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