya, appears on screen. When the simple box geometry explodes like a petrol station in a Michael Bay movie, producing fire and smoke in a mushroom cloud that looks absolutely fantastic once rendered, I'm instantly hooked. My inner child clawed its way to the surface, and I quickly created a mental list of all the 3D models I'd created in the past, that I now wanted to turn into smoking balls of destruction.
The beauty is it all takes a matter of minutes, because Side Effects had the foresight to include jumping off points for an array of awesome fluids effects like 'Fireball', 'Billowy Smoke' and 'Dry Ice'. The power of the procedural workflow, specifically being able to create and distribute your own nodes throughout Houdini, immediately becomes apparent.
Jeff said many times throughout the day that learning Houdini is just like learning an instrument; you've got to practice. Soon I was thinking, just how much could be done after a little practice? This led me to believe, why not create your own node network and represent a 'Smoke Grenade', or a 'Slow-Burning Ember' and save it as your own button. This notion of copying and pasting existing workflows allows similar effects to be distributed across multiple objects, and even across multiple scenes. I was beginning to understand the Houdini mindset.
As a first time Houdini user, I found the combination of ease and power that was displayed throughout the day incredibly impressive. Jeff Wagner, a charming Canadian ambassador from Side Effects, took us through a variety of exercises that were challenging enough for rookies like myself, but still of interest to the industry artists present. There was no doubt that Jeff was a Houdini Ninja, capable of answering any question asked by people in the room, because he obviously has an immense knowledge of the technicalities found beneath the programs surface.
We spent the majority of the day attempting to collapse a building using the integrated Bullet technology. I say attempting, as my results had a tendency to explode rather than dismantle, however, the message was still presented; Houdini's procedural workflow allows a customisable scene even after rigid bodies and simulations have been integrated.
Bullet's assimilation allows Houdini to navigate hundreds, if not thousands, of rigid bodies on screen without grinding to a halt, leading to the inclusion of the fabled 'Make Breakale' button; a function that runs a Voronoi shatter on any model and forms a subsequent group of geometry, allowing you to destroy anything you create!
Later in the afternoon we took a look at simulating particles into fluids. Houdini uses FLIP fluids (Fluid-Implicit Particles) to create movements that simulate much like the real world fluids, requiring less dependency on additional fields and external manipulation to actualise liquid and gaseous movement. In fact, this is the same system used in Naiad, which means Houdini can accurately undertake scenes comparable to the most powerful fluid sim on the market. During this session, Jeff let us work with Houdini 12 a few days before its actual release and we got to benefit from recent performance and workflow enhancements, which was great.
The raw power and vision of Houdini became apparent over the six hours we spent with Jeff. Upon understanding the core mechanics, there appears to be no limit to which these basic concepts can be applied, even to the most colossal of projects.
Quite frankly, there seems there's nothing which it can't do! Jeff recounted a story where a student once asked him "Can Houdini do this?" His reply was, "Well, Houdini can do it, the question is, can you?"
I better get practicing!