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Creative Ideas for Particle Effects in Houdini

Hi, my name is Luna Fierens, I am a final year student at Howest University, taking the VFX and  3D production major. As a final year student, I had to choose one project to research and work out.

This is a breakdown of what I did. Not only did I learn a lot from this project, it also gave my creativity an enormous boost.


Last year Method Studios released a sponsor reel they made for the AICP awards, with the hit song ‘Light it up’ from Major Lazer. When it was time to choose a project I thought it would be fun to do something like this video. I always loved animation and I wanted to learn Houdini, so this was my perfect chance to combine these two things.

First Houdini Steps

When I told people I was going to learn Houdini they all told me it’s crazy to do so. And yes it’s not easy to learn Houdini by yourself. But I loved the exploring. I started out with making different tests on animated spheres and later on a simple animated figure. Once I started to understand the software and how to do things, I could start combining effects. Pushing the limits of the software and my computer.

luna-fierens-04Working Out a Solid Idea

It was important for me to have a solid idea, and a goal to work towards. Otherwise I could keep experimenting . At first I wanted to make 3 scenes, but later I found out it’s very hard to put music under such short clips. So I flipped things around and chose a music piece and let my mind visualize it.

I made a quick storyboard and for every scene. Finding colour pallets on Pinterest. Since all the animations are very vivid I chose vivid colours.  I wanted every scene to have his own colour palette so you wouldn’t have the feeling you saw 10 of the same particle effects.


From Maya to Houdini

Before I could go into Houdini I needed the animations. The hardest part was finding a rig that would look nice with the crazy movements. Even though I had rigging in school, my skills are not advanced enough for a project like this.  Luckily I found Miranda, a free rig on highend3d with muscle system. After cleaning up the motion capture in Maya I could go to Houdini.

It was important for me to have a solid idea, and a goal to work towards. Otherwise I could keep experimenting .

I tried to make as much use of the VOP nodes as I could with the knowledge I had. Changing colour overtime or by velocity, add noise to dissolve the body. Even though I had finished my research part and had put my ideas down, I kept searching for interesting effects. This part of the project mainly exists out of constantly tweaking the effects, problem-solving and trying new things that might make it cooler.

I made a lot of flipbooks (draft renders in Houdini) to see the effects at full speed because effects might look good until you see them at full speed and they turn out to be horrible. Sometimes it’s hard to call something finished and go on to the next effect. There are things I didn’t even use in the end.


Rendering and Editing

When I was happy with the effect I made a flipbook to put in Premiere. There I tried making an edit to see if it would work together or not. The scenes I liked and worked I rendered out. I decided to keep the background a clean colour so the animation would be the main focus. Then it was just a matter of finding the right light setup. I needed a light setup to give the particles depth.

For some scenes, it took me some time, because the animation would go from one side of the scene to the other. After some overnight renders I had all my final sequences. I took them to Premiere and replaced the flipbooks by the final renders. In Premiere, I did some colour corrections and tweaking before calling it finished.


Author: Luna Fierens

My name is Luna, I’m a vfx and animation student based in Belgium. Ever since I was little I wanted to work with movies. Back then I didn’t really know this industry. But three years ago, straight out of high school , I took my first steps and started my bachelor in Digital Arts and Entertainment. Along the way I learned so much and found my interest in Animation and vfx. I love combining the movement of animation with effects . I am always happy to learn new things and use these things to make creative content.

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