Friday Flashback #478


Part IV
From a 2001 “industry backgrounder” published on softimage.com:

NEW LEVELS IN ANIMATION: “SUMATRA” (CODE NAME)& THE AVID YEARS

“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.

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