Branch out with Houdini
Mojtaba Oriuee, creator of the Houdini plant growth toolkit Growinfinite, answers our questions about the tool development process and his inspirations
We delve into the plant growth toolkit Growinfinite with its creator, Mojtaba Oriuee
It’s about 20 years now since I started learning computer graphics, and I have done everything from creating digital environments, hardsurface modelling, look development to today, where I create 3D motion design, TV commercials and NFTS.
In recent years, I also focused a bit more on the generation of fractals and growth motion. While it may seem abstract, this topic has always fascinated me and it is one of the main driving factors that led me to become not only a digital artist, but also a toolmaker. I developed the tool Growinfinite, which allows you to create flora, animate plant growth and generate complex structures.
What drove you to create the Growinfinite tool?
I had the chance to work with several plugins that could create vegetation, but as I wasn’t a developer on those plugins, I couldn’t reasonably expect that it would meet my needs as an artist, depending on the project I was doing at the time. I was creating growth animations, but they always had flickering, technical issues and in some cases, vegetation growth would just fail. Since that time, I had the desire to find a better way to handle growth and motion.
Meanwhile, I had an eye on Houdini. I took on a gig using Houdini, after ten days of digging into the basics of SOPS and VOPS(!). The project was something between fun, work and nightmare. What crazy guy would start learning Houdini, on a commercial project? But I beg you to believe it: this is the fastest way. After that, I had a better idea about how things work and what I could do with it. And once more, my mind flashed back to that desire of doing growth and motion.
It started with a simple *.hip file; it was just a fir in the very first days. I created the workflow based on that and I continued to use that same workflow in subsequent gigs, but it was full of horrible Forloops. But I progressively learned that if I wanted to create such things more efficiently, I would need to learn working with Houdini Digital Assets (HDA) and do it in a systematic way. With this method I could remove most Forloops and speed up the performance of
the tool. Nowadays, I create many using this set of HDAS, ranging from growing ferns to bismuth crystals and jellyfish!
Before we get into how you became the unique combination of artist and toolmaker, what type of work do you mostly do?
Most of my work revolves around plants, whether they are for commercial or personal projects. I just love creating the variety of different forms that exist in the world. If I have to be more specific, I would say that the type of work ranges from being a freelance artist to art director. For example, I recently worked for a London-based virtual tour company as art director. I was also an award winner at the WINA Festival in 2019, where I was invited to jury at this past year. And since I am maintaining Growinfinite, I also spend time addressing customer requests and needs, as well as overall improving the tool on a continuous basis. And, I publish my personal artwork on NFT platforms.
How did you start working in Houdini?
I started with 3D Studio Max R3.1. After 16 years of working in 3ds Max as a CG generalist, where I mainly did environments, FX and look dev, I was always getting advice about switching to Houdini! I started several times from Houdini 15, but I couldn’t make a connection. One day, I saw a video from
Helge Maus (Houdini Day, FMX edition). It was already H16.5 then, and Helge in his video convinced me that Houdini is not for code writers only!
For me, it was a great checkmark. I was writing Maxscript sometimes, but doing it all the time was a boring job. On the other hand, ‘engineering’ in Houdini made it possible to handle tough procedural situations where multiple calculations occur… which perfectly addressed the growth theme that I always come back to!
What gave you the idea to actually make a tool?
You know, it’s a really uncomfortable feeling when you can’t do something correctly. After studying different packages that
could make growth, I concluded that they had big problems like point number changing, limitations on where to create meshes that had no information – I was at my peak frustration. So it was a serious need to find a way out!
Using Houdini, I could start anything with the smallest possible footstep. I could prototype and scale and add complexity. I could also just stop the process and simplify it. Through this process, I began to break my scene into individual HDAS. From there, I could do development faster.
What was the most surprising thing you didn’t expect, as a toolmaker?
I never expected Scanlinevfx would take Growinfinite licences! It gave me much encouragement because when you have an idea and you are working in isolation, you never really know if it’s good just for yourself or for others too. Oh, and I am also surprised to see how well Houdini can handle big data loads from one level to another! It does what it promises!
In your experience, how strong does one have to be with scripting, to author tools in Houdini?
I was just modelling procedurally at the beginning. Actually, I’ve discovered that the visual programming style like VOPS is key in providing me with something that would otherwise take years of development for an artist like me! I can’t imagine how I could go through lines of codes to understand who does what later on. It might also be tough in VOPS as well, but it makes a lot more sense to me. I can debug things much easier.
What advice would you give to someone who has the idea to make something themselves and share it with the world?
For people who like to create things, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You should welcome them, as that is what you learn from. Don’t overthink how to do things and also, solve big problems by splitting them into their smaller parts. You will find the answers, one by one.
Some additional pointers: if you are going to develop your own digital asset, make sure that you archive them every day. I had many situations that resulted in undoing several days’ work. In some cases where bugs start to appear, I prefer to switch back and start again instead of finding bugs.
Once you’ve found a solution that can be sold on Gumroad or similar platforms, doing your best to pay more than what you take is key! Try to have flexible/competitive options for buyers; at minimum they should see that you’ve created a lot of value.
Create videos with your tools with specific tags and over share them on all of platforms (Youtube, FB, Linkedin, forums), don’t count your post likes (I do it sometimes too, but it’s my mistake). There will be some uncomfortable times during your experience (we are under significant mental pressure these days, so we need to be even more patient), but don’t ignore negative criticisms that can help you. If the criticisms do not help, then make sure you ignore them.
Lastly, don’t ignore affiliate marketing that Gumroad provides. Having the chance to be discovered in cost-effective ways (like Gumroad Discover) and paying royalties is better than having no customer in weeks.
What didn’t you make yet that you would like to do one day?
I tried to put anything I need and use (in my workflow and technique) into Growinfinite. It’s made in a way that allows you to add dynamics later on. I do want to make it able to interact as a dynamic Vellum object even during growth. I also see a lot of fractals in nature and structural forms that can be produced using Growinfinite. I would like to provide the option to create these in the future. And, aside from that, I would love to create short animations using abstract and stylised graphics.