Quicktip: Visualizing Flight Paths

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The past decade has seen a wealth of data visualization elements in UI design, movie sets and motion graphics. When it comes to creating these elements you’re left with two approaches: faking it vs. the real thing. In this quicktip we’re doing the real thing when it comes to flight data. We’re taking publicly available airport and route data and model the (usually) invisible lines that connect our world by air travel.

The main topics we’re covering include importing CSV data into Houdini using Houdinis built in import node (Not as powerful as Niklas’ custom node but it is there, so let’s give it a try), converting geographic (lat/lon) coordinates into cartesian coordinates (that’s the coordinate system Houdini uses) and finally tweaking the appearance of our flight routes.

Using these techniques you can visualize a plethora of other publicly available geographic data – do you have any ideas what you’d like to visualize?

Download Project File (.hipnc)

Useful Links

Niklas Rosenstein’s Houdini Library
Wolfram Alpha on converting coordinates

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  1. If you want to augment this tutorial with some world cities data, You can grab 3.1 million lat/long/population entries here: https://www.maxmind.com/en/free-world-cities-database
    (no payment info needed since it is a free download)

    I didnt look into the license restrictions if there are any, and I didn’t look at the geonames site they reference as potentially having more up-to-date data. Good for some nice visual fodder.

  2. Actually, on second thought, the data has a lot of grid artifacts. North America’s data is good but the rest is spotty. Still pretty tho…

    • Moritz says

      Nevertheless – intersting source. Thanks for pointing it out! On a more macabre note I also found a CSV file containing all (known) nuclear explosions…

  3. Another visual gem guys, thank you.
    I was wondering how one would go about animating the flight paths over time. I’m pretty pretty new to Houdini and I’m not sure how to go about getting a particle for example to follow the data path leaving a trail behind. I know it’s out of scope of the tutorial but if you have a couple of pointers I’d appreciate it.
    Thank in advance : )

    • Moritz says

      Hi Kev,

      the quickest way to animate those paths might be to drop down a carve-SOP after you generated the paths. Then animate the “First U” or “Second U” value (depending on which direction you’d like the paths to animate to).


  4. I think there is a mistake in the calculation of xyz with longitude and latitude: the formulars are
    x = R * cos(lat) * cos(lon)

    y = R * cos(lat) * sin(lon)

    z = R *sin(lat)

    maybe you can check that – but at the moment i have problems mapping these coordinates onto a real map – thank you!

  5. Alyne Rankin says

    I am a new subscriber to your Patreon channel and entirely new to Houdini. I am very excited to be learning these skills and want to thank you in advance for your willingness to share your skills. As a newbie to Houdini, I have followed the tutorial for this flight path rendering and i am having trouble at the second pointwrangle that illustrates the lines “going through” the earth. My lines aren’t showing up in the veiwport and i cant seem to figure out whats happening. The VexCode appears to be identical to the video. Sorry for such a basic question.

    Thanks in advance for your assistance and enlightenment.

    • Moritz says

      Hi Alyne,

      admittedly VEX can be a handful when starting out as you’re learning multiple things in parallel: The syntax and functions of a new programming language as well as a new tool (Houdini itself). Believe us, we’ve been there 🙂 It is a bit difficult to diagnose what went wrong in your scene without having a look at it. What we usually recommend is taking a look at the scene file we provide to give you an idea of what might have gone wrong. If all fails then post a link to your scene 🙂


  6. Hi,

    Seems to be some issues on the lift of the points within the files and with the tutorial, everything works up to that point (houdni 15). any ideas ?



    • Moritz says

      Hi Ashley,

      have you tried a more recent version of Houdini?
      I just checked and everything seems fine in H16.0.736.


  7. Iru says

    Exelent tutorial! i wonder if is posible to display in planisphere fasion

  8. Tony says

    How did you convert the DAT file into Txt? I have been trying but Houdini won’t import the points. It works with the routes.dat.txt file in the project folder you provided but If I do it my self I download the .dat file i can’t convert it properly to .txt

    • Moritz says

      Hey Tony, I just (accidentally) added a .txt suffix to it while downloading. It should also work with the original .dat file. No changes to the contents had been made as far as I can remember. Cheers 🙂 Mo

  9. Konna says

    I followed this tutorial on a Houdini version 15 and the lift scale doesn’t work. Not even when I downloaded the provided files. Any idea what could be the problem?
    (I am sticking to an old version because I started learning on it. It seems that most tutorials online have some deviations from v17 or v16. I am a complete beginner 🙂 )

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