Friday Flashback #285


pressroom_company_facts

SOFTIMAGE: “15 YEARS OF LEADERSHIP AND INNOVATION”


INDUSTRY HISTORY

The birth and growth of 3-D animation industry thus far has been short and aggressive. In less than 12 years, the technology has transcended its “scientific” origins, overcoming numerous barriers of feasibility, affordability, cost-effectiveness, complexity of use, and productivity to become pervasive in all aspects of narrative and interactive media. The resulting computer-generated images have progressed so significantly, that they are not easily distinguished from reality. Softimage has been at the forefront in the development of this industry – taming the technology to provide tools suited for a growing fraternity of digital artists and animators.

COMPANY HISTORY

Softimage was founded in 1986 by National Film Board of Canada filmmaker Daniel Langlois on the principle of creating 3-D animation systems designed for and by artists. The concept marked a fundamental shift in how the industry viewed visual effects creation and generated a new breed of visual effects artists and animators. Langlois wanted to create animated films but was dissatisfied with the existing technology, which was insufficient for his needs and designed to be used by computer scientists and technologists. Thus, he set out to create a tool that would suit the needs of filmmakers and artists.

From its beginning, Softimage has had a singular focus on its customers – the digital content creators – a vision that remains at the core of Softimage’s corporate culture and business objectives. A vision that drives the production of tools that enable more digital artists to realise their creative dreams; to express their talent; to free them of technological constraints, and to provide them full control over the three dimensions of our world.

This vision has successfully driven Softimage to yield milestones that have shaped and influenced an entire industry: the first integrated animation and effects system for the entertainment industries – a de-facto standard for over ten years; on-going development of ground-breaking tools that have become the cornerstone of modern computer animation; the first company to port animation tools to PC (NT) – dramatically increasing affordability and accessibility of the tools; a broadening of integration vision to include post-production – with the release of SOFTIMAGE|DS (now Avid|DS); and SOFTIMAGE|XSI (formerly codenamed Sumatra) – next generation animation technology that dramatically improves quality and productivity – and again expands tool accessibility to the mass-markets in games and web content industries.

While these milestones are complimentary, the true drive of Softimage has come from a partnership with its customers who have helped to shape the personality of the product and the company – a unique culture, brand equity and sought after leadership position at the high-end of the market.

Softimage customers, numbering over 12,000 worldwide, are the most inspired and creative artists in the world – large customers such as Industrial Light and Magic, Digital Domain, Sega, Nintendo, and Sony. Plus, small customers, such as the one seat boutique or even the student just starting to learn – all of who use the product to its fullest and drive its future direction.

The results of this partnership is an impressive portfolio of hundreds of major feature films (Jurassic Park, Titanic, The Matrix, Men in Black, Star Wars – the Phantom Menace, Gladiator), games (Super Mario 64, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Wave Race, NBA Live) and countless thousands of commercial, corporate and student projects. This high-profile content has certainly affected the film and games industries and stands to expand dramatically beyond its current realm.

The current Managing Director of this pioneering company is Michael Stojda, who after working for the past seven years at Softimage and Avid and managing a wide range of effects, editing, and finishing products at both companies, was promoted in April 2001. Reporting to David Krall, President and CEO of Avid Technology, Michael provides strategic business and operational leadership for Softimage, Avid’s animation and special effects division.

MARKETS SERVED

Softimage currently serves users in the film, games and television industries with products focused on 2-D and 3-D content creation.

PRODUCT FAMILY

  • SOFTIMAGE|XSI
  • SOFTIMAGE|3D
  • SOFTIMAGE| Eddie
  • SOFTIMAGE SDK
  • XSI Viewer
  • SOFTIMAGE|Toonz
  • SOFTIMAGE|Toonz LineTest
  • Toonz plug-in for Avid|DS
  • Elastic Reality
  • Matador
  • Media Illusion

 

1986

Softimage founded on the principle of creating 3-D animation systems designed for and by artists, with or without computer experience. The concept marks a fundamental shift in how the industry views visual effects creation and generates what will soon be a new breed of visual effects artists and animators. Founder Daniel Langlois establishes the fundamental principle and design layouts of the Softimage Creative Environment system. Creative workflow and process integration become synonymous with Softimage’s philosophy.


