Houdini VFX Reel

Houdini VFX Reel

Carlos Millán Giráldez
by CarlosMillan on 2 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

My top 4 Houdini projects

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Nearly nine months studying Houdini now, this is what I've managed to achieve. Still far away from what I want to express with an image, but silently getting close.

Vellum Project

An old train quickly moves its way through the tracks, rumbling and whistling. Passengers enjoy the astonishing views while they cross a tall stone bridge over a lake between mountains.

In a matter of seconds the wheels lock, the train derrails and violently slides over the narrow bridge. The surface of the water is disturbed by its collosal size and weight.

Inside, a rather startling scene is taking place. Guns that belonged to hands, cigars with extinct fire, unclaimed diamond necklaces and empty shoes all slowly dance underwater. The passengers seem asleep as the train descents to the deep unknown and the light fades away. Between all the caos, there she lays, motionless, almost perfect.

Technical aspects

As in the rest of the projects, I used Houdini as my main 3d software, Maya for modelling, Substance for texturing and Nuke, Premiere and After Effects for compositing, editing and post-production.

The wagon model is made out of walls and windows I combined from Quixel. About the girl, I had to stylize her shape with sculp tools before I rigged it and animated it. Almost all the textures seen on the shot had to be readjusted manually.

There are two simulations in the shot, one of the dress and one of the hair, both of them advected by a Pyro simulation in order to obtain organic movements.

Volumetrics are involved in the render process, as well as an extensive work on color grading and lighting correction.


Inspired by the work "Digital Strings" from Dimitris Sakkas. 

As I did not know how to use particles, I wanted to experiment with them. I took Dimitris' project as a reference and started playing with them. I used Heightfields as a collider and changed the particle's behaviour alterating its natural trajectory with noises in order to get a more organic and random movement. 


Reference - "Cold Blue Winter Album" by Trevor Kerr.

As well as with particles, I found myself following a reference in order to learn RBD in Houdini. In this project, I modeled and textured the crystal so as to have a broader control of its shapes. In total, I had twelve individual numbered fractures, each one of them with some different velocity approaches.

The big pieces are animated by hand, and I used its vector trails as a velocity input for some fracture simmulations. For others, I combined this movement and other custom directions, as well as collisions with the pieces themselves.

Twelve different Pyro simmulations are generated from the insight of the pieces, and twelve particle simmulations advected by each Pyro sim are being calculated. To summarise, each fractured Crystal has a custom velocity, a custom Pyro simmulation and a custom Particle simmulation.


The most challenging project so far in terms of simmulations.

For the trail simmulation I had to adjust the bounding box to my ram memory limit, it was so precise that the simmulation reached a 90% usage of ram on its heaviest part, close to the breaking point. 

High substeps and fire behaviour were main themes when working on it, as well as cloud generation and post-processing in After Effects.

For the explosion, I generated two particle emissions and played with parameters and resolution.

When simulating the shockwave, I created numerous projects and ended up using two different simmulations, one with a more heavy smoke and one with some light dust. That way I achieved more dynamism overall and a very pleasant look I reckon.

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