From cgwiki

Massive thanks to this years brave students at UTS ALA for coming on this journey with me, in particular Liz Hadenfeld. Shout-outs also to Nathan Barrett and Beau Parks. Also thanks to Houdini hair expert Beck Selmes for convincing me the tools weren't as tricky as they looked.


Pleasingly, at its core the hair tools are just clever ways of copying lines to scattered points, and having deformers for those lines.

Less pleasingly, the default workflow pushed by sidefx is very seperate object container heavy, with some distinctly un-houdini behaviors.

Pleasingly again, you can bypass all that stuff and just run it all as a straight sop workflow, and its fine and fun to work with.

So, you have a character mesh, and you want to generate hair. The workflow is to generate low-res guides, groom the guides, then generate hair.

  • Hair gen sop (simple mode to generate guides) - By just giving it the char mesh with no other inputs, and low density, this is used to generate guide curves. Peek inside, its ultimately a copy-to-points driven by a line and a scatter.
  • Guide process sop - An uber curve deformer. This expects at least 2 input (the guide curves and the original skin), and has ways to do most of what you'd want to do to hair, in a procedural way. Set length, curl, flow along the skin surface, add noise. Almost all of those operations can be driven by a single slider, or attributes on the curves, or attributes on the skin, or by a map, or masked through other attributes. Super powerful. Chain lots of these together to generate your groom.
  • Hair gen sop (generate final hair) - this time with 2 inputs, the guide curves you've just groomed, and the skin, this time you tell it to generate the final hair render count, using the guides as an influence. This also has an appearance tab to set width, colours etc.

Why I don't like the default workflow

For the same reason I don't like autodopnets.

It expects you to make at least 3 high level objects, your skin, your guides, your final hair. Lots of jumping in and out of networks ensues, and worryingly/annoyingly, has a new obj node paradigm; the nodes have 2 ins and 2 outs; the first is for parenting, the second is for tunneling sop data (skin and guides) from one to to the next.

It also uses jump targets to skip past the intermediate generate and process nodes, so its super confusing, ick to all of it. I get they're trying to be user friendly to folk coming from other grooming packages, but I think it just complicates stuff. Single sop networks FTW.


  • Put @rest on all the things. The nodes expect it for performance (watch Kai's talk for details), the nodes all issue warnings if they can't find @rest.
  • Hairgen gone weird? Check rest. We were getting some very strange final hairgen stuff, realised we were doing tricky stuff to the initial mesh and generating+storing rest too early; The mesh had a t-pose and a coquettish pose, we blendshaped the t-pose to the styled pose, but left the original rest. That result looked like it was trying to generate hairs at the boolean intersection of the 2 poses. Updated rest to match to the coquettish pose fixed it.
  • Painting groom direction on hairs is icky. Its non procedural, brittle, easy to lose work if the base mesh gets altered (which if you're doing lookdev, its likely the character base mesh is getting altered and art directed at the same time as your groom). Liz hit upon a great technique to use the comb sop on the base mesh to get a quick direction flow, then use the guide process to generate directions from the skin. Because we have a mesh, when we got mesh updates its (relatively) easy to attribtransfer from the old mesh to the new, and not lose tons of work.
  • The hair nodes can be twitchy. I suspect a by product of all the performance improvements, but we've found they can crash houdini, try the exact same operation after a restart, it works fine. Also found they can get stuck caches, and refuse to update themselves even if the input geo has changed. Often not even a bypass/unbypass will fix, but a tiny nudge to a parameter will be enough to wake it up and recalculate
  • Group listings often don't auto-update. Really annoying, we'll have groups defined for arms, leg, head etc, the groom tools have drop dropdowns to just work on said groups, but the dropdown will be empty. Type the name in manually, it'll work.

Groom via curve advect

Pig groom v01.gif

Download hip: File:hair_curve_advect.hipnc

I suspect I'll keep adding more versions over time of this setup as I learn more tricks.

This setup uses a very handy trick I picked up from discord, a combination of volume velocity from curves, and guide advect. I make a single line, twist it into a corkscrew, scatter them over the scalp, and convert to a velocity volume. I can then push that velocity onto the groom with guide advect. This has the advantage of manual styling where I want it, but its still very procedural and not locked into a guide groom node.

This setup also shows how to do a a simple vellum sim; the guides are deformed onto the animating head, then have vellum hair constraints applied. To retain the hairstyle and keep it mostly stiff, I have a rule to set stiffness where @curveu is less than 0.3, so the lower third of the hairs are rigid, the rest can flex a bit. Fast to sim, pretty stable.

There's also a few tricks in here for setting hair colour at the geo level. Strictly speaking this should all be left to the shader, but I'm too impatient to wait around for rendering, and for our particular setup we'll be pushing this all out to another app for rendering anyway, so its good practice for us to have the groom be as self contained as possible, with minimal material setup after the fact.

Fur direction from surface gradient

Graident furdirection screengrab.gif

Download hip: File:furdirection_from_distance_gradient.hip

Cool trick from Chris Gardener and Jake Rice.

I've often set initial direction for a groom by the double cross product trick; take the normals of your skin mesh, cross product against {0,1,0}, that generates new vectors that swirl left-to-right. Cross product that again, and you get a top to bottom flow. Nice if your mesh happens to conform that way, less nice if it doesn't.

Chris pointed out that you can select a point on the nose, get every point to measure its distance from that point, then use a polyframe to get the gradient of that distance, which is perfect for a groom direction.

Jake pointed out that polyframe is a bit fiddly to use in this way, while the measure sop handles attribute gradients elegantly.

This example puts all that to use. First I boolean the mesh with itself so its all a single surface, group a point where I want the groom to start, then use the edge transport sop to measure distance. The advantage is it's not just distance in a straight line for each point, but its distance along the surface (sometimes called the geodesic distance).

The measure sop calculates the gradient, and stores it in a vector called furdirection. Why? Because if you look at the hair generate sop, it looks for that attribute by default to set direction.

Finally I generate uv's and color based on uvs, to make the groom easier to see. I also used an attrib blur on the furdirection to smooth it out a little.

Curly fur

Fur curly screenshot.PNG

Download hip: File:fur_curly.hiplc

Nothing special, just a quick test to see how easy it was to setup. It's easy to setup.

The hairclump sop has a curling tab, used that to get a teddy bear/poodle style groom.

UTSALA alumni and lovely person Phil Billones asked if you can apply a mask. The amplitude and frequency of the curl can be driven in the same way as most groom attributes, so by adding the default it wants, namely @clumpcurlamp crated with an attribute noise, you can get a more natural look:

Download hip: File:fur_curly_masked.hiplc

Fur curlmask.PNG