Hiring blind for Houdini

I’m preparing a job posting for what hope will be a hire who can not only use Houdini but will also be able to help my team learn and benefit from it as well. I want somebody who can evangelize and teach as well as push buttons.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the chops myself to know what to look for in a candidate. What are some of the questions I ought to be asking? What do you think distinguishes somebody who is just competent at using the software from somebody who can use it to help enable new ways of working for other TAs and other end users?

FWIW I’m expecting this hire to focus on procedural content generation – terrain, environments, etc – rather than animation or FX.

I believe this is my first post here but I’m a long time lurker and have greatly benefited from TAO in the past.
So I thought it’s time to become a bit more active.

Interestingly enough I have done almost exactly what you are describing at my last company.
Looking at Houdini as a tool for procedural content generation to enable a medium sized team to keep up with shorter dev-cycles and growing expectations for game content.
For me it was just natural to pic up on the growing number of GDC talks that have Houdini as focus and that SideFX is doing a lot of work on their game related toolset.
I started learning Houdini the same time I suggested it to my Art Director as some we need to look into.
After pointing at Far Cry and other games that shared how they used it and showing the first prototypes after two weeks I made suggestions which licenses would be sufficient while staying on minimum initial investment.
We went for that number and distribution of licenses for an evaluation period and I introduced other tech artists and lead artists to houdini and how I imagined us using it in the future.
It took some time and consistency to convince some but it the end and after showing more refined tools and documenting the entire process everyone was on board.
Maybe that sparks a few ideas for questions.

What I can think of:

  • Have you every integrated a new technology(software maybe specifically Houdini) into an existing pipeline?
  • How would you go about suggesting a new technology/software and what first steps can you think of if you get the go-ahead?
  • Why do you think we are seeing this increased usage of Houdini in studios worldwide?
  • What is the most interesting use of Houdini you have seen in games to date?
  • Can you think of a situation where you shouldn’t use Houdini even if it is tempting?
  • What difficulties did you have in the past when teaching new workflows and tools?

I think someone that knows where and what the boundaries are and where it does not make sense to use Houdini. Right now at least. Someone that does not promise Houdini solves “everything”.

I hope any of this makes any sense or is even remotely helpful.

This is a great start, thanks a lot.

Hey, just joined the community. As a prior SideFx Games intern, I spent my months learning as much as the ins and outs of Houdini as I could.

Some of the essentials are their knowledge of attributes and their use cases. Since attributes allow you to determine everything from position of vertexs to direction of their normals. You need to know how to use these effectively. I.e a procedural folliage scattering tool needs to carry attributes with its scale and normals for its rotation.

Depending on the complexity of work required, what is their extent of knowledge of Vex the programming language in Houdini. This is one thing that still plagues me and can be essential for creating efficient tools. Check out Anastasia oparas work if interested in the highest standard possible for Vex.

Another thing that should be considered is can they set up and HDA (Houdini digital asset) and have parameters that an artist can understand and use. What are their practices and thought process behind setting up an HDA.

Middle level knowledge questions include: do you know how to use terrain height fields and the erosion techniques to get a realistic landscape. Can you make an art directable landscape. What is your workflow?

Do you know how to create a river that deforms the landscape. How would you go about creating it?

An interesting question would be what is your knowledge of creating destructible objects. Can they set up constraint networks. How would they create wood fracturing, metal breaking, concrete and brick destruction. All have different techniques to creating their constraint networks. Are they able to set it up to work in engine.

Are they able to collaboratively work on their tools with other Houdini artists. This can commonly be difficult due to wildly different workflows. How do they alleviate these issues.

How do they design to be user friendly and easily pick up and play.

How are they able to teach others to use their tools or ability to teach others to make their own tools. Are they able to debug someone else’s hip file.

I think thats a good set to ask. Feel free to PM with any other questions though!

Been in the same situation - some additional advice to the excellent answers above.

I encountered many Houdini artists who were either new to games (having extensive Houdini experience in film) or Houdini artists who knew games but were new to Houdini. You may have to pick your poison, and it makes sense to loot out the artists’ particular background by asking the right questions.

Make sure you don’t get people who have a hammer and for whom every problem is a nail. Houdini isn’t always the solution. A good Houdini artist should know the limitations and advice you when Houdini is a solution and when it isn’t.

Houdini can also be a great tool for small scale pipeline improvements (it adds up!) - it’s great when Houdini artists can think big, but can they also think small and apply the power of Houdini to every-day problemes, e,g, in modeling, UVing, prototyping, etc.?

Good stuff again. Wonder what @lkruel thinks, hint hint…

Yeah that one is a tricky one. All valid points so far.

Hiring a Houdini Tech Artist is a similar problem to hiring a Lead Tech Artist, there aren’t a lot out there yet, and most of the ones employed are the backbone for a lot of pipelines so they’re hard to poach.

That being said, Robert’s comments are perfect. If you just need someone to crank out tools in Houdini, a film person would be good. Because they need to know more about the Houdini bit than the games bit. If you have a good lead with some basic interest/knowledge in Houdini that can be a great combination. But you’ll need to pair them up with a buddy, so they don’t make massively inefficient things (which is easy to do, like a city with all unique vertices)

If you need someone to “own Houdini” in your studio, then a more Jr or one of the SideFX interns is usually a good idea. You’re not likely to go all in with Houdini at first, so there’s less pressure on that pipeline being critical path, which allows for someone to learn a bit on the job as they go along. Even the Ghost Recon’s of the world started with just a cable tool and some scattering HDAs.

Houdini also has a lower technical entry point (I know it sounds counter intuitive). But you can actually get a lot done without diving into code. I’ve seen a lot of success from Sr Environment Artists who are familiar with node systems like Substance, dive right into Houdini and be super productive. Usually it helps for them to be paired up with a Houdini mentor (like someone from film, or a tech artist that can make them a vex node) but you’d be surprised with what some non technical folks are able to accomplish.

Like most new tech, a lot of the times the schools are a bit ahead of the game on training students on new software, so take a look at hiring people straight from school. NHTV Breda is an infamous program that has yielded most of the top Houdini artists, most of them are proficient straight out of school.

Hope that helps!

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