In our final report from FMX2014, we cover the announcement that Cinema 4D will be supporting the Houdini Engine as well as have a sneak peek at the upcoming RealFlow 2014. A special thanks to Matt Leonard, who helped cover all the happenings in Stuttgart this year.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out our other coverage from FMX 2014:

FMX 2014: day one report
FMX 2014: day two report
FMX 2014: day three/four report

Side Effects Software Houdini Engine & Cinema 4D

In this session Rob Stauffer walked us through Houdini Engine, a system for loading Houdini Digital Assets into 3rd party 3D applications such as Unity, Maya or Softimage. This was introduced last year, but at FMX Side Effects announced Houdini Engine for Cinema 4D and also that the Maya plugin would be available as an open source project. MAXON's Cinema 4D and Houdini make a great pair, as each has complementary strengths. Also, the ability for TDs to create approachable Houdini tools for use within Cinema 4D should be a big bonus. We have an interview about this news a bit later in the article, but first a bit about the Side Effects presentation.

Although the presentation mainly focused on Unity, Stauffer was quick to point out the system worked the same if you were in Maya, Softimage or C4D. If you haven’t come across Unity before, it is a game development system offering a powerful rendering engine integrated with a complete set of tools and workflows for create interactive 3D and 2D games content.

Stauffer started with a quick recap on Side Effects, noting they were now in their 26th year with Houdini being their main flagship product. After a short 4 minute showreel showing work done for features, commercials, television and games Stauffer moved into discussing Houdini Engine and Digital Assets. In order to make a Digital Asset you need to utilise Houdini’s Subnet feature. The result of this is saved as a .otl file which can then be loaded into any 3D system supporting Houdini Engine.

Houdini is obviously mainly known for its procedural approach to creating amazing dynamics and fluid effects. However, it also has a complete toolset for modelling, character animation, lighting, shading and rendering (using Side Effects' physically plausible renderer, Mantra). Houdini is one of the only true procedural 3D systems and this brings amazing flexibility to an artist. However the software is also one of the hardest to learn, even for a seasoned 3D artist, with its steep learning curve and unusual (in a 3D world) nodal approach.

Houdini Engine and the resulting Digital Assets enable an artist to create and then load the asset, similar to a NUKE gizmo, into another 3D system that supports the engine. This asset is loaded with certain permitters available to the user, so an artist can adjust various options as if using it directly within Houdini itself. The Assets themselves are easy to create and require no programming knowledge outside of Houdini itself. The Asset is really just a set of libraries and APIs running within the host application and gives you the full functionality of Houdini, including Manta. Once you have purchased the plugin you can use Digital Assets in the application even if you don’t have a full license of Houdini running on the same workstation.

With the announcement of the Houdini Engine last year, Side Effects created this overview video which shows how the whole system works.

Stauffer went on to show a number of examples including the creation of a game level, such as one seen in Doom or Quake. This was created procedurally using a Digital Asset previously created in Houdini and running within Unity. A general volume was created representing the entire game level, from there a curve system was used to define where the corridors would be. The Digital Asset then automatically added the corridors, along with doors where they intersected. Walkways, railings and other set dressing could be quickly added procedurally throughout the game level. From there various fluid effects were added along with interactive characters, all via the Digital Asset. And if required Side Effects' own renderer, Mantra, could be used to render everything.

Next, Stauffer showed a Maya example which was using a Digital Asset to bring the pose of Houdini directly to a Maya primitive. A standard Maya torus was created and a Houdini RBD Solver applied via a prebuilt Digital Asset. This enabled the torus to be dropped onto a passive surface and broken apart using Houdini’s Voronoi factoring system, all within Maya. In another example, Stauffer showed how you could create a Maya primitive and have it converted into a Houdini fluid simulation.

We caught up with MAXON's Oliver Meiseberg and Side Effects' Jeff Wagner and got their thoughts on Houdini Engine, as well as the new Cinema 4D integration.

Interview with MAXON's Oliver Meiseberg and Side Effects' Jeff Wagner.

RealFlow 2014 First Look
Victor Sanchez, Next Limit

As has become the tradition, Next Limit gave a sneak peek at their upcoming release of RealFlow 2014 that will ship later this year. Victor Sanchez highlighted the new features coming in the software, which aims for a mid-June 2014 release date. There has also been a significant reduction in price as well.

A New User Interface

RealFlow 2014 sports a newly designed interface with UI Shelves. They are used to organize both built-in and user tools in a fully customizable interface. Users can drag and drop python scripts as well as graphs. The configuration of shelves is stored in an xml file, not in preferences, providing a way of separating UI from prefs and also facilitate sharing between artists. There is a new ability build a library of customized resources complete with UI value entry fields, rules, etc. Users can also customize their own keyboard shortcuts to access every single RealFlow command.

Hybrido Viscosity

Hybrido, RealFlow’s grid fluid solver, was introduced in the 2013 version. The performance was outstanding, but the lack of viscosity controls was problematic. That’s solved with the upcoming 2014 release, as there is now a viscosity control when using the Hybrido solver. In the UI, it appears as one single parameter which users control, but there are settings for maximum iterations and accuracy so that users can reduce sim times for better interaction. Even better news is that the new viscosity feature doesn’t greatly impact render times and works very well with RealFlow’s meshing algorithm.

Split screen showing variable space with two different viscosity settings

Hybrido FLIP secondaries

Users will be able to add secondary elements with Hybrido elements in addition to the classic SPH which was previously available in first release. In practice, this means a faster solver for secondary elements such as splashes or foam as it utilizes multithreading. There is also a new bubbles emitter for Hybrido.

Hybrido secondaries
Meshing Improvements

New interactive meshing means that there is a real-time visual update in the viewport while tweaking the mesh patterns. Users can now use the camera view or bounding box to contain the area of meshing. For instance, you could only mesh the area seen by the camera or contained within an object. Finally, users can extend the area of simulation in an intelligent way through the use of mesh extensions. Basically tile patches around a Hybrido mesh to easily generate large surfaces of fluid such as open waters and oceans.

Additional Features

  • Scene variables: Users can set variables which can then be used in various parameters within the app. Updating the single variable updates it throughout the scene.
  • Alternative paths: Users can specify alternative paths to write sim data in other volumes than the current one to avoid data loss when your primary scratch disk becomes full. RealFlow can be customized to search alternative paths or stop on disk error.
  • Forces visualization: Visual feedback of forces directly in the RealFlow viewport, including customizing the subset you want to monitor. Implementation is much like motion vector display in other apps.
  • Maxwell Previews: Maxwell 3.0 engine is implemented. Added support for alpha, motion vector, and normal pass render channels. Support for IBL is also included.
  • Arnold Output: Export as Arnold setup and. in the future (not immediately), V-Ray meshes.
  • Templates: RealFlow now includes templates for the most common fluid examples, water, oil, blood, honey, custard, dough, lava, paint, etc.

Pricing Changes

There have also been major pricing changes with an approximately 40% reduction in price for the node-locked version. RealFlow 2014 will be € 2,000 or US $2,500. For floating licenses, purchasers will receive one RealFlow Node for free along with RealFlow. RealFlow Render Kit is now available for download with the free connectivity plugins (means it is free and unlimited).

A pre-release discount is available up until the release of RealFlow in mid-June, with 15% off all RealFlow licenses. See the NextLimit website for more details.


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