Friday Flashback #117

March 2000 SOFTIMAGE|3D 3.9 was the first release distributed via “the world wide web”.

The SOFTIMAGE|3D Version 3.9 release also represents a milestone for the company as it will be the first ever release that Softimage distributes to customers via the world wide web. Rather than waiting the customary 6-8 weeks that it takes for reproduction and shipping, customers under a valid support contract will be able to log on to the Softimage Support web site to download the software.


Friday Flashback #116

Marketing collateral for SOFTIMAGE|DS (from the Avid days).
I was originally hired at Softimage to be the lead writer on the DS documentation. That never happened. I sat around for months reading specs, going to meetings, and endlessly preparing doc plans, until I was drafted into doing some actual writing work on DKit. Then I moved on to the SOFTIMAGE|SDK, and I never did work on the DS docs, except for the DS|SDK.

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 #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 #98


3d.archive.9712.Sumatra.revisitedWhat were they talking about 15 years ago on the SOFTIMAGE|3D discussion group? Well, for one thing, they were wondering about “Sumatra (codename)” and whether they’d lose the beloved spartan SOFTIMAGE|3D interface:

Aside from the possibility of losing certain favorite tools I am very concerned with what Sumatra’s design will be like. I really love the spartan modular SI interface. It’s elegant, clean and very responsive.

I agree about the Interface. I really don’t care if they change the “look” of the interface, do that goofy rounded thing with the buttons, as long as they keep the functionality and general layout: The menu cells along eachside of the four views.

My vote is to KEEP THE SPARTAN INTERFACE. 10-15 hrs/day, I really don’t want to be looking at colorful icons and layers of hidden functionality collapsed into an insufficient number of modules.

The answer back from Softimage makes for interesting reading (keep in mind that “Sumatra (codename)” wouldn’t be released for another couple of years):

Subject: RE: Sumatra… revisited
From: Dan Kraus
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 10:45:21 -0500


>I think we should all think about it and be a little concerned that
>after SIGGRAPH SI has not even whispered the word ‘Sumatra.’

Although we’ve been coding hard since well before Siggraph ’96, we
haven’t spoken too much about it, except at the yearly Siggraph users’
group, because we want to be certain of our ship date before starting to
set concrete user expectations.

Sumatra is a complete replacement for the currently 3D product –
modelling, animation, rendering, particle, mental ray, etc, all
integrated into a single, seamless multi-threaded environment. We’re
coding Sumatra simultaneously both on IRIX and NT – there’s no ‘port’
involved this time, which also means that we get to take max advantage
of the hardware on both sides. Of course, there’s a lot of new tools –
performance, modelling/animation, etc – but our first priority is the
v3.7 toolset, to guarantee that you can use Sumatra for exactly the same
thing for which you use SI3D today.

Sumatra will actually be preceded by Twister – a standalone rendering
product which uses the Sumatra interface/architecture, and also
incorporates the next-gen of mental ray (v2.0). Twister is designed to
be used in tandem with SI3D, so you can start using/learning the new
interface as you’re comfortable, and integrate it into your current

We currently expect Twister to ship in Q3 (Calendar) of ’98, and Sumatra
(Q4). This is behind our original target dates, but we want to be
completely certain that Sumatra is a true replacement for the current 3D
product. From the upgrade point of view, we’ll be treating Sumatra as
the release version of SI3D, which means users under maintenance will
recieve an automatic upgrade, just as you would to a point release or
service pack.

>>I wanna know what the interface will look like

Can’t blame you 😉 One of the most time-consuming tasks of the
Sumatra/Twister effort has actually been understanding and replicating
the existing user model. This extends way beyond pure interface issues,
and it’s taken us almost 2 years of work with our PM and internal
development teams (including several professional animators) to
guarantee that we understand why and how data is passed through Soft,
and propose an interface re-design which improves on what we have today.
We also have the benefit of having a true in-house production team (the
Softimage Content Group), who works closely with us on tool design,
putting things into immediate practice as soon as they’re coded.

Here’s a peek at a few of the key UI issues, and what’s happening:

Speed of Access – things like parent, cut etc are not available in all
the modules in Soft. One of the things you’ll notice when working with
Sumatra is that the right-hand panel provides you with all the general
controls you need – all the time.

Tools Organization – The Sumatra UI puts things in more sensible and
intuitive places, yet respecting where the most important controls (ex keyframe)
sit today.

Quick Selection Model – Sumatra has filters and presets which make life
much easier by not just making them ‘unselectable’ as is the case in
v3.7SP1, but actually letting you pre-select the type of objects you
want to grab. Makes repeated actions on a certain object type a whole
lot easier

Existing Workflow – The Sumatra UI has been designed with a constant
preoccupation (‘obsession’ is probably more accurate, actually 🙂 with
maintaining the existing workflow. Specifically, things like keeping all
the major tools two clicks away, providing contextual menus (ok, that’s
new :-), work-centric focus (manage your character, not the tools) – and
most of all, pure interface speed.

Please keep the comments coming, and keep an eye on our web page early next year – we’ll start rolling out the info as we draw closer to ship.


Dan Kraus Softimage/Microsoft
Product Manager, 3D Montreal, Quebec

There was also a side-discussion of whether or not a context-sensitive UI would be a good thing; surprisingly (to me at least), opinion seemed to be split on that.

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.”