1987

Softimage President Daniel Langlois and engineers Richard Mercille and Laurent Lauzon begin development of the company’s 3-D application software. Intuitive and productive workflow, and a truly interactive CG environment are about to become a reality.


1988

Launch of Creative Environment 1.0 at SIGGRAPH. For the first time, all 3-D processes (modeling, animation, and rendering) are integrated, providing those familiar with computer graphics with a new way of working and those unfamiliar with the technology with an opening into new possibilities. Featuring advanced tools and the first production-speed ray tracer, the system changes the approach to creating 3-D animation for years to come and sets a new standard for an entire generation of artists. Creative Environment (eventually to be known as SOFTIMAGE®|3D), will become the standard animation solution in the industry with credits in hundreds of major films, games and commercial productions.


1989

Creative Environment 1.65 with texture mapping released, adding realism and vitality to 3-D imagery.


1990

Creative Environment 2.1 released.


1991

Creative Environment 2.5 released, featuring the Actor Module with Inverse Kinematics, Enveloping, Constraints. Enables animators to combine conventional techniques (such as editing and keyframing) with advanced CG tools such as IK, flexible envelopes, and dynamics. The system heralds a revolution in creating realistic CG character motion, and would later win an award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.


1992

• Creative Environment 2.52 released.

• Softimage goes public on NASDAQ.

• Softimage acquires the EDDIE® software and Painterly Effects, providing a complete effects generation toolkit with advanced image processing tools for color correction, filtering, rotoscoping, morphing and painting.

• Softimage opens software to third-party developers.

• Channels performance capture technology offer a new dimension to CG character animation. The technology is used to create a memorable spot featuring 3-D dancing cars and gas pumps for Shell Oil.


1993

• Second public offering of Softimage stock.

• Softimage and mental images announce rendering technology agreement.

• Softimage Creative Environment 2.6 and 2.65 released, featuring: File Management, metaclay, clusters, flock animation, weighted envelopes, channels, open system policy.

• Creative Toonz debuts. The 2-D animation package automates the more tedious tasks involved in 2-D cel animation, such as inking-&-painting, while still maintaining the look of hand-drawn images and characters.

• With computers now able to handle video, Softimage begins development of Digital Studio, as a step towards integrating the 2D/3D production pipeline. The power of a post-production environment in a software-based solution is about to become a reality.

• mental ray® and particles introduced. mental ray, an advanced stand-alone rendering system and Particles, an interactive particle animation system used to create natural phenomena such as clouds, snow, fire, etc. offer new flexibility in visual effects creation.


1994

• Softimage merges with Microsoft Corporation, offering a unique opportunity to explore and develop new solutions for the industry. Development of Digital Studio further supported.

• Creative Environment 2.65 released, featuring: Expressions, dopesheet, ghost mode, shape interpolation.

• IDEAS: Interactive Developer’s Entertainment Authoring Software with ProPlay and ProPlay Plus solutions, includes: Softimage Creative Environment, NURBS support, polygon and color reduction tools, dynamic simulations and inverse kinematics. Features: Eddie compositing, video-effects software, distributed ray tracer and 3-D particles kit. The system further supports Softimage’s commitment to games developers.


1995

• Exploiting the power of the Pentium processor, Softimage leads the way developing the first high-end product on a platform of choice (Irix/Windows NT).

• SOFTIMAGE|3D version 3.0 released, featuring: NURBS modelling, relational modelling, trimming, Instantiation, polygon reduction, tangent-to-path, Constraint, Q-stretch, Expressions, Motion control, Actor, Particle, mental ray rendering, Metaclay.

• User-interface enhancements provide hot-key remapping.

• SOFTIMAGE|3D “extreme” version launched featuring: Osmose, Virtual Theatre, mental ray.

• SOFTIMAGE|Toonz version 3.5 and SOFTIMAGE|Eddie version 3.2 released.

• Softimage introduces its Virtual Theatre, featuring performance capture and real-time compositing.


1996

• SOFTIMAGE|3Dv 3.5, 3.51 released on the Windows NT platform, delivering high-end animation tools to a wide-range of CG artists.

• SOFTIMAGE|SDK Trance CD released.

• “Sumatra”(code name) and RenderFarm unveiled.

• SOFTIMAGE|DS prototype on Windows NT platform unveiled.


1997

•SOFTIMAGE|DS, one of the world’s most comprehensive nonlinear production systems (NLP™) for creating, editing and finishing videos, is launched. Over 10,000 people attended launch events in over 20 cities. Based on an advanced new software architecture, SOFTIMAGE|DS enables users to redefine the way they create content and improves the creative process by seamlessly integrating picture and audio editing, compositing, paint, image treatment, special effects, character generation and project management into one environment. Digital audio editing and non-compressed images meet painting, compositing, titling, image treatment and special effects as never before.

• SOFTIMAGE|3D Version 3.7 Service Pack 1 is designed to meet the creative needs of artists in the film, broadcast and games industries. 80% of the improvements are the direct result of contact with customers in production environments improving the trajectory between creative idea and realization.

• Softimage is the first to offer high-end comprehensive noncompressesd post-production system on the Windows NT platform (SOFTIMAGE|3D and SOFTIMAGE|DS).


1998

• Avid Technology, Inc. acquires Softimage. The two companies join forces to develop the next generation tools for digital artists.

• SOFTIMAGE|3D v. 3.8 and SOFTIMAGE|DS v. 2.1 shipped.

• Animation Sequencer introduced.

 


1999

• Animation Redefined™: “Sumatra” (code name), the world’s first nonlinear animation editing system introduced. Dubbed “the next generation animation production solution”. Based on the same architecture as SOFTIMAGE|DS, “Sumatra” merges all 3-D animation, editing, and composting tasks, taking digital technology to the next level.


2000

•SOFTIMAGE|XSI begins shipping.

The Motion Factory, Inc., is acquired. The Fremont, CA-based company specialises in applications for the creation, delivery and playback of interactive rich 3-D media for character-driven games and the Web.


2001

•Softimage enters in to Xbox tools and middleware agreement with Microsoft.

•Softimage announce support for Linux.

•SOFTIMAGE|XSI v1.5 begins shipping.

•Softimage and Electric Rain collaborate to bring Flash, EPS, AI and SVG exports to SOFTIMAGE|XSI customers.

•SOFTIMAGE|XSI v2.0 unveiled at Siggraph 2001 with release scheduled for October 2001.

•SOFTIMAGE|3D v4.0 unveiled at Siggraph 2001 with release scheduled for Autumn 2001.

 

MOTION PICTURES CREATED USING SOFTIMAGE PRODUCTS (REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE)


101 Dalmatians / Industrial light & Magic (1996)
 

Saving Private Ryan / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)


12 Monkeys / Peerless Camera (1996)
Shadows / Mitch Levine, Director (2000)

A Simple Wish / Blue Sky (1997)
Small Soldiers / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

Air Force One / Cinesite (1997)
Snake Eyes / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

Alien Resurrection / Blue Sky | VIFX (1997)
Space Jam / Industrial Light & Magic (1996)

An American Werewolf in Paris / Santa Barbara Studios (1997)
Spawn / Industrial Light & Magic (1997)

Anastasia / Fox Animation Studio (1997)
Species II / Digital Magic & Transfer (1998)

Antz / Pacific Data Images & Dreamworks Pictures (1998)
Speed2 / Industrial Light & Magic (1997)

Babe: Pig in the City / Animal Logic (1998)
Sphere / Cinesite (1998)

Balto / Amblimation (1995)
Starship Troopers / Tippett (1997)

Batman and Robin / BUF Compagnie (1997)
Star Trek: First Contact / Industrial Light & Magic (1996)

Casper / Industrial Light & Magic (1995)
Stuart Little (1999) / Centropolis FX

Contact / Sony Pictures Imageworks / Weta Ltd. (1997)
Star trek: Generations / Industrial Light & Magic (1994)

Death Becomes Hers / Industrial Light & Magic (1993)
Star Wars Trilogy / Industrial Light & Magic (1997)

Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (2000)


Deep Impact / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

Surviving Picasso / Peerless Camera (1996)


Deep Rising / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

T2-3D / Digital Domain (1996)


Dragonheart / Industrial Light & Magic (1996)

The Adventures of Pinocchio / MediaLab (1996)


Eraser / Mass Illusion (1996)

The Borrowers / Framestore (1998)


Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas / Peerless Camera (1998)

The Edge / Peerless Camera (1997)


Fight Club / Pixel Liberation Front / BUF (1999)

The Fifth Element / Digital Domain (1997)


Flubber / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

The Flintstones / Industrial Light & Magic (1994)


Forces of Nature / Dreamworks Pictures (1999)

The Frighteners / Weta Ltd. (1996)


Galaxy Quest / ILM (1999)

Gladiator (2001)

The Island of Dr. Moreau / Digital Domain (1996)


Godzilla / Centropolis (1998)

The Lost World / Industrial Light & Magic (1997)


Jack Frost / ILM / Warner Bros (1998)

The Mask / Industrial Light & Magic (1994)

The Matrix

The Mummy and The Mummy Returns


Joe’s Apartment / Blue Sky (1996)

The Relic / VIFX (1997)


Judge Dredd / (1995)

The Shadow / R/Greenberg & Associates (1994)


Jumanji / Industrial Light & Magic (1995)

The Thin Red Line / Animal Logic (1998)


Jurassic Park / Industrial Light & Magic (1993)

Jurassic Park 2 / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

Jurassic Park 3 / Industrial Light & Magic (2001)

Moulin Rouge (2001)


La Cite des Enfants Perdus / BUF Compagnie (1995)

Mission Impossible / Industrial Light & Magic (1996)


Lost in Space / Framestore (1998)

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation / The Digital Magic


Mars Attack! / Industrial light & Magic (1996)

My Favorite Martian / Tippett Studio (1998)


Matrix / Animal Logic (1998)
Prince of Egypt / Dreamworks Pictures

(1998)


Men in Black / Industrial Light & Magic (1997)

Meet Joe Black / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)

GAMES CREATED USING SOFTIMAGE PRODUCTS (REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE)

20,000 leagues – The Adventure Continues / Southpeak Entertainment (2000) NHL Hockey / Electronic Arts ( 1996)

3D Movie Maker / Microsoft (1996)
NHL Hockey 2000 / Electronic Arts ( 2000)

9 – The Last Resort / Tribeca Interactive (1996)
Nanostorm / Dream Mechanics (Fall 2000)
Aero Dancing F / CRI (CSK) (1999) The Need for Speed / Electronic Arts

( 1996)


Apocrypha / Dream Mechanics (coming in 2000)
Nights / SEGA

Assault Rigs / Psygnosis (1996)
Obsidian / Rocket Science Games (1997)

Battlezone / Activision (1998)
Panzer Dragoon / SEGA (1998)

Battlezone II / Activision (1999)
Power Stone 2 / Capcom (1999)

Beowulf: Attack of Grendel / Terraglyph (1996)
ReBoot / Electronic Arts (1998)

BioHazard Code: Veronica / Capcom (1999)
Resident Evil / Capcom (1997)

BioHazard 3 Last Escape / Capcom (1999)
Riven / Cyan (1997)

Chaos Break / Taito Corporation (1999)
Rumplestiltskin / Terraglyph Interactive

City of Lost Children / Psygnosis (1997)
Rune / Human Head Studios (2000)

Colony Wars / Psygnosis (1998)
Shenmue / CRI SEGA (1999)

Dance Dance Revolution 3rd MIX / KONAMI (1999)
Ski Champ / SEGA (1997)

Dark Earth / Kalisto Entertainment (1996)
Solar Crusade / Infogrames

Daytona USA / SEGA (1996)
Soldier of Fortune / Raven Software (2000)

Dead or Alive 2 / Tecmo (2000)
Sonic Fighters / SEGA

Destruction Derby / Psygnosis (1996)
Soldier of Fortune / Raven Software (2000)

Drowned God / Inscape (1996)
Soul Blade / Namco

Dungeon Keeper 2 / Bullfrog (1999)
Soul Caliber / Namco (1999)

F1 World Grand Prix / Video System (1999)
Space Channel 5 / SEGA (2000)

FIFA Soccer 97 / Electronic Arts (1997)
Spoon / Capcom (1999)

FIFA 98 / Electronic Arts (1998)
S.P.Q.R. / Cybersite (1996)

FIFA 2000 / Electronic Arts (2000)
Starship Titanic / The Digital Village (1997)

Fighting Vipers / SEGA (1996)
Storm Sled / Electronic Arts (1999)

Final Fantasy VII / Square (1998)
Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force / Raven Software

Formula 1 / Psygnosis (1997)
Super GT / SEGA

Gadget / Synergy (1994/1997)
Super Mario64 / Nintendo (1996)

Gearheads / R/GA Interactive (1996)
NHRA Drag Racing / Tantrum Entertainment (1998)

Get Bass / SEGA (1997)
Ted Shredd / Digital Domain

Grim Fandango / LucasArts (1998)
Tenka / Psygnosis

GURADIUS IV / KONAMI (1999)
Tekken1-2-3 / Namco (1996-1998)

Hansel & Gretel: The Enchanted Castle / Terraglyph Interactive (1996)
The 5th Element / Kalisto Entertainment (1998)

Harley-Davidson & L.A. Riders / SEGA (1997)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park / SEGA (1997)

Hexen II /Raven Software (1997)
Time Commando / Adeline Software

Heretic II / Raven Software (1998)
Tobal No. 1 / Square

Killer Loop / VCC Entertainment (1999)
Toy Commander / No Cliché (1999)

Kowloon’s Gate / Sony Music Entertainment (1996)
Triple Play / Electronic Arts (1997)

Kessen / KOEI (1999)
Triple Play 2000 / Electronic Arts (2000)

Kidsongs / Terraglyph Interactive (1996)
Virtua Fighter series / SEGA (1996 – 1997)

Krazy Ivan / Psygnosis (1997)
Virtua Striker2 / SEGA (1994/1997)

Last Bronx / SEGA (1997)
Wave race64 / Nintendo

Live J-League 1999 Perfect Striker / KONAMI (1999)
Wild Wild West – The Steel Assassin / Southpeak Entertainment (1999)

Mission Pack / Raven Software (1998)
Wipe Out / Psygnosis (1996)

Monster Truck Madness / Microsoft (1996)
Wipe Out XL / 2097 / Psygnosis (1997)

MUCK / KONAMI (1999)
Wipeout 3 / Psygnosis (1999)

NBA Live / Electronic Arts (1996)
Zelda64 / Nintendo (1998)

NBA Live 2000 / Electronic Arts (2000)

NBA Full Court Press / Microsoft

© 2001 Avid Technology, Inc. All rights reserved. Softimage, Eddie and Avid are registered trademarks and Animation Redefined and NLP are trademarks of Avid Technology, Inc. mental ray and mental images are registered trademarks of mental images GmbH & Co. KG in the USA and/or other countries. Academy Award and Oscar are trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Emmy is a registered trademark of ATAS/NATAS. Nintendo 64 is a trademark of Nintendo. All other trademarks contained herein are the property of their respective owners. Product specifications are subject to change without notice.

Friday Flashback #240


Creation of Liquid Images
Reprinted by courtesy of “Graphis Magazine”

If Daniel Langlois was one of his own animated creations, he would be trailing speed lines in a blur of gravity-defying motion. Over the past seven years, this entrepreneur has dreamed up and created Softimage Inc., the leading developer of animation software for entertainment, which he sold to Microsoftfor 130 million dollars of stock in 1994. According to Langlois he’s just getting started.

by Steven Katz

While he is best known as one of Canada’s leading executives, Langlois is a filmmaker and animator by training. Softimage is his way of creating the ideal digital workspace – one that he would like to be using when he returns to filmmaking in the future. According to Langlois, “My background in design is at the center of everything I do”.

His background includes watching the animation of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery while he was growing up, but like most Canadians he was also exposed to the National Film Board of Canada, long considered an influential center for independent animation. Shortly after graduating college, Langlois worked at the NFB as a special effects animator/computer programmer/director for six years (1979-1986) at a time when the power of digital processing was just being recognized. One of his earliest projects was to make NFB’s primitive 2D computer system easier to use.

Langlois discovered that he was more interested in 3D animation and shifted his design emphasis to extending the 3D system at the NFB. His experience in 3D led to his participation in Tony de Peltrie, an independent film project that began production in 1983. Even today, this entirely computer-generated short subject stands out for more recent high-octane offerings which dominated animation festivals because it concentrates on character and mood rather than eye-popping illusions. Langlois served as character designer and co-director on de Peltrie for over three years to create just six-and-a half minutes of animation. This was at a time when the concept of a user interface was just being introduced to the computer world and every character gesture had to be written in code. With no commercial animation software applications on the market, Langlois realized that if he were to continue as a digital artist he would require better tools. In 1986 he founded Softimage and within a year introduced the Creative Environment running on SGI hardware.

“Whenever you edit a 3D project and it’s not finished you should be able to go in
and change it.” says founder and visionary Daniel Langlois of the need to integrate software, “You need the best tool on any frame at any time.”
Whale, Gribouille

The Creative Environment was the first animation software designed specifically for character animation. With virtually no competition in this special area. Softimage soon became the standard commercial software in Hollywood and in production houses worldwide. The new company also benefited from arriving on the scene at the beginning of what will probably be viewed as the early stage of an animation Renaissance. Langlois’ software has been used in some of the most successful commercial movies of all time including Jurassic Park and Back to the Future and is being adopted by many of the major players in the video game industry. Langlois’ success as a toolmaker has postponed his work as a filmmaker, but he is still working on achieving the perfect tool set. He is quite aware that even with Softimage’s flagship product, the Creative Environment, 3D animation is tremendously complex and is not the fluid, intuitive experience he strives for.

Whether Langlois needed Microsoftto achieve his goals in an interesting question, but having the backing of the largest software company in the world allows Langlois to make bolder moves in the face of increased competition. Every major animation application available today in concentrating on the entertainment industry and Softimage has serious rivals. You can measure the advances made over the last few years by the “must have” features that the big three, Alias, Prisms, and the recently merged TDI and Wavefront, add with each new software upgrade. There is a considerable similarity between these products and a tendency to concentrate on effects-based capabilities such as particle systems and inverse kinematics while the basic operating systems and interfaces remain the same. Taking the longer view, and now with the security of a massive parent company, Langlois is introducing the next generation of digital tools this year.

For Langlois, the key concept in any new software is accessibility-accessibility in price and ease of use. Digital Studio is the first software to place the entire digital filmmaking process in a single integrated environment. The final suite of Digital Studio tools will include: digital ink and Paint, 2D image editing, compositing, 3D animation, audio, and online editing in a truly resolution-independent system. Nearly all of the above capabilities exist in current Softimage products, but Langlois is creating entirely new tools so that the individual parts of Digital Studio will work together intimately and seamlessly at the system level without compromise.

Even at major post-production facilities (the first market for DS), digital production is a fragmented process tying Macintosh, SGI, and traditional analog devices together. For any given project, artists frequently move through 3 or 4 software packages to create, paint, and edit animations. This is usually a cumbersome and unnecessarily awkward process that constantly interrupts the creative flow.

If you were now to test drive Digital Studio, you would find yourself behind the wheel of a hyphenated tool set (compositing, image editing, sound and picture editing, 3D animation, 2D animation) all wrapped in one interface. At the core of the DS environment is the timeline, the standard graphic representation of sequential images in most production software. Before DS, animators learned a different timeline interface for each step of a project separating the production process into component parts. But this separation is a severe creative limitation. Since all aspects of an animation interact, an artist should be able to adjust any aspect of the sound or picture in a continuing process of refinement. In the computer products now available, this kind of immediate feedback and interaction is cumbersome at best.

Water Women, SVC

Digital Studio solves the problem by providing a single timeline whether you’re working in 3D, 2D, compositing, editing, or recording an audio track. Any tool for any part of the process is immediately available to the artist. All files and changes are recorded in the same format so the artist can play back synched audio, with levels of compositing and 3D sources at any moment in the process. Editing will no longer merely be the process in which finished elements are brought together, when the content of footage cannot be modified. In DS, an animation can be accessed during editing and the necessary animation or modeling tools will be available to make changes. Conversely, at the visualization stage of a project, an animator can easily check his shots in a sequence because the editing tools and any other source material are available without switching interfaces. In short, Langlois has conceived Digital Studio as an extension of the imagination: non-linear, multi-faceted, unrestricted by arbitrary standards and formats.

Embodied in this approach to digital art is Langlois’ wistful ideal that an artist have the tools to express a personal vision.

While this is in keeping with the independent tradition encouraged by the NFB, it also points to the paradox in Langlois’ vision. Digital Studio is designed to empower the individual, but few independent artists can afford Softimage products or the SGI hardware they run on. The irony of this is not wasted on Langlois. His answer is the plan to port Digital Studio to Windows NT; with a tentative release date of early 1996. Strategically, then, Langlois’ Microsoftdeal seems and inspired middle game strategy to give