Putting 'smart' in your Smart 3D Assets

Putting 'smart' in your Smart 3D Assets.. ways to improve your assets

In this blog we'll dig a little bit deeper and look at what makes a useful asset, and what exactly makes it 'smart'. Houdini digital assets allow the user to take their setup and wrap it into a single node. The author decides which controls will be useful and adds them to the top level. This in itself makes assets a great tool as it lets others use them without having to worry how they work.

This touches on our first point which is asset purpose and abstraction. When creating a new asset or taking an existing setup and generating one out of it; it's useful to ask ...what is it's purpose?. Having a clear target to shoot for, makes the creation process easier and lets the author be consistent about the functionality. If the task to solve is a complex problem, break it down into smaller/simpler steps and create assets to solve these. Each asset tackles one aspect of the problem and solves it. By having individual components it helps to hide all the gory details that might be needed and abstract it into a simple concepts that a user will understand.

As you build the asset, keep modularity and flexibility in mind. In terms of modularity the asset should contain all the needed pieces to function. This makes it easier to update later as you only need to edit single asset; instead of multiple ones. It's certainly possible to create an asset that has hundreds of controls and does multitude of jobs but when it comes to either fixing/updating, it becomes significantly more difficult. If it needs additional information try to set clear ways that the asset can get it (whether that's controls for merging additional geos, getting camera/lights/bones info, or writing out geometry to disk).

It's a good idea to ask yourself which parts of the asset can be made procedural. Doing this during the build phase makes it easier rather than trying to procedurlize it after the fact. It will let you add specific controls and create a robust and flexible asset that has a lot of functionality. One thing to keep in mind is not to go overboard though. Houdini lets you easily add additional options and soon you might find yourself adding everything but the kitchen sink. Try to avoid the temptation :) If there's other piece of functionality that you think would be great to have, see if it's maybe a better candidate for another asset.

It's the little things.. some additional things to keep in mind as you create your Smart 3D Assets. Grouping your controls by functionality will makes things easier to learn and use by new users. Setting proper defaults/min/max ranges will guide the users and make it easier to know what are acceptable values (if need be you can also lock the controls in Type Properties to place hard limits). Creating asset presets is a great way to show off the asset. One of the best ways to explain and demonstrate your creation is by showing it off with an example hip file. You can upload to Orbolt and the user will be able to learn from it. Describing the controls in the Help section as well as giving tips/tricks is another way to make it more useful (you 'did' write the Help docs.. right? :)

Keeping the above in mind will help you in creating a great asset, that will be easy to use and allow you to change/update without too much hair pulling. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us at support@orbolt.com.

Also, have a look at Old Schools digital asset discussions for some great info.
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