Procedural Modeling and Animation (Houdini I)

Procedural Modeling/Architecture - Price Tower

Using the procedural tools and workflow inside of Houdini, create an architectural building with as many procedural elements and controls available.

ReRender - Price Tower from Sean Dooley on Vimeo.

ReRender - Price Tower - w/ Breakdown from Sean Dooley on Vimeo.

Re-Rendered (Summer 2011)

Houdini I - Price Tower from Sean Dooley on Vimeo.

Original Render

Price Tower - Original Located in Bartlesville, OK


I chose this building because when I was doing a basic Google image search, the image I found looked interesting and like it had a lot of repetitive elements while still being complex enough to not be able to be knocked out in 30mins. But I didn't know anything more at the time. In fact, when I said I'd do the building, I didn't even know the name of the building, I just had that picture. Shortly into actually doing real research on the building once I selected it, I found out that it is one of two towers that Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built. Little did I know at that time how difficult it would be, but it was too late at that point - I said I would do it and I spent all the time I had working on the building.

I broke the building up into sections: the bottom, middle, and top floors. I worked on the middle floors first since they took up the majority of the building. The more I worked on the project, the more I quickly learned that the repetitions in the building have their own set of rules for their own sets of floors. For example, the main middle 13 floors, there are really two types of those floors that alternate. And those two sets of floors, while they do share a lot of the same structure, there are still quite a good number of differences in them. Then when you start looking at the bottom section, and worse yet the top section, you see a lot more of the patterns and the craziness of the building. I have to say though, I really enjoyed working with Houdini, and a good thing too because I was already starting to go crazy within the first week or so trying to build this monster.

And with that, my network tree of nodes quickly became vastly complex and intricate with multiple levels inside of levels inside of levels. The problem is that I myself now have some difficulty navigating all of the levels, since very few elements could be reused (at least how I built them for my first Houdini project). I would love to redo this entire project and work in a lot more proceduralism and repetition and rules set into the core of the structure, but I really was just learning how to create geometry while working on the project. But I do feel that it was quite successful, especially for the major undertaking that it was, one that I didn't even know about when I first started. It is partially incomplete however, but only if you're looking for the very small details of the structure.

I would say the most difficult part of this project was in simply learning how this building was built and trying to figure out all of the intricate different little patterns and rules that control this building. There are really a lot more than you first realize in even the first 100 looks of the structure. That and the lack of detailed floor plans was a hinderance, especially of the top floors. I do have to say though, I found a book written by Frank Lloyd Wright called "The Story of the Tower: The Tree That Escaped the Crowded Forest" to be incredibly helpful all throughout the project. Without that book, I may not have been able to build the tower as completely and as accurately as I did.

Frankly speaking, however, it wasn't particularly challenging (once I learned the structure and pattern to the building), it was just incredibly time consuming and mind-numbing.


What I Learned/Challenges

- I learned a lot about the basics to Houdini and in how to build a procedural network.
- I learned a lot about how to crash Houdini too, even without cranking the attribute values to the maximum. In fact, I found this weird little bug that prevents taking one pane of Houdini and putting it on a second monitor when using a HDMI cable. But doing the same with a VGA connection between my laptop and the monitor works fine.
- I had a tremendous challenge learning the pattern within this building.
- I also had a fairly hard time keeping track of things and keeping things purely procedural. But there was no real modeling or sculpting or Edit nodes by any means. By procedural, I mean in reusing the same elements in clever ways.
- I learned how to make a Houdini Digital Asset (HDA) and also how to break Houdini with it - simply try to make my building a working HDA and it'll do it just fine. Crashes almost all of the time. Got my professor to start to hate me as a result ;P

Future Improvements

- I would love to be able to rebuild the entire network and work in many more procedural, repetitive elements that vastly simplify the network and the internal references.
- With that, I would also like to make sure that each of my subnetworks stay local and contained as a unit so that they can more easily be converted into Digital Assets significantly more easily. The way I built it was that I had two main values (the heights of the sections of the floor) that were at the top of the network and all of the levels of the network referenced those two values directly, not through placeholders. I would like to change that and have high-level copies of parameters for all of the subnetworks.
- I would like to work significantly more on basic look-development and to make this a more polished project that also better showcases more of the intense detailing and the various procedural controls that I built - specifically, the green frieze pattern that I spent a few hours building entirely procedurally that ends up being too small in the end video to see - stupid me.

Technical Breakdown/Extra Information

Detail Shot

UI Controls Created For the End-User's Control

Highest Level View of the Network of the Tower

One of the Many Floor Plans for this Tower - As Seen in "The Story of the Tower" by Frank Lloyd Wright

This Was the Point Where I Went Crazy - My Network Was Getting WAY Too Complex and I Needed a Screen Just for it


This class introduced working with Side Effect's Houdini. It heavily promoted procedural workflow and creating networks that fully take advantage of Houdini's unique nature and power. It did not focus on look-development however, instead teaching techniques specific to Houdini.

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