Carbon Plumage

Carbon Plumage is a Houdini DOP node for grooming, art directing, animating and dynamically simulating feathers.

If you have an existing grooming solution and want to use Carbon for simulation, then check out Carbon N-Lattice Plumage here

With the increasing TV and Movie screen resolution and the exploding demand for 3D and VR immersive experiences, there is an ever growing need for more believable simulation and Carbon helps you deliver that cost effectively. Carbon Plumage is designed to make it easy to create a plumage of laminated feathers/scales and to then add dynamic motion. In this Eagle it's quick and easy to apply and simulate the secondary feathers with Carbon Plumage, while animating the primary feathers. The secondary feathers also collide with the animated feathers.



Customer Examples

Sehsucht has created a great short with Carbon Plumage: "Guter Stoff".

Plumage application on an owl. Note how well the layered feathers behave when the owl turns its head. have created a raven for a movie using Carbon Plumage: "Die Kleine Hexe".


VFX breakdown of the raven Abraxas.


Art Direction


Carbon Plumage is an array of one or more feathers where each feather is a hybrid object, containing a joint, rigid body and possibly cloth parts. Each feather can be either fully rigid, or made of a rigid shaft that is welded to a soft body. Soft feathers nicely conform to the underlying surface geometry and usually deliver more realistic results, while hard feathers simulate much faster. A plumage takes 3 different feathers as input and interpolates between them, independently in terms of shape and scale (based on paint maps), which can result in a single Plumage containing tens of thousands of unique feathers.

Example base feathers.



Grooming is the process where the final direction and orientation of each feather are determined. In Carbon Plumage the feather direction and orientation is set by using the Houdini Comb node to edit the normals of the surface geometry, which are used to create a separate set of Groom vectors.


Density and Scatter

Tools are also provided to control the number of feathers per unit area and how the feathers are distributed within the plumage.



Most of the variables can be animated, including the feather resting angle, swing and twist properties, the scale, the cloth and rigid properties, aerodynamics and even the interpolation between the primary feathers of a plumage.


Dynamic Simulation

Built on Carbon’s proven dynamics engine, the simulation is fast, robust and stable.



Soft and hard feathers support dynamic collision. As long as feathers don’t interpenetrate when spawned, then dynamic collision will help to avoid interpenetration as they grow and simulate. Collision is at the primitive level, there is no crappy approximation with spheres or capsules, Carbon does very fast primitive - primitive collision, and soft feathers also support self-collision if required.


Resting Angle, Swing and Twist

The feather resting Angle is set by the groom and can be animated. Stiffness and viscosity settings are provided for the swing and twist of the feathers and can be further refined with paint maps.


Lamination and Growth

All feathers are initially spawned along the original surface normal to minimize possible interpenetration and lead in control provides an automated way of rotating the feathers to their final state. Animating scale to grow and shrink feathers is more than just a tool for special effects. Spawning the feathers at a small size and growing them during lamination helps to ensure that no feathers are spawned inside each other.


Soft Feather properties

Soft feathers are made from a single Carbon Cloth per feather which is welded to a rigid shaft. The rigid shaft is defined by a paint map.

The properties of the cloth are set using Carbon’s extensive cloth properties panel.

All welding properties (Radius, Stiffness, Viscosity) are fully paintable, which allows artists to achieve any type of feather behavior. The video below shows how different paint maps affect the behavior

In the video above we can see the impact that changing the welding has on the resulting style of the feather.


Friction and Aerodynamics

Control over friction and aerodynamics are provided. See wind effect in the video below.


Multiple overlapping Plumages.

Although a Carbon Plumage allows you to create thousands of unique feathers based on individual scale values and interpolation between three base feathers, there are scenarios where a single Carbon Plumage is not sufficient.

Carbon Plumage provides support to setup multiple overlapping plumages so that the feathers spawn at a sensible distance from the neighbours and interpenetration is minimized.

Before and after cleaning up points which are too close to each other due to overlapping plumages.


Final simulation of three plumages, with wind effect.

Also by smartly combining plumages you can get seamless transition between many feather types as shown in the diagram below.

Using 2 plumages and 3 feathers per plumage in the example above: Feather 1-3 for Plumage 1 and Feather 3-5 for Plumage 2. Having both plumages use the same feather (Feather 3) in the area where they interact guarantees a smooth transition making it impossible to tell where one plumage starts and the other one ends. Combined with the automatic type interpolation for mixed types/colors (yellow, cyan, etc), you can end up with thousands of unique feathers on a single bird.

Documentation and Open Asset

Extensive documentation and examples are provided and the Carbon Plumage DOP Node is fully exposed so you can customize the feather system as required.