Houdini | FX Track

Learn how to harness fire, water, smoke, and more in a track that unravels the mysteries of the industry-standard tools and techniques for control of simulation-based animation

Courses start on Jul 11, 2020

a houdini certified school


24 months


No prior Houdini experience is needed; however, knowledge of 3D principles is highly recommended.

Foundations & Design Program overview

Program Overview

Understand the role of the FX Artist

Imagine the power to control the elements: directing the flow of water, shaping smoke, or conjuring flames. What about the ability to micromanage the movement of a million tiny particles? Or orchestrate the destruction of vehicles, buildings, and entire worlds? Better still, how about performing all these feats at the same time? That, in a nutshell, is what it means to work as an FX artist (aka effects technical director). The role of FX artist is one of the more demanding in entertainment design, requiring strong coding chops, mathematical smarts, an appreciation of physics, plus a solid art foundation on which to build everything. This is where our FX/Houdini Program comes in. With a comprehensive suite of classes based around the use of film industry-standard tool Houdini, students will learn how to master pyro and fluid effects, cloth, crowds, destruction, and more. The program also includes training for those looking at an FX-based role at a games development studio, with the unique demands of controlling particle, environmental, other simulation-based animation within a real-time pipeline all covered in-depth.

Enrolling into a CGMA Program is a simple and painless affair. Once you've decided on which program you want to complete, simply register and start taking the classes outlined in your program's block list. That's it!  On average, we recommend 1-to-2 courses per term. Additionally, you only pay for the course(s) you take in a given term (so no need to pay for an entire program upfront). And, after completing all the block-courses in a given program, you will be awarded a Program Certificate of Completion. For our tracks you will only be able to recive the individual course certificates of completion. 

While the part of the pipeline dubbed "animation" focuses on character and other rigged asset work, effects animation relates to anything that requires simulations to get results. These solutions usually fall into one of three categories: particle animation, fluids, and rigid body dynamics--though sometimes a solution might require several inter-connected simulations across two even three of the categories. These simulations are also often required to work in conjunction with any hand-crafted elements created by the main animation team.

Prerequisites No prior Houdini experience is needed; however, knowledge of 3D principles is highly recommended.



Once assets have been designed, modeled, textured, and rigged during the pre-production and production phases of the development pipeline, it’s then the turn of the animation department to do its thing. This may involve further back and forth with the rigging team to tweak model behaviors and capabilities, along with use of additional data from the Tracking/Matchmove Department in the case of live action projects. When it comes to video games work, the emphasis at this stage is on the development of animation cycles and body dynamics for character animation, along with various solutions for animation of other supporting assets, including vehicles and environmental elements.
FX (Effects)

FX (Effects)

After the principal animation work, it's the turn of FX (Effects) Department to perform its magic. Principally working with fluids, particles, and rigid body dynamics, the FX technical directors in this department handle animations that requires some degree of simulation to resolve. This might involve adding bells and whistles to rigged animation data, using a simulation to create secondary animation for a pair of wings or an item of clothing (for example). It may involve the construction of simulations that run alongside hand-animated elements in a scene, or it could be for a simulation that works apart from anything produced by the Animation Department--though perhaps utilizing assets created by hard surface modelers, such as with a fully CG crowd or destruction scene. For live action work, FX Department will often also draw upon the data produced by tracking and matchmove artists. Over in the games industry, the real-time nature of the medium makes for a different workflow and a unique set of challenges (not least limited CPU resources), though many of the tasks--attaching simulations to characters and assets, running destruction simulations, and dealing with environmental effects--are broadly similar in principle.
Lighting & Rendering

Lighting & Rendering

The Lighting & Rendering Department sits near the end of VFX and animation pipelines, pulling in all the geometry, animation, and associated data created by the various departments for final output. Further fine-tuning of shots and individual frames at this stage involves the placement and tweaking of light sources, shader adjustments, plus the use other beauty effects on a per-frame or per-shot basis. On some projects the lighting artists/TDs may also work alongside the Effects Animation Department on anything that needs to be lit and rendered as part of the simulation process. Lighting and rendering for video games is a very different proposition. With bespoke or off-the-shelf 3D engines rendering everything in real-time, an artist's work has limited processing, lighting and shading resources. Achieving the desired look therefore usually involves a blend of dynamic lighting, pre-canned lighting and shadowing cheats, plus a range of post-processing effects.

Foundations & Design CURRICULUM

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