SideFX launches Houdini for Apple Silicon

Bar Scene from the ASFW. Rendered using Octane and Houdini 19.5.

The team at SideFX today launched Houdini for Apple Silicon. The brand new, fully supported build for Apple's M1 and M2 chips comes after a public year-long beta period that saw regular improvements to the technology preview. This launch means the premier 3D VFX application is finally optimised to run natively on the latest generation of power efficient Mac computers.

I have been testing the beta during the past twelve months and development has continuously exceeded my expectations. Houdini 19.5 running on M1 is a solid release. Simulations, including the wonderful Vellum system, run incredibly fast, viewport navigation is smooth and even many external plugins work as expected.

There are of course things that can still be improved, the major one being SideFX's forward-looking hybrid renderer, Karma XPU. This has not yet been rewritten to support Metal (Apple's hardware-accelerated graphics framework), so currently can only utilise the CPU for rendering which leaves it lagging in performance compared to third-party alternatives.

Support for Houdini Engine within Unreal is also still a work-in-progress, even though native support for Unity was added late last year. Admittedly, the delay here mainly falls on the shoulders of Epic Games who have been slow out of the box with Apple Silicon support.

Commanding performance

I have been testing two third-party GPU renderers, Octane and Redshift. Both have supported M1 and M2 chips natively for some time and both work well with Houdini for macOS.

Redshift arguably has a slightly nicer user interface and provides better integration with the Solaris toolset compared to Octane, but each enables rendering options that utilise the full power of Mac GPUs within Houdini.

Notably, at this time, Apple's hardware doesn't offer the same raw power that you get from the latest generation RTX card, but it is more than good enough for producing static renders and simple animations. The image of the bar scene in this article was rendered using Octane running on an M1 Mac.

Standard procedure

Houdini is my primary content creation application when it comes to 3D. Almost everything I've created in the past half a year has been funnelled through the Apple Silicon beta of Houdini at some point. I use it daily.

It is fast, stable, and because of M1's efficiency, it costs less to run all day compared to Houdini on either Linux or Windows. I am super happy that there is finally a first-class release for my preferred hardware. SideFX has said this version will now receive regular daily builds and production builds in line with releases for other platforms.

Houdini is a powerful tool. Its node-based system and ability to handle almost anything you can throw at it make it an excellent choice for even the largest-scale productions. Bringing the app to Apple Silicon, with its insanely fast unified memory architecture, only serves to improve on this power. If you haven't tried it already, maybe now is the time to look into procedural workflows with Houdini.