Friday Flashback #28

13 years ago, at SIGGRAPH 98, Softimage announced its next-generation rendering system, code-named “Twister”:

First Component of “Sumatra” Provides Users With a Glimpse of the Future of 3-D Rendering

ORLANDO, Fla., July 20, 1998 — Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., announced today at SIGGRAPH 98 that its next-generation rendering system, code-named ” Twister ™,” is entering the beta test cycle with delivery to customers scheduled for the fourth quarter of 1998. “Twister” is the first module of the soon-to-be-released 3-D animation platform, code-named “Sumatra,” which provides a revolutionary new approach to character animation and introduces the concept of nonlinear animation (NLA).

Twister was considered at one time to be the “the first step toward the integration of 3D in Digital Studio”, and was basically the rendering component of Sumatra (XSI).

The last-ever version of “Twister” was beta 2.5, shipped in June 1999. By then, it had been decided to combine “Twister” and “Sumatra”, because “Twister”, as a standalone product that relied strictly on .mi2, posed too many workflow and performance problems.

Here’s the executive summary from the Twister v1.0 Product Brief:

Twister v1.0 is a standalone rendering product based on the Sumatra Architecture, designed to work in conjunction with Softimage v3.7SP1. The goal of the product is to provide a finishing and rendering solution which features next-generation render functionality , while providing a transition platform for our existing customer base onto the new generation of Softimage products. Twister fits neatly into the Softimage 3D v3.7SP1 workflow, providing an interactive toolset which complements and extends existing functionality.

Twister rendering is based on mental ray v2.0, incorporating a host of next-generation rendering features such as distributed tesselation, global illumination (radiosity), and caustics (light diffusion through transparent substance). Though Twister is not generally designed for the animation scene objects, it does provide full animation for any rendering parameters, as well as lights and cameras. All standard rendering properties may be applied, including shaders, motion blur, antialiasing, etc.

Twister imports scene data from Softimage 3D in several different ways. Firstly, Twister can read and use standard Softimage v3.7SP1 scene files. Secondly, Twister can work directly with .mi2 format. The mi2 data format is the next generation of the current mental ray mi format , used by Softimage 3D v3.x to communicate with mental ray. The mi format is actually a ‘stream’ of completely resolved geometry. The mi2 format greatly improves compression by only including what has changed between frames, rather than what is included in each frame. Twister will include a plug-in for Softimage 3D v3.7SP1 which will allow direct export of .mi2 format to disk. Twister will also include converters from several other industry standard formats (IGES, DXF, etc ).

Twister also contains an interactive plug-in for SI3D v3.7SP1, which allows users to dynamically ‘export’ their current working scene to Twister, and continue working on their scene in Twister (note that any changes made in Twister can not be propagated back to Softimage).

The Twister toolset is divided into two suites – the Main Suite, which includes scene and render viewing, interactive tuning, and light/camera manipulation, and the Renderfarm, which is used for distributed render control.

Now for some screenshots…

Here’s a mock up of the Twister main suite (back then, the term “layout” wasn’t being used to describe instances of “DS Suites”). Twister was originally spec’d to include three suites: Main, Renderfarm, and 3D Paint.

Mock up of the Renderfarm suite. The non-linear editor (NLE) at the bottom was intended to show rendering passes, and the mock up doesn’t show that yet.

Snippet from the beta documentation:

Screenshots of the Render Tree and Schematic View from the beta Twister docs.