SIGGRAPH Asia 2013: Houdini 13

3D World technical editor Rob Redman reports on the last day's events from SIGGRAPH Asia 2013, the annual computer graphics and interactive techniques conference.

So, today was the last day of SIGGRAPH Asia 2013 and the main highlight for me was the SideFX booth. They had their own demos and talks from in-house experts, as well as artists from the likes of Digital Domain.

Many aspects of Houdini 13 were demoed with a good level of detail. This was far more than the usual narrated showreel found at these sorts of shows. Split into themed talks, the day consisted of wide ranging topics but what got me most excited was the section on lighting and rendering. Houdini is usually thought of for its particles, simulations and other effects tools but the guys at SideFX showed attendees the power and efficiency of their render engine, Mantra, as well as demonstrating the Houdini lighting system.

What struck me more than the render quality (which is a very high quality, production ready one) was the working process. The system has been built to solve production problems. You can light a scene very quickly, using standard HDRIs, point, spot and area lights but it's the speed and control of working with them that impressed me.

Using geometry to create portal lights does away with unnecessary computations and lights can be given bounding areas, so falloff can be limited. Again this means processing power is only used where it's needed. Sometimes reality needs to be broken and this is easy to in Houdini. Lights can be given custom falloff coloured gradients, unleashing endless possibilities.

The volume tools were also demoed, with cloud and smoke and fire being a highlight. Seeing how easy it is to build a cloudscape with noise free transparent and feathered edges was inspiring. If I had a laptop with me I'd be trying it right now, but more than that was the volume lighting. So simple to implement but such incredible results.

Lastly was the announcement of Houdini Engine. I spent some time today learning more about it and seeing how it is set to impact the work of artists. Rather than being a creation tool, it is much more about giving Maya and Unity the power to take native files and add them to their own scenes.

Seeing as Houdini is used so commonly for visual effects this will be a huge opportunity for pipelines small and large to increase efficiency and remove bottlenecks. I won't talk too much here but be sure to check it out and look for more in the mag, soon.

An event well worth while

Siggraph Asia 2013 has been a great event, with plenty to see, no matter what area of CG you might be in. I was initially concerned that some big names weren't there (Autodesk, Maxon and others decided not to attend), but in reality it left more time to spend talking to people I might not have, or listening to talks from people developing tools that we will see in our software in the future.

I got to see multiple developments in performance capture, a great look at some 3D printing and so much new technology it will take a while to sink in. Look for a show report in 3D World, coming very soon. Until next year, when Siggraph Asia hits mainland China....