Friday Flashback #109

Softimage started with $350,000 in venture capital funding. Here’s some comments from Loudon Owen, who with John Eckert helped finance and advise Softimage in its growth.

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce
Issue 51 – Evidence
TORONTO, Thursday, April 29, 1999
The Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce met this day at 9:00 a.m. to consider the present state of the financial system in Canada (equity financing).

From the opening comments by Mr. Loudon F. Owen, Managing Partner, McLean Watson Capital Inc.:

When we started, we were trying to raise money for a company in Montreal called Softimage. We were carrying around our little flip books but nobody wanted to give us money. We were quite astonished because we thought it was an exciting opportunity. We spoke to American venture capital firms, we spoke to Canadian venture capital firms and we decided there was an opportunity for a highly specialized venture group, so that is what we set up. We invest exclusively in software companies. We were highly focused, driven by what we perceived to be a market need. That was quite a few years ago and I think the market has changed dramatically in the last five years. However, that was what gave us the impetus to go forward.

I do not know if you have heard about Softimage. It is an animation software company. If you have seen Titanic, Jurassic Park, Death Becomes Her or most of the commercials on the television, you will have seen Softimage’s technology. The company was funded with $350,000. The shares which we receive from Microsoft are today worth $2.2 billion. It has 400 employees in Montreal and it was instrumental in building the animation industry in Montreal. There have been a variety of spinoff companies such as Discreet Logic and other companies in Montreal, so the company grew pretty dramatically. The only venture capital that went in was $350,000. After that it went public on the NASDAQ.

Our role was to invest. John Eckert and I share the duties of chief operating officer, and took it public on the NASDAQ. It was the first Quebec company to make its initial public offering on the NASDAQ. We considered the Canadian markets and elected not to go public here. We then sold it to Microsoft. We took the company from the initial point of investment, with its four employees, including the founder, Daniel Langois, to over 200 when we sold it to Microsoft.

On the question of whether Quebec was a hot of entrepreneurship [at that point in time, 1999] due to a more favourable regulatory and tax climate or just because people are more into the culture of entrepreneurship:

Do hotbeds of technology or clusters grow naturally because they are sponsored and supported? Again, it is a combination. I think Montreal’s animation, post-production and special effects community grew without any government support. For example, neither Softimage nor Discreet Logic had any significant government support or tax breaks. In fact, we tried to sell our first product to the CBC, and they would not buy it. They bought a French product, so we had to go to France and sell our first product there.

These companies grew up indigenously through their own creative efforts. What is happening now to sustain those industries and help them grow with their larger working capital requirements is assisted by government efforts.

Loudon Owen is co-founder of McLean Watson Capital. Prior to establishing McLean Watson Capital, Loudon and John Eckert financed and advised Softimage, a world leader in high-end 3D animation, in its growth from 4 to 250 employees, its IPO on Nasdaq in 1992 and the sale to Microsoft in 1994. Loudon and John served as the Joint COO for Softimage from 1993 to its sale.

Friday Flashback #108

Hmmm…last Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Microsoft purchase of Softimage (15 Feb 1994). I really missed it on that one. Now I’ll have to wait for the 20th anniversary; hopefully I’ll still be doing Friday Flashbacks this time next year.

Anyways, on to this week’s flashback…From Jurassic Park (1993) to Gladiator (2001), a “representative sample” of motion pictures created with Softimage products.

Gladiator Mill Film 2001
Jurassic Park 3 Industrial Light & Magic 2001
Moulin Rouge 2001
The Mummy Returns 2001
Shadows Mitch Levine Director 2000
Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace Industrial Light & Magic 2000
X-MEN Pacific Ocean Post 2000
Fight Club Pixel Liberation Front & BUF 1999
Forces of Nature Dreamworks Pictures 1999
Galaxy Quest Industrial Light & Magic 1999
Stuart Little Centropolis FX 1999
The Mummy 1999
Antz Pacific Data Images & Dreamworks Pictures 1998
Babe: Pig in the City Animal Logic 1998
Deep Impact Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Deep Rising Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas Peerless Camera 1998
Flubber Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Godzilla Centropolis 1998
Jack Frost Industrial Light & Magic and Warner Bros 1998
Jurassic Park 2 Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Lost in Space Framestore 1998
Matrix Animal Logic 1998
Meet Joe Black Industrial Light & Magic 1998
My Favorite Martian Tippett Studio 1998
Prince of Egypt Dreamworks Pictures 1998
Saving Private Ryan Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Small Soldiers Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Snake Eyes Industrial Light & Magic 1998
Species II Digital Magic & Transfer 1998
Sphere Cinesite 1998
The Borrowers Framestore 1998
The Thin Red Line Animal Logic 1998
What Dreams May Come Pacific Ocean Post 1998
A Simple Wish Blue Sky 1997
Air Force One Cinesite 1997
Alien Resurrection Blue Sky – VIFX 1997
An American Werewolf in Paris Santa Barbara Studios 1997
Anastasia Fox Animation Studio 1997
Batman and Robin BUF Compagnie 1997
Contact Sony Pictures Imageworks and Weta Ltd. 1997
Men in Black Industrial Light & Magic 1997
Mortal Kombat:Annihilation The Digital Magic 1997
Spawn Industrial Light & Magic 1997
Speed 2 Industrial Light & Magic 1997
Starship Troopers Tippett Studio 1997
Star Wars Trilogy Industrial Light & Magic 1997
The Edge Peerless Camera 1997
The Fifth Element Digital Domain 1997
The Lost World Industrial Light & Magic 1997
The Relic VIFX 1997
Titanic Digital Domain 1997
101Dalmations Industrial Light & Magic 1996
12 Monkeys Peerless Camera 1996
Dragonheart Industrial Light & Magic 1996
Eraser Mass Illusion 1996
Joe’s Apartment Blue Sky 1996
Mars Attack! Industrial Light & Magic 1996
Mission Impossible Industrial Light & Magic 1996
Space Jam Industrial Light & Magic 1996
Star Trek:First Contact Industrial Light & Magic 1996
Surviving Picasso Peerless Camera 1996
T2-3D Digital Domain 1996
The Adventures ofPinocchio MediaLab 1996
The Frighteners Weta Ltd. 1996
The Island of Dr. Moreau Digital Domain 1996
Balto Amblimation 1995
Casper Industrial Light & Magic 1995
Judge Dredd 1995
Jumanji Industrial Light & Magic 1995
La Cite des Enfants Perdus BUF Compagnie 1995
Star Trek:Generations Industrial Light & Magic 1994
The Flinstones Industrial Light & Magic 1994
The Mask Industrial Light & Magic 1994
The Shadow R/Greenberg & Associates 1994
Death Becomes Her Industrial Light & Magic 1993
Jurassic Park Industrial Light & Magic 1993

Friday Flashback #104

Yay! Two years worth of friday flashbacks!!
Friday Flashback #1 was posted on 14 Jan 2011.

Today’s flashback is courtesy of Chris Marshall. Thanks Chris!

It’s a slideshow so wait a sec…

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Friday Flashback #103

Just about 13 years ago to the day, the URL went live.

Sumatra is Coming from

Sumatra is Coming from

Rather predictably, this sparked some debate on the mailing lists, with a number of different riffs on the URL, including “”:

Sorry Softimage, your software has served me well, but it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. You sat around on your ass too long while I watched everybody around me switch to Maya, now it’s my turn. I’m actually excited to learn Maya, it seems like it’s creators are willing and able to stay up-to-date and on the cutting edge.


3d Discussion archive via the Wayback machine

Friday Flashback #99

In Dec 2012, there’s a rumor that ICE is “going to Maya” that’s causing some concern. Nobody wants to lose ICE :)

Let’s flash back five years to Dec 2007 when, in something of an ironic counterpoint, there was concern that rampant speculation about Moondust (aka ICE) would result in disappointment and a negative backlash.

…looking at all the nonsense floating around on the forums about Moondust, I already can see the negative posts when people realize it doesn’t do feature XYZ…

…It’s not going to go well for Softimage at launch if Moondust doesn’t meet expectations, and at this point, I’d be willing to bet that it won’t…

…Although it’s fun to speculate about Moondust, the over excited anticipation can only lead to disappointment…

Looking back, I don’t think that ICE did disappoint. What do you think?

web.archive of page

Friday Flashback #97

I came across this SOFTIMAGE|3D photo in an article on rotoscoping. It shows ILM co-supervisor Tom Bertino working on one of ILM’s Flubber shots.

Once the background plate was scanned into ILM’s Silicon Graphics computers, the match movers went to work. “We’re able to bring up that clip in the computer in a Softimage 3-D environment,” says Bertino. “The matchmovers then took what’s seen on film and recreated it in primitive wireframe models.”
Breaking the Mold:Physics of Jell-O Inspires CGI Stars of Flubber

A little more time on Google led me to some postings on vimeo from Philip Edward Alexy, who was the lead technical animator on Flubber.

First of all, sorry for the quality: this was ripped from a DVD copy of a D-beta tape.
As you can see, there is a heck of a lot more going on that you would think for this shot. As you see at the beginning, there is the Blob Flubber sitting in the matchmove representation of Robin William’s hand. Now keep in mind, back then, all of the matchmove stuff, both camera and object geometry, was HAND-ANIMATED. There was a crew of guys from the old practical ILM shop who transferred into the digital side: some of these guys worked on “Empire Strikes Back” and onwards, so they knew how cameras worked and were able to use this experience to do the one thing that made ILM stand out back then, properly reconstruct scene and camera information into the computer.
So we have the Blob sitting there, with what appears to be somesort of orthopedic back-brace and a black fuzzy alien sitting in its belly. Well, the “brace” is in fact the up-vector construct I had to develop because the Meta-Clay elements that made up the Blob Flubber where not spherical, they were shaped like overlapping mass of blobby M&Ms because when the client want to get away from the “pear-shaped” Flubber that spherical Meta-Clay created. BUT, Softimage3|D didn’t have up-vector constraint and (of if it it, it did not work well at all) when they were lined up on the cluster-deformed path spline that held them in place, they would start flipping randomly along the shortest axis. This was bad because it looked like the Flubber was having a seizure when animated. So I had to invent an up-vector constraint that worked consistently. So that’s what the “brace” is, which had to be, at times, key-framed to prevent the flipping.
So what’s that alien? Why it’s the Puppy Flubber rig, elements and geometry, all compressed, waiting for the moment Robin Williams sticks his fingers into the Blob Flubber. Presto-change-o, without any quick cutting or changing of the scene file because of the nature of Meta-Clay, the Puppy Flubber pops up, all ready and IK-rigged, and the Blob Flubber lines up inside the body part of the Puppy.

The puppy design, by Scott Leberecht, had to be envisioned with the tools at the time, which was Meta-Clay balls in Softimage 3|D. If you had ever used that tool, you would understand what a task it was to get the right shape, and then rig it so it could be animated.

At the time, it was the densest CGI structure ever made. There were about three hundred Meta-Clay elements, all spine/spline/cluster controlled. It took about two minutes just to refresh to the next frame. It took me about two months to build and rig.

A bit of test animation, to show that ILM could actually DO the Character Flubber, that ended up in the official Disney trailer.
Little bit of trivia: all those bubbles you see? They’re not part of the shader: those are all individual pieces of geometry that are parented to the rig. Sometimes, because they would fly out of the mesh depending of the pose, they had to be key-framed

This one shot took a year to do. Seriously.

Finally, in a Word document at, I found this. It’s attributed to a no-longer existing page at Philip Edward Alexy’s web site.

“We had thought of doing something where we could use B-spline patches that we could shape animate over time. But, that wasn’t practical because Flubber changed so much within a sequence that it would have been too time-prohibitive to model all the different forms. Even when he was just a little blob he changed so much that to do it using patches, shape animation and lattices just wouldn’t work.”

“Since the Flubber character was composed almost entirely of metaballs, the animators could easily turn him into anything from a pair of lips to a tail-wagging puppy to a hip-shaking mambo dancer. In addition to Softimage, ILM developed several custom effects to turn a blob into everything that blobs could possibly become within the animators’ collective imagination. Several Flubber models were developed: the Basic Blob, a male and female Actor-Flubber, a Scare-Flubber, a Puppy-Flubber, a Fingers-Flubber, a Bubble-Flubber and several others – each more difficult to pronounce in rapid succession.”