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​Featured Artist:  Maxime Causeret, France

Hi, my name is Maxime Causeret. I’m a Houdini Fx artist, motion graphic artist and Director based in France. I studied Art and Technologies at the University of Paris 8. I stayed there until I received my Phd, while simultaneously teaching Fx. At the University of Paris 8 I also had the opportunity to work with talented artists like David Quayola and Memo Akten. I can sometimes work on very realistic effects, but I also like more experimental projects.


Today I would like to present my last clip, “Order from Chaos”,  and I would also like to talk a bit about interaction with music in Houdini.


The clip

Electronica and techno producer Max Cooper contacted a few motion designers online for his new album titled “Emergence”. He wrote a brief text about each song to let us know his own feelings and we were free to make our own creation. I was assigned the song “Order from Chaos”, which had the following description: “This track uses a binaural sample of rain hitting my window, where the rain hits are obviously random, but I then force the hits towards a grid so that a pattern emerges from the raindrops based on their closest structure - it’s an emergent rhythm, which I would like to mirror somehow in the visual, with an initially detailed and chaotic form which slowly develops into something with recognisable structure.”


Starting point

I started from a realistic system I had previously built to simulate big river flows. There are four steps in my system: 2D fluid simulation, texture advection, ripples and foam.

Simulation big river flows


For the advection, I used particles to advect a rest position. You can use two rest fields like the dual rest solver, but you always see the transition between each rest field.


In order to simulate ripples on the surface, I used lines driven by particles. I found this system very graphic and it was my starting point for this project. The trick is to resample the lines at each frame, so you can extend them infinitely.


The first shots of the clip are made with these ripples.  I modified their behavior as they needed to interact. There’s a force that repels them the closer they get to another ripple. 



Firstly I made a lot of small experiments with dynamic systems around my main idea of living microorganisms. To visualize an evolution from a basic and chaotic structure, I though about life and living organisms such as very basic cells and microbes. I then decided to focus my experiments on three key ideas: abstract tests (about 0-0:50), emergence (0:50-2:44) and creatures (2:44-4). In Abstract Tests, I tried to build chaotic structures, a little bit like fractals, but a lot more graphic. Emergence was aimed at showing the beginning of structure and life by focusing on cells that could interact based on simple rules. Creatures was actually my first batch of tests: I wanted to try to simulate simple shapes learning how to walk and move. It wasn’t as successful as I imagined, but it was fun to experiment with “spiders” and all the other creatures, which are actually completely dynamic.They are animated by forces with goals: the legs push on the floor, the body tries to stay at a good distance from the floor ( a little bit inspired by work of Karl Sims).

It was hard to put everything together. How can you effectively combine a 3D creature such as a spider, animated only with bullet and cone twist constraints with a 2D line composition? I finally chose to go with mostly 2D line visuals. The color palette wasn’t easy to manage either - I wanted something very colorful, a bit psychedelic without being too aggressive. You need to make many adjustments from one shot to the next to get it right.


My process is based on iteration; you could describe it as follows:

  • Gather references: drawings, photos, paintings, videos

  • Loop:

    • Produce a few sketches on paper for ideas

    • Conduct experiments

    • Edit on music  

    • Redo all these steps until you like the result


In Houdini I try to set up something fast to cook or at least fast to preview in order to animate the shots in good conditions. You don’t have to see the final result, but it needs to be fast. This can mean working on one particle at a time,disabling collisions or working at a lower resolution.


In this project, there's nothing very hard, but it's never easy to get something that "works", so I needed time to adjust my animations. As with any dynamic system, if you change one value you can obtain something very different. You need to iterate a lot, that’s why it needed to be fast to visualize. I worked on this piece part-time over 4 months along with other projects.

Chaotic structures and combine a 3D creature such as a spider with a 2D line composition.
In Houdini: set up something fast to preview to animate the shots


Interacting with Music in Houdini

It’s very easy to get Houdini to interact with music. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. I often use a very simple trick. You can record your keyboard, mouse or tablet with chops to make events and animate your effects.


In “Order from Chaos”, I didn't use music as a direct input; the rhythm was too fast. But here is an example of a simple interaction:

If you want to directly connect music to your animation, you can use two kinds of data:  wav/mp3 or a midi file.


The sound in wav is not easy to process. You can extract a general volume (with lag or envelope), the different frequencies (spectrum) and get approximate notes (from spectrum or pitch).


Midi files are easier to use as they contain all the source information. A midi file looks like this:

Midi file to connect music to your animation

On the left is the solo with each note and on the right you have the rhythmic part. The value 60 is usually a C4. Then C# will be 61, D 62, D# 63, E 64, F 65.


It’s very interesting to note that you can also export midi files from Houdini.


There are a few nodes in chop that can be very useful to manipulate these events: count, hold, lookup table, expression…. I made a little example of a piano playing:


You can find the hip file HERE:


The piano is directly played by the midi file. You can compare with notes given by the pitch node. I made an equaliser from the wav file with a band for each note between A3 to A5. Between each octave, the frequency of a sound doubles. You can easily convert frequencies to notes in the file and get bands of the same size.

The piano is directly played by the midi file


Frequencies count by band. 


Here are a few of my old crazy experiments of interacting with music (6 years ago).


Clips are nice for experimenting in visual effects. They give you a lot of freedom to create without having to follow the mandate of a specific narrative. The main problem is to create 4 minutes of animation. Procedural design helps a lot, but you still need to create a variety of interesting visuals.

Thanks for watching and Happy New Year !


Maxime Causeret, 2016


By: Patricia Cornet
GridMarkets marketing

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