March 28, 2022 Elena

Karma vs Mantra in Houdini : What are the differences?

Houdini is a 3D procedural software for modeling, rigging, animation, VFX, look development, lighting and rendering in film, TV, advertising and video game. It ships with SideFX’s render engines Mantra and Karma.

Then what are the differences between these two renderers in Houdini, and which one should we use for our project? Let’s discover with iRender in this article.

Immortal by Armin Lotfi

What is Mantra and Karma?

Mantra Renderer

Mantra is the highly advanced renderer included with Houdini. It is a multi-paradigm renderer, implementing scanline, raytracing, and physically-based rendering. You should use the physically-based rendering engine unless you have a good reason to use another engine. Mantra has deep integration with Houdini, such as highly efficient rendering of packed primitives and volumes.

Karma Renderer

On the other hand, Karma is Houdini’s physically-based path tracer, which is deeply integrated with USD (it uses USD as its scene description format and acts as a Hydra render delegate). While it shares some concepts with Mantra, Karma is a completely new renderer intended to replace Mantra for new projects.

Karma has two render engines: Karma CPU, which runs entirely in software on the CPU, and Karma XPU, which uses CPU resources and also takes advantage of the GPU and hardware acceleration. As of Houdini 19, the CPU engine is production-ready, whereas the XPU engine is an alpha-quality preview release.

What are the difference between Karma and Mantra?

Together with the release of Houdini 19, SideFX has made a feature comparison between Mantra and Karma CPU/XPU in this newest version. We will take a look at the detailed list below and see how they are different.

1. Part 1

Feature Mantra H19 Karma CPU H19 Karma XPU
Status Production-ready Production-ready Alpha
CPU Renderer Yes Yes Yes [Hybrid]
GPU Renderer No No Yes [Nvidia]
USD/Solaris Support No Yes Yes
IFD Support Yes No No
Open Image IO Yes | with Env Variable Yes Yes
Standard Surface Shader Principled – VEX Principled – VEX/USD Preview/MaterialX USD Preview/MaterialX
VEX shading Yes Some trace() function support No
CVEX: Lens Shader Yes Yes No
CVEX: Volume Procedurals Yes Planned for Future Release No
Toon Shader VEX Shading No No
Rounded edge/Dirt masks Yes Yes No
Texture Baking Yes Planned for Future Release No
Hair Shaders Yes Karma Hair
[can be used in MtlX networks]
Karma Hair
[can be used in MtlX networks]
Pyro Shaders Yes Pyro Shader[VEX] XPU Pyro Preview
[can be used in MtlX networks]

2. Part 2

Feature Mantra H19 Karma CPU H19 Karma XPU
MaterialX Surface Shaders No Mtlx Standard Surface/USD Preview Mtlx Standard Surface/USD Preview
MaterialX Disney 2012/2015 No No No
Custom/Layered MaterialX Shaders No Yes Planned for Future Release
MaterialX SSS No Yes Planned for Future Release
MaterialX Color Management No Planned for Future Release Planned for Future Release
MaterialX Displacement No Yes Yes
Material Overrides Material Stylesheets [USD] | Assign Material and Material Variation LOPS [USD] | Assign Material and Material Variation LOPS
Adaptive Sampling Yes Yes No
Motion Blur Yes Yes Yes
Depth of Field Yes Yes Yes
Physical Sub Surface Scattering Yes Yes No
Random Walk Sub Surface Scattering No Yes No
Volumes Yes Yes Yes [Pyro Preview Shader]
Heightfields Yes Yes Yes
Instancing Yes Yes Yes
Nested Instancing  No Yes Yes
Deferred Geometry Load Yes Planned for Future Release Planned for Future Release
Subdivision HoudiniSubdiv/OpenSubdiv OpenSubdiv OpenSubdiv
Displacement Shading Yes Yes Yes
Crowd Support Yes Partial Support | USDSkel support, but not optimized Partial Support | USDSkel support, but not optimized
NURBS Yes Tesselated at Fixed Rate Tesselated at Fixed Rate
Lens Shaders Yes Custom VEX lens shaders No
Absorption and Nested Dialectrics Yes Planned for Future Release No

3. Part 3

Feature Mantra H19 Karma CPU H19 Karma XPU
Denoising Optix Optix | Intel Optix | Intel
AOVs Yes Yes Yes
Deep Images Yes Yes No
Cryptomatte Yes Yes No
Light type: Point Point Light Yes Yes
Light type: Dome Environment Light Yes Yes
Portals on Dome Light Portal Light Yes Planned for Future Release
Light type: Distant Distant Light Yes Yes
Light type: Disk Area Light Yes Yes
Light type: Rectangle Area Light Yes Yes
Light type: Sphere Area Light Yes Yes
Light type: Cylinder Area Light Yes Planned for Future Release
Light type: Geometry Geometry/Volume Light Yes (points, curves, meshes, volumes) Planned for Future Release
Shaping Control: Cone Spot light Yes Planned for Future Release
Shaping Control: Focus Yes Yes Planned for Future Release
Shaping Control: Barn Doors Yes Yes Planned for Future Release
Shaping Control: IES Mapping Yes Yes Planned for Future Release
Light Linking Yes Yes [No Geometry Lights] No
Geometry Lights Yes Yes [points, curves, meshes, volumes] No
Render Curves Yes Yes [tubes, ribbons, oriented ribbons] Yes [tubes]
Render Points Yes Yes No
Viewport Render Yes Yes Yes
Render View Yes Render Gallery Render Gallerys
Interactive Mplay Yes Yes Yes [No click to render]
Render Snapshot Gallery Yes Yes Yes
Render to Disk Yes Yes Yes
HQueue – Distributed Rendering Yes Yes via Husk Yes via Husk
Standalone Command-line render Yes Yes via Husk Yes via Husk
CheckPointing Yes Yes via Husk No
VEX FUNCTIONS
– gather loops Yes Simple Trace (no shading) No
– illuminance loops Yes Never will be supported No
– trace Yes Simple trace function (no shading) No

To sum up

To sum up, with Houdini 19, Karma CPU is production-ready while the new engine Karma XPU is in alpha. If you are using Solaris for lighting, you may want to consider using Karma XPU for interactive rendering in the viewport and Karma CPU for final rendering.

The main difference between Karma and Mantra is that Karma works with USD via Solaris/LOPS. Normal scenes must be imported into Solaris in order to render with Karma. Whereas Mantra is production-ready but doesn’t work with USD, and its development is limited to critical bug fixes. Since development time is focused on Karma going forward for Karma to take over as Houdini’s only supported built-in renderer.

However, whether you use Karma or Mantra, you still need a strong workstation to work efficiently and quickly. We offer a more accessible solution for Houdini users to speed up their render or simulation, that is GPU Cloud Rendering. Let’s see how we do it on iRender:

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However, we are more than just powerful configurations. With a reasonable price, a variety of useful features (Fixed Rental, Clone, NV Link, APIs, etc) and dedicated support from our team, we want to bring to you not only the best quality products but also the most comfortable render time and experience.

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Thank you & Happy Rendering!

Source and video: sidefx.com

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