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Nebula Creation Course

Learn to create beautiful 3D space nebulae using the power of Houdini volumetrics and the Redshift rendering engine. 


We will guide you though each step in the production process of a nebula including:

  • Creation of customizable cloud set ups.

  • Adding effects such as stars and volumetric gas.

  • Setting up an automated lighting rig.

  • Using meta-ball objects and particles.

  • Rendering the nebula for both stills and animation.

  • Post processing techniques on the final result.


The course consists of a series of approx. 3 hours of step-by-step 4K videos with sample Houdini files for each stage of the process.

The course uses Houdini Indie 18.5 and Redshift Version 3.0.

Who is the Course For?

The course videos start by assuming a very basic knowledge of Houdini and Redshift, building in complexity as time goes on.  

Course pre-requisites

The course assumes you will already have access to an installation of Houdini (Indie/Commercial license) and Redshift (Node-locked or Floating license).

A beginner's knowledge of Houdini is recommended to get started.  If you are completely new to Houdini, we suggest Nine Between's excellent introductory video series, Houdini Isn't Scary parts 1-5.

Some Redshift knowledge is useful but optional, as we will be taking you though each step.

In optional steps, we will be using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects for some minor post processing.


Course Overview

1. Nebula in a Box

(5 Videos, approx. 1 Hr)


Here we build a basic nebula effect inside a 3D box, getting to know Houdini's Vector Operations (VOPS) and use of the noise function to control the density of a Volume/Voxel Data Block (VDB).

We'll apply Redshift's volume material, and set up its parameters to control the color and density of the cloud.

We'll then add some rudimentary effects such as using Houdini's scatter nodes to sprinkle basic stars throughout the nebula, making use of Redshift's built in particle shortcuts.

Finally, we'll render out a still image and talk through some of Redshift's rendering settings for optimization. As an optional step, we'll also add some subtle post production effects to bring out the nebula's colors and highlights.

1d. Simple Nebula Box Basic Rendering.Re

2. Nebula Enhancements

(7 Videos, approx. 1 Hr)

We'll take basic box nebula we created in the first section and add a range of improvements including:

  • Enhancing the look & feel of the clouds using a simple yet effective combination of noise effects.

  • Setting up a simple Redshift/Houdini light rig so that we can quickly cycle through a variety of effects.

  • Experimenting with Redshift's volumetric fog and add a subtle background.

  • Improving the starfield by creating a softer more star-like look which you can customize.

Lastly, we'll also render this version out as a still image and add similar optional post processing effects as an optional.

2f. nebula box rendering.Redshift_ROP1.0

3. Custom Objects and Particles

(6 Videos, approx. 40 mins)

We will introduce customizable objects alongside further improvements to the set up.

First we'll swap out the box for a distorted sphere and add new volume functions to improve the look of the effect.

Soon after, we'll introduce the use of meta-balls to control the overall shape of the nebula and remove unnecessary calculations.  We'll combine meta-balls with simple point/particle distribution to produce another customizable set up.

Finally we'll move on to particles, setting up a basic simulation which is then fed into the set-up we have created.  We'll alter the set-up accordingly to accommodate for these particles, and talk about the various settings that improve the result.


4. Rendering an Animation

(1 Video, approx. 15 mins)

At the end we'll set up the camera to fly around the nebula we have created.

We'll introduce camera constraints, fashioning a simple path for the camera and a target to follow.

We'll tweak the settings in the volume and materials, ensuring Redshift's sampling settings are tuned to produce a quick enough result.

We'll set up the Redshift output settings to produce a set of frames and hit the render button to produce a set of images.

Optionally, we'll combine these frames in Adobe After Effects to add further subtle enhancements.


The Result

By the end of the course you will have created a nebula with a fly-by camera animation.


If you have any questions about the course or requests for future tutorials, please do not hesitate to get in touch via our contact form


Do you do a deep walk through of particle simulations?

We set up a basic particle simulation in the course and talk about how to apply the nebula effect to them, and do not do an involved talk through particle simulations.

What version are the Houdini Files?

The files were created using Houdini Indie 18.5, so should work in a commercial set up but not in Houdini Apprentice.  The video tutorials should still apply regardless of Houdini version. Do get in touch if you have any issues.

About the Author

Mark Kingsnorth CEng


Mark has over 20 years experience as a software engineer developing enterprise level software for the financial sector and for central government. 


In recent years he has gained popularity from developing creative tools such as the popular Nebula Generator for Blender.

A chartered engineer, he has experience in a range of software from large scale databases running big data analysis to web applications and services.

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