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Mastering Destruction in Houdini

An 8-week course on creating feature-film-quality destruction effects for film

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Use Houdini and create amazing effects for film

Unleash your inner FX monster, and let's smash some buildings! In this destruction course, students will learn a comprehensive set of skills to develop beautiful work with a high degree of artistic control. This will include fracturing, RBD simulation, dust, debris, and adding details from real-world reference material. However, students will learn more than just the technical setups alone - they'll also learn about production pipeline considerations, and innovative unique workflows for art-directing damage (both with & without simulation). By the end of the class, students will have a feature-film-quality destruction shot for their demo reel! Building asset provided by KitBash3D.com


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 10-15 hours per week viewing lecture videos, participating in q&a's, and working on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Houdini 17.5
Skills level:   Intermediate
Prerequisites:   Basic working knowledge in Houdini or equivalent | Course Prereq: Intro to FX Using Houdini

Mastering Destruction in Houdini WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Over the course of the entire 8 weeks, we'll be building upon the same scene, adding layers of complexity and realism with every step. In week 1, we'll discuss fracturing our 3d geometry to achieve realistic results. We'll cover voronoi and boolean fracturing, debugging common fracture problems, and then create some custom reusable tools (HDAs) to streamline our destruction workflow! While creating our destruction HDAs, you'll also be introduced to VDB volumes and learn why they're so useful for various types of processing.
In week 2, you will learn how to prepare a building asset for destruction, and how to efficiently fracture the geometry. You'll also learn what packed geometry is and how to work with it. We'll even create some additional HDAs to assist in our destruction workflow.
Now that we've fractured our geometry and prepared it for destruction, we can finally start running our rigid body simulations using Houdini's Bullet solver! We will discuss the following: Simulation setup/parameters in detail | Various options for controlling velocity/activation/etc | Working with proxy geometry | Organic/deforming vs rigid colliders | Artistic approach for the first pass at RBD simulation | The most efficient & flexible workflow for caching your simulations
This week you'll learn how to set up constraints to control our simulations. We will focus on Glue constraints, but discuss other constraint types as well. We'll also develop a mixture of manually-created & auto-generated constraints, and learn various clumping techniques for art-directing the simulation.
In a final & finished shot, only a portion of the detail that you see on screen is simulated. Some of that geometric detail is added as a post-simulation process. We'll look at real-world reference and add procedural rebar construction detail to our scene. We'll also add in some procedurally sculpted damage detail to the building geometry itself. As an optional step, we will discuss efficiently adding extra simulated props to the scene for even more realism!
Once we've developed a nice primary rigid body destruction simulation, it's time to add the finer details. We'll look at emitting debris from the RBD sim, and go over both particle-based & RBD-based options for the secondary debris emission. We'll also create custom HDAs to streamline our RBD-emission workflow.
There are various ways to shatter glass, and the best approach is highly dependent on the scenario you're dealing with in your shot. In week 7, we'll discuss glass fracturing, the various options available for you to simulate glass shatters, and how to choose which technique(s) are best for your shot.
A beautiful dust simulation is one of the most important parts of any destruction shot. It's often the most prominent and most visible element, and often the most difficult element to get right! In this final week, we'll discuss my recommended workflows for sourcing/simulating dust, working with collisions, and efficiently caching. The final look is also highly dependent on the shading/rendering of your simulation, and we'll cover that important part of the process as well. Finally, we'll briefly discuss compositing your rendered elements for a beautiful finished reel-worthy piece.

Unleashing your creativity

Keith Kamholz is a Lead FX Technical Director at DNEG, and he has previously worked at Industrial Light & Magic, Blue Sky Studios, Tippett Studio, and Framestore NY. He's worked on more than 15 feature films, with credit highlights including Pacific Rim: Uprising, Venom, Jurassic World, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, & Ice Age: Continental Drift. Keith has also presented some of his destruction techniques at SIGGRAPH 2018, courtesy of SideFX. He earned a dual-major B.A. in Computer Science & Media Study at SUNY Buffalo, and an M.S. in Digital Imaging and Design at NYU's CADA.

Student interviews


January 27th!

winter TERM Registration

Oct 21, 2019 - Feb 3, 2020




January 27th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

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Simulating Destruction in Houdini

Interview with Hadrien Palanca

Hadrien Palanca studied destruction simulation at CGMA courses Mastering Destruction in Houdini and Intro to FX Using Houdini and shared his experience and knowledge.


Hi, my name is Hadrien Palanca, I am a freelance motion designer and FX artist based in France. I do 3D works for commercials, TV, live events, music videos and all kind of stuff.

For me it all started back in 2000-ish, I loved playing video games but I get bored with every game I play real quick. So I started to play with Cinema 4D. For me, it was like another video game where I could play with balls hitting bricks and physics engine.

When I was in college I studied a lot of things (economics, law, history) but not in art. I learned everything by myself (well, with the help of great online teachers also). At that time, I was also involved in a student association (I had a ton of parties!) and we felt the need for some teasers and animated 3D logo in order to sell more tickets for our parties. So I started to learn everything I could in a more professional way within After Effect and Cinema 4D. I immediately enjoyed it and decided to make a living of it.

I have always been passionate about destroying things, so I kept an eye on Houdini but never dared to take the leap until I saw the VFX breakdown of the movie Attraction from Main Road Post. That was it! Too much for me! I decided to take a leap and learn Houdini whatever it’d cost. And it cost me A LOT of time! But in this journey, CGMA helped me a lot.

CGMA Courses for Houdini

I am kind of extreme when doing things. I bought a lot of Houdini courses available on the internet (RebelwayApplied HoudiniRenascence ProgramPluralsight, and more) and studied them as much as I could (at a given point I was studying Houdini 14 hour a day). I was willing to know everything I could.

At CGMA, I took the 2 Houdini courses for destruction – one with Keith Kamholz, Mastering Destruction in Houdini, and the other with Manuel Tausch, Intro to FX Using Houdini. I am really happy to have taken them in this order because I was still kind of new to Houdini when I took the first one, and Manuel’s course is really tough!

I think by looking at both of my results you can see the progression, especially in the smoke simulation. Those two courses really helped me to learn a lot within Houdini.

Impressive Destructions in Houdini

You want to have a clear idea of what your destruction will look like because you will fracture your geometry according to that. There’s no point to fracture a part of a building which is not supposed to break, right? For this, your geo must be as clean as possible (no intersecting geo or unfolding geo). After that, you fracture it and get it ready for simulation.

Then, you stack multiple sims on top of each other.

The point is not really to build a «physically correct» destruction. Houdini constraints are not aware of weight, for example, a thin paper-like piece of concrete could literally handle the weight of a whole building. The point is rather to build destruction which looks plausible to you and is as pleasing to the eye as possible.

Setting Destructibles

There are multiple technologies allowing to build destructible structures and simulate fracturing. Here, I used the bullet physics engine. It has been designed for games initially and is now widely used in VFX for handling large numbers of rigid body pieces. You work with physics by giving attributes to pieces that the solver will then understand: speedmax, spinmax, gravity, all sort of information that you give to the solver to have the desired look. There are no good or bad settings I believe, there is only what’s working for your project or not working.

If you are interested in the current state of the technology behind destruction, here is a pretty good article exposing the technology that is being used and that will be used in the future.

Dust effect

The dust effect is not that complicated, it is a combination of 3 simulations: particles sim for the dust with grains, smoke sim and a rigid body sim for rocks.

A growing circle around the character (in the Tower Destruction) scatters points on it and according to the center emits more or less smoke/density. Everything is driven by this smoke sim.

Testing Sims

Usually, you want to iterate quite a lot and tweak settings, so it’s necessary to start with fewer pieces, lower collision resolution, fewer sub-steps like that in order to have quick feedback and test which values work best. And then, when you are happy with the behavior of your pieces, you crank everything up.

Advice for a beginner: I would say that no shot will ever be perfect so the most important thing is to try and get better every time. Obviously, if you are a beginner it will not be impressive at first but try, fail, repeat… until your result gets really good.


For me, the most challenging part of Manuel’s course was to combine my daily freelance work with weekly assignments that you have to do. That’s really a lot of work which is not always easy to manage with high demanding projects.

As for the shot itself, I would say that it was the clustered fire sim that I did for torches inside the tower. I had to do multiple clusters for every torch so it was challenging to understand how things work and make the solver understand how to resize dynamically the simulated area for each torch. I ended up with a real mess in my network and some torches actually aren’t very well simulated but, overall, you don’t really notice that.

Recommendations for Learners

When it comes to giving advice to the beginners, it’s really personal but I would recommend not to start 3D with Houdini. Perhaps, it’d be better to start first with something easier to have a solid foundation of the principles in 3D and then move on to Houdini.

I started with Cinema 4D and if I had to understand both how 3D works (textures, UV, normals…) and how Houdini itself works I don’t know if I could have made it.

If you already know 3D, then start with a general introduction which explains what every button does and how Houdini works. That’s not as exciting as a fancy tutorial on building destruction, but you if you have a more solid understanding of Houdini you will be able to use it in every situation. That is not always the case for a tutorial on a specific effect. Once you get a good grasp on Houdini, I would then recommend Applied Houdini from Steven Knipping. For me, this is the where you can get the most valuable information out of your money and believe me, I have bought A LOT of Houdini courses!


CGMA courses were both (Manuel’s and Keith’s) really helpful and full of great production-proven techniques. This was gold! Especially for me because I don’t work in a studio environment full of Houdini killer artists ready to share tips and tricks with you.

I have learned so much within those two courses that it is hard to point out a particular thing I have learned. But I would definitely recommend both courses at CGMA!

Hadrien Palanca, FX Artist & 3D Generalist

Interview conducted by Daria Loginova