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Houdini Crash Course#



Term Description
Object Object type nodes in an Object type folder. These Object nodes allow you build transform constraint hierarchies. Geometry type Object nodes contain SOP nodes that construct and modify geometry that inherit any transforms at the object level.
SOPs Surface OPerators or geometry nodes that are inside an object folder. These are used to construct and modify geometry. Any kind of geometry from polygons to volumes.
DOPs Dynamic OPerators or simulation/solver nodes that are used to construct simulations. Simulations read in geometry from SOPs and passes this data in to the DOP solvers.
SHOP SHading Operators are materials that represent a shader to apply to geometry. Some are hard coded with vex and others are folders that you can dive in to and modify the VOPs inside.
VOPs Vector OPerators inside VOP network nodes are used for everything from building shaders to modifying geometry, volumes, pixels, and more.
VEX Vector Expression Language. The code language used to write shaders. VOPs are wrappers around VEX code snippets.
CVEX Context agnostic Vector Expression Language. This has replaced all the VEX specific contexts throughout Houdini. It is a generalized language that uses the same environment and functions anywhere inside Houdini.
COPs Composite OPerators in composite type folders. Used in image compositing operations.
ROPs Render OPerators in side ROP Output directories which are used to create render output dependency graphs for automating output of any type of data and for triggering external processes like rendering. Commonly used to generate sequences of geometry, simulation data and trigger Render tasks that generates sequences of images to disk.
CHOPs CHannel OPerators used to create and modify any type of raw channel data from motion to audio and everything in between. Most users safely ignore the CHOP context, and so can you, for now. Put it on the “get to it later” list when learning Houdini. But definitely keep it on the list.
Bundles Way to group things. Smart Bundles allow for patterns



  • For every cook (frame change, parm change, etc)
  • the network starts at the Display/Render node and then walks up the chain looking for nodes with changes and evaluates dependencies for each node also querying those nodes for changes until it hits the top nodes
  • The nodes marked dirty causing the network to evaluate the dirty nodes top down evaluating the dependencies that were found
  • You can set a few options in the Performance Monitor to work in the older H11 way and see this evaluation tree order if you wish.
  • It is "mandatory" that you do this if you want a deeper understanding of Houdini.
  • You definitely need to use the Performance Monitor if you want to see how the networks have evaluated as it is based on creation order along with the set-up dependencies.
  • Yes deleting and undeleting an object can and will change this evaluation order and can sometimes get you out of a spot with crashing.
  • Houdini is a file system, in memory, and on disk in the .hip "cpio" archive file.
  • If you want, you can use a shell, and given any .hip file, run the hexpand shell command on the file
  • This will expand the Houdini file in to a directory structure that you can read and edit if you so wish
  • Then wrap it back up with hcollapse
  • Each node is captured as three distinct files:
  • the file that that adds the node and wires it up to other nodes
  • the parameter file that sets the nodes parameters
  • another file that captures additional info on the node
  • If you locked a SOP, then that binary information will be captured as a fourth file for that node
  • Different types of node networks and nodes of a specific type can only be worked on in specific directory node types
  • You can dig deeper with Houdini textport pane to navigate the houdini scene via the textport as you would in a unix shell
  • opcf (aliased to cd)
  • opls (aliased to ls)
  • oppwf (aliased to oppwd and pwd)
  • Ex
    cd '/obj'
    ls -al
  • (Reference) - an excellent Houdini Internals Explanation


Coordinate System#

Coordinate System: Right handed, Y-Up


  • Matrices are post multiplied (x * M * V * P)
  • Row addressable M[RowIndex][ColumnIndex]
  • Matrix stored as row major m[0]-m[3] = first row, m[4]-m[7] = second row

Note that Houdini’s matrices are stored in row-major format, and vectors that are multiplied with matrices are treated as row vectors. (Reference)

  • So, if p is a hou.Vector4 representing a point and M is a Matrix4, you write p*M, not M*p
  • Similarly, p*M1*M2 will first transform p by M1, and then transform it by M2

IMPORTANT however, in the houdini network editor, some nodes like channel multiply can be premutliplied/postmultiplied.
For left to right inputs A, B, C =>

  • Post-multiply (eg Multiply node) means v * C * B * A
  • Pre-multiply (eg Transform node) means v * A * B * C

are connected in a left to right order bc they are "post-multiply implying a premultiply order (eg: WorldSpace * ObjectSpace * v). Others like transform give you the option to premultiply or post multiply


  • Environment Variables
  • Houdini Python Setup
  • hconfig: for listing houdini config and environment variables
  • -a: dump all the environment vars
  • -ap: dump all the seach paths
  • hgpuinfo: dump GPU info
  • -c/-l: dump OpenCL info for active/all devices
  • -g: dump OpenGL info
  • -o: dump OptiX info
  • Special characters:
  • @ => expands to directories in HOUDINI_PATH
    Ex: if HOUDINI_PATH=$HIP;$HFS/houdini;$HOME/houdini, then @/vex would expand to $HIP/vex;$HFS/houdini/vex;$HOME/houdini/vex
  • = => equiv to $HIP
  • & => default path for given envar
  • ^ => expands to the shader type for VEX-related variables
    Ex: if HOUDINI_VEX_PATH="$HOME/vex/^", when loading Surface shaders it will expand to "$HOME/vex/Surface"


To set a shortcut, click on a menu option while holding ctrl+shift+alt to bring up the hotkey manager for that menu command


Volatile keys Hold them to temporarily activate and revert on release. Tap to activate
Ctrl+B Maximize current pane
Escape+enter Go to viewport & turn on manipulator
M Cycle through alignment of gizmo (world, object, screen, etc)
K Keyframe
' Detach manipulator
; Align manipulator mode
/ Align construction plane mode
Ins Go to move pivot mode
Ctrl+"drag manip" Will snap changes by units specified in handle params:

Alt+W Rename nodes:
Ctrl+⅓/4 Change view layout to single view/3-split/4-way split
Alt+\ Maximize panel vertically


Shortcut Description
Spacebar+B Toggle maximize viewport (from splitview to one view)
X,C,V Radial menu for Snapping, Current, View
Spacebar+Z Move viewport pivot
S Volatile toggle to selection
Spacebar Volatile: toggle to camera mode
Shift+Z Reset rotate pivot to a viewport center

Viewport Modelling#

Shortcut Description
/ Toggle construciton plane
Alt to detach curve from construction plane
Ctrl Constrain placement within 45 degrees
Space, Ctrl+6,7,8,9 To save a particular view
Space, 6,7,8,9 Return to specific view
/, Ctrl+6,7,8,9 To save a particular c-plane
/, 6,7,8,9 Return to specific c-plane

Network pane#

Shortcut Description
C color
P parameter
Shift+A+Mouse Drag Up/Down Layout selected nodes either vertically or horizontally

Network view#

Action Shortcut
Align nodes press A, press LMB, move left(or up)
Move node with upstream connections Shift + LMB + move
Move node with downstream connections Ctrl + LMB + move
Duplicate node Alt + LMB + move .
Duplicate node with upstream connections Alt + Shift + LMB + move
Duplicate node with downstream connections Alt + Ctrl + LMB + move
Set display and render flag R + LMB click
Set render flag T + LMB click
Set bypass flag Q + LMB click
Set template flag W + LMB click
Reoder inputs Shift + R
Add **dot ** Alt + LMB click .
Pin the wire Alt + LMB click
Cut the wire Y + LMB drag
Set quickmark 1 Ctr + 1
Go to quickmark 1 1
Togle quickmarks tilda
Drop visualizer node X+LMB