Ocean Geometry in Houdini

Houdini has probably out done themselves with the set of Ocean tools in the software. You can create very decent ocean surface geometry with just 3 nodes! And the default settings produce pretty good results. It even gets better, it’s so fast!

I thought it was very clever that SideFX used displacement maps to displace a plane to create the ocean surface. Using this method, its so fast, because you are simplify displacing the points on the grid to change the position of their height. The parameters in the ocean nodes generate a displacement map on the fly and when using the whole workflow its so fast that you can keep the ocean animation playing while tweaking the parameters to get seamless feedback. Of course given that the grid polygon is within a reasonable amount that you’re PC can handle.

I was able to use 500k points on my grid with ease, however this is different from PC to PC. I’m running on a 6 core i7, but I have tried the ocean tools on a less powerful PC, like a 4 core i7 and the results weren’t that much different. If you’re reading this and you tried out the ocean nodes in Houdini, let me know how many points on the grid your PC could handle before it got too slow for feedback.

What’s the catch?

The ocean nodes are simple to use and fast, but there are quite a few parameters available to custom that you can tweak to generate those nice looking ocean waves in the scene. The parameters might overwhelm you, but after a bit of practice, I think it’ll be worth it.

Ocean Textures

As mentioned above, the ocean nodes spit out displacement maps and these maps are the exact same as texture maps and can be used exactly the same as texturing models. The “Ocean Evaluate” node even has an option to export the texture maps and save them externally. Which can then be imported into a different software application. Almost all 3D software programs that do box modeling, sculpting, CAD, or procedural modeling is compatible with texture maps. This makes it very flexible.

For example, Houdini can be used to generate the texture maps, then exported out, and next imported into a different program say 3D Studio Max. Maybe you have a different licensing setup and you use Octane with Max. So the ocean data can be generated using Houdini but imported into Max so you can use the displacement maps to recreate the ocean geometry and render it out in Octane.

Ocean Basics Tutorial

If you’re new to Houdini’s Ocean tools, you can check out a 2 part video tutorial that I posted on my Youtube channel.