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  "When people sit on something you want, you make them your enemy, to justify you're taking it" @Jake Sully

Super Team

A History of Coding

Today at the headquarters in Toronto we celebrated developer Mark Elendt's 20th anniversary with Side Effects Software. 20 years, that's quite an achievement, especially in the IT business. I mean 20 years ago I couldn't even read yet, when my world was still filled with Fisher Price, wooden blocks and Duplo, Mark was already coding in C.

We had a little get together in the large boardroom, where Kim Davidson (CEO & President) used the opportunity to fire up his old Octane and show us what back in the day's was considered 'magic'. Insiders are probably aware of this, but in 1996 Houdini emerged from an application called Prisms.

Prisms has been in development from 1985 until 1999. Originally as an inhouse tool for Omnibus, but 1987 they got bankrupt and Kim Davidson and Greg Hermanovic (Derivative) bought the rights of the PRISMS 3D software source code and incorporate Side Effects Software.

I always thought that Prisms was something like Houdini but then lets say 'prehistoric'. Today how ever, I've learned that if you were one of the fortunate that had it installed on your machine, there wasn't a single place where the word PRISMS would show up. This is because PRISMS actually a set of Unix based standalone applications rather than one, o.a. Sage, Ice and Action.

I've been told that in 1989 a guy in a big wool sweater showed up at the Side Effects office, 'sheepishly' looking for a job. At the time Mark Elandt was working for an insurance company, the insurance company part didn't really wet the appetite of Greg and Kim. This rapidly changed when he showed some photographs he took from an Amiga 1000 screen (512kb ram), it displayed renders of a typical late 80's ray-traced sphere. He explained he had wrote a ray-tracer as a hobby. This was the prototype of Mantra, which is Houdini's native renderer, the rest is history.

If you can't get enough of this, I've listed a couple of the main topics in Side Effects Softwares history.

Crucial points in history:

First to put a GUI on a procedural modeling system

First to incorporate an expression language in the user interface

First to add metaballs
First to have a polygon reduction tool (greduce)

First to include a particle system
First to have a morphing package (mojo)

First to have integrated motion capture (moca)
First to include time frame sampling (tima)

First to integrate all components (modeling, animation, rendering, compositing) into one executable
First to support NURBS, polygons, and Beziers as "equal citizens"

Houdini is released
Houdini wins CGW Innovation Award

Contact, one of the first major motion picture films where Houdini is used for almost every effects shot.
Titanic, Digital Domain uses Prisms in virtualy every shot

CGW Innovation Award for CHOP's (Houdini 2.5)
Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures, for pioneering procedural animation in PRIMS

First to have audio editing (Chops)
First to put a GUI on a procedural particle system
First to introduce hierarchical splines

Houdini on Linux, being it the first major 3D application to exist on Linux

Second Academy Award for advancement of the 3D industry

What surprised me the most is that a lot of stuff that we know today in Houdini, was already there in Prisms. Did you ever wondered why, if you render directly to mPlay from a mantra ROP, you define it as 'ip' in the file path? Well because back then the image player was called ip. Or iPlayer, yes they invented that iThis, nThat, far far before the hype took over the rest of the world :-).

You might have heard or noticed, that Softimage ICE looks quite a lot like VOP's in Houdini. If they will ever admit they were inspired by Houdini is one thing. Never the less it goes a lot deeper than that. Because PRISMS Compositor was called: ICE, the worlds first node based program and also PRISMS first program which was coded in C++. To keep it positive I like to think that Softimage ICE is a homage to the progressive attitude of Side Effects Software, but let keep it real, I mean they were just jealous ;D.

I'm not so much of a 'it used to be better' type of guy, I rather like to look ahead. How ever, this is so old that it's actually kind of cool. So below you'll find some screenshots of PRISMS or the early day's of Houdini. Kim explained that taking the screenshots on the octane was a hassle, can you imagine how it must have been to create 3D animations in those day's :p.




Ice (Compositor)


Lava (Material Editor)

Moca (Motion Capture)


Sage (SOP's)