Adolfo Reveron

Is Houdini Hard to learn?

Yes, it is.

Oh, sorry, we missed the polite convoluted reasoning first! Let's go back on track.
This is the most common question about this software: 'Is Houdini hard to learn?'
We'll provide a 'Yes or No' answer, based on our experience!
Here you'll find our opinion, based on our own experience. You can compare our reasons to yours and decide by yourself. Before getting lost in the details, we think the most important question is: Is Houdini worth learning? Indeed!

In TechArt Worlds, we think that hard work and delight can go hand by hand.
Similar to mastering oil painting or skying sharp mountains, it requires hours of effort but trades off nicely once you feel confident with it. For the Houdini case specifically, the reward comes in the form of awesome art wort and processes, that wouldn't be possible with other approaches. (And also, in the form of above-average salaries too).
Lovely picture about what people think of Houdini Learning Curve

You may be used to Technical Poverty...and you don't know it.

One of the amazing facts I realized after learning Houdini was how narrow my vision was, regarding what it was possible to do in 3D. Adjectives like 'painful' - 'not painful' adhere too.
My vision here is affected by my own professional experience, as I worked mostly with 3dsMax, Maya and Luxology's Modo.
Either 3dsMax and/or Maya were the preference by all the studios I worked for in the gap 2012-2019 and I couldn't believe how could some tasks be so painful in 21st century. I asked around, but most of my colleagues answered something like 'that's the way it is, better get used to it'. Years passed and I realized they just preferred to remain within their area of comfort, or they just missed the chance to look for some other 3D package. As a result, they kind of accepted the stablished pipelines without further questioning.
If you got a different answer back in that period, I'm happy for you, as it means you explored more 3D Digital Content Creation (DCC) alternatives earlier.

Anyways, I started my own research within that period and learnt Modo in my spare time. This confimed my suspicion: my vision regarding what was availble for 3D content creation was limited. Bumping into Luxology's Modo was awesome, as I could feel I had met a modern (DCC) package. 

Milenium Falcon  - 3D model created with Modo by Adolfo Reveron

Today, alternatives like Blender are pushing hard and conquered indie and bigger studios, which is great (I never became a Blenderian myself, though).

If you are wondering, 'well let's assume you are right, and it is clear those stablished 3D packages didn't suffice. Does it mean studio managers and Technical Directors were wrong by choosing them?'
The answer is 'yes' and 'no', but that's another topic we may explore in a different post.

Thinking the Houdini way

The key factor that makes Houdini hard to learn is the unique approach it uses to get things done: procedurality. Let me elaborate.
Most 3D packages are content creation-oriented, hence, the creation process is designed as a one way road: 'You know what needs to be created beforehand, so you pile up actions till you get it done, good luck with asking for changes in late stages'. By nature, this is destructive approach, in the sense that any change involves redoing work.
On the contrary, Houdini is process-creation oriented. That is the most simplistic way of explaining procedurality. With Houdini, you won't create a House. You'll create a process to generating Houses instead.
Thinking of creating content like a process-design is simply weird. To complicate things a bit more, add to the mix the node-based workflow, the ability of creating tools out of the processes, plus three different coding languages running in parallel (VEX, Python and HScript).
All the above means that you need to, not only master your discipline, say animating or modelling, but also the details of Houdini to make production work. Unsurprisingly, it is known for having one of the toughest learning curves across all 3D packages. It is just an uncommon way of thinking, hence becomes daunting and intimidating. 

Proceduralism is not exclusive from Houdini.
Plenty of software rely on procedural approach to generate content. Some examples:
- Substance Designer: Chain nodes to create 2D textures
- Nuke: Chain nodes to composite images and videos
- Unreal material editor: Chain nodes to assemble engine shaders
...and many more.

You already noticed, 'node' is everywhere. If you are able to understand any operation as a combination of an input + an action + the generated output, you are halfway done with understanding Houdini.

If you tweak any node field used for tweaking a given property (we´ll call them node parameters now onwards), the change will cascade down and will impact the generated result.

This is key factor that makes Houdini so powerful and so intimidating for artists.

There is a different ongoing discussion revolving whether you need to know to code in order to create production quality work with Houdini. Take a look at it here: