Friday Flashback #479

Part V
From a 2001 “industry backgrounder” published on

Misc. Pull Quotes

“At some point a company takes on a personality of its own and it’s about what it’s doing and the customers it’s serving. If we do our job well, Softimage will transcend all of us, and its vision will continue.”

“It’s easy to have passion in a company of 10 people; having that in a company of 300 is a different story. But, at the end of the day, we still have a group of people who share a belief in what Softimage represents, for its users, for the technology, for going after what they are after.”

“Softimage has always been at the heart of the creative process. This drives the quality of the product, it drives the quality of the service, it drives the behavior of the people down the line. It’s not just about developing technology, it’s about sharing the same passion as the people you’re developing tools for, so that you’re in synch with what they need; it isn’t just for good business, it actually helps all of us progress.”

“One of the reasons why we’ve remained Softimage is because people have something larger than just a business interest, which is the passion for the people we are working for.”

“When you work in an environment where people are passionate about their jobs, about their product, and about their customers, you get it too – it’s contagious.”

“We’ve built an amazing team of bright individuals, with state-of-the-art practices but the overall motivation here is that we’re allowing artists to do their thing and it’s a little bit of our thing. This is what really matters: knowing that you’re contributing to this effort.”

“We’re not kids anymore, though we still like to play a lot!”

“It’s motivating building tools that other people use to create. There are very few companies who can do that, especially at the level we do, working for and with the people that we do. That’s a privilege.”

“In creating, you’re using everything you have, everything you are and whatever tools are available to bring the process to another level. In the intense moments of creation we are using every part of who we are. An artist is someone who has committed themselves to bringing to the world something that didn’t exist before.”

Friday Flashback #478

Part IV
From a 2001 “industry backgrounder” published on


“Sumatra” reflects what’s happening to 3-D animation: as it’s evolving, it’s becoming available to more people in a more functional manner. And, Softimage is leading this transformation.

As SOFTIMAGE|DS was being released, Softimage was acquired by Avid Technology, Inc. and SOFTIMAGE|DS became part of Avid’s family of editing products, taking the “editing” process one step further by providing a complete integration of all functions – not only editing, but also paint, compositing and audio.

“Sumatra”: The Path toward the future

As the world begins moving to more pervasive 3-D content – on the Web, on advanced games consoles, on the home PC – Softimage is focusing on providing tools for these arenas. With SOFTIMAGE|DS completed, the Company began moving their 3-D animation package onto the Digital Studio framework. This became referred to under the code name “Sumatra”: the next incarnation of 3-D animation tools, based on the Digital Studio framework, offering the high-end SOFTIMAGE|3D animation toolset in a completely integrated nonlinear environment of post-production and production tools.

“Sumatra” heralds a revolution in the way people work in 3-D animation, taking a complex process to a new level, where not only is it readily available to more people but it is available in an easily-accessible and useable environment, providing a way to create images in a freer, more efficient fashion. “Sumatra” offers a modular environment where people can have access to whatever level of complexity they’re comfortable with, then move up from there to wherever they want to work.

The whole process of doing character animation is going from black box to mainstream. “Sumatra” is a major step in that direction moving towards a character animation system that can be used by virtually anybody. Any professional media-creation artist will be able to easily animate characters. If they want to dive into the nuts-and-bolts of 3-D animation, “Sumatra” is more powerful than ever. It also introduces high levels of control that allow motion to be re-used and, since it’s a nonlinear animation system, motion can also be easily layered using an existing walk cycle and adding any motion on top of it.

This ability to decompose and recompose motion is a critical element for productivity. In the same amount of time, users will be able to produce better quality animation, without having to start from scratch. This will make “Sumatra” ideal for demanding 3-D animation works, such as creating an army of CG characters and rendering them in a minimum amount of time. In addition, an animator, technical director, and lighting specialist can all customize “Sumatra” to best fit their own task.

Another innovation in “Sumatra” is a series of high-level tools that allow people with fewer skills and experience to do more complex tasks. Thus, “Sumatra” packages the underlying complexity of 3-D data into blocks that people can put together and transition between, including rendering with a variety of pre-sets. Such features, in conjunction with the underlying Digital Studio architecture will enable parts of “Sumatra” to be re-focused to emerging markets, such as interactive content on the Web and in games, while still catering to the high-end user.

Another feature of “Sumatra” is that the entire software is scriptable, meaning people can create their own tools and programs using Java script, Visual Basic or Python. And, it allows people to get data in and out of “Sumatra” with their own file formats, in ASCII, binary or whatever other format they choose.

On one level, this means that “Sumatra” will insert itself much more easily into a wider variety of pipelines. On the other level, as with the original SOFTIMAGE|3D, people can build their tools right into “Sumatra” through an SDK, further expanding the system’s and their own potential. In terms of performance, customizability and collaborative workflow, “Sumatra” reflects what’s happening to 3-D animation: as it’s evolving, it’s becoming available to more people in a more functional manner. And, Softimage is leading this transformation.

Friday Flashback #477

Part III
From a 2001 “industry backgrounder” published on


Windows NT: Expanding 3-D Production

With the arrival of the Pentium, workstation-class power became available to the PC. Softimage led the way in being the first to port a high-end product to the PC, moving the software out of the expensive workstation arena. This initiative overcame another big hurdle in the high-end 3-D animation world – the cost/availability factor – and brought more tools to a larger number of creative people. In order to accomplish this, the platform aspect of the tools had to be opened.

This meant moving to a more accessible platform, namely Windows NT, which occurred in-line with the Microsoft Corporation’s acquisition of Softimage in 1994. With the financial support and the ability to explore new software development, Softimage successfully became the first to bring 3-D to Windows NT, almost quadrupling its user base in a very short time and changing the face of the 3-D animation again by making its tools available to a wider range of creative people.

The move to Windows NT made the software and hardware to create 3D content much more accessible,and the number of people using Softimage’s technology expanded dramatically. Another important factor with Windows NT was that it became much more financially viable to set up a render farm, so rendering capacity also increased exponentially. Through Softimage, Windows NT became a truly accessible professional production platform and the 3-D market opened up significantly.

Digital Studio: The Architecture for a New Generation of Tools

At the same time as the initiative to make the tools accessible to more people, there was also a move to develop the next-generation tools for Softimage. In the same way SOFTIMAGE|3D software used to consist of a series of separate functions (modelling, animation, rendering), so 3-D production was also fragmented into animation, film, video, compositing and paint, editing. This meant that the same integration Softimage had brought to the 3-D market now needed to be brought to the entire production pipeline, integrating 3-D into a unified production environment.

To do this, a platform had to be developed to integrate these functions and toolsets. The idea was to ensure that the production pipeline would allow artists to work in a true nonlinear fashion between all the production steps. This led to the development of Digital Studio, a media framework (not a system), where all the tools could be plugged into, and users could work in a unified fashion on the content of any production. So, rather than moving the production from one tool to another, all material was available in one environment, with the tools working on top of it, readily available to the user. With the establishment of the Digital Studio framework, Softimage’s next-generation of tools could be supported.

As computers became powerful and fast enough to handle real-time video and 3-D, the Digital Studio architecture could successfully be supported and so Softimage began working on SOFTIMAGE®|DS, one of the first products to integrate the 2D/3D production pipeline offering audio, 2-D, video and 3-D in the same box. A true breakthrough, SOFTIMAGE|DS offered the first complete integration of production and post-production tools, uniting editing, compositing, audio – all the components of a traditional post-production process – which had previously been separated out onto different platforms and machines.

The first product based on the Digital Studio architecture, SOFTIMAGE|DS sold a record 600 systems in its first year of release. With SOFTIMAGE|DS, Softimage had returned to its roots, once again bringing the tools closer to those involved in the creative process. SOFTIMAGE|DS created more than just a system; it was an entire process, a completely new artistic medium.

Up next…Sumatra and the Avid years

Friday Flashback #476

From a 2001 “industry backgrounder” published on


SOFTIMAGE®|3D: The First Creative Environment
Softimage was founded in 1986, with 3D animation as its core product. At that time, 3-D animation was still a very young, very technical and very complex product, with more engineers and technically oriented people using it. Softimage, under the direction of founder Daniel Langlois, became the first company to change that trend. The reason stemmed primarily from Langlois’ background as a filmmaker with the National Film Board of Canada. While at the NFB, Langlois wanted to create animated films but was dissatisfied with the existing technology and decided to create a tool that would suit the needs of film creators.

As more powerful platforms such as SGI became available, Softimage developed software that was able to exploit this power. This was the genesis of Softimage Creative Environment (later to be known as SOFTIMAGE|3D) in 1988: an approach from the artist and not from the technology, which was revolutionary at the time.

One of the main things that Creative Environment provided was an interface and a workflow geared towards artistic creation and production. The system offered a complete integration of traditional tools, using 3-D (modelling, animation, rendering), which were often separate processes in other products.

Softimage was the first to offer a product where artists had complete access to tools without having to follow a path or a sequence of operations. This type of workflow was different from the rest of the market and launched Softimage as a company very quickly.

A major turning point in the industry was at SIGGRAPH ‘93 with Jurassic Park. Although the technology had been in place before, Jurassic Park marked the first mass media photorealistic creation of CG characters that had not been possible before. This established SOFTIMAGE|3D as the industry standard for 3-D character animation and visual effects.

Several other technological breakthroughs at Softimage further boosted the use of 3-D animation. One of these innovations was the ‘Actor Module’ (for which Daniel Langlois, Softimage’s founder received a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1998), featuring ‘Inverse Kinematics’, enabling skeletons to be created for characters which provided very realistic motion. This one tool was revolutionary because it changed 3-D digital animation from being an object-oriented process to a character-oriented one, and it provided a tool which traditional animators
could comfortably use.

Other innovations included the introduction of Dynamics and Simulation into a 3-D package:
Performance Capture via Channels, which enabled the actions of a live actor to be mapped out in the Softimage program and then animated, allowing for real-time interaction in a computer environment; and other features, offering better integration with live effects.

The strength of Softimage was established in a way that would sustain it throughout the years ahead, with a single goal which never wavered: bringing creative technology to the artist – whatever their needs or level of expertise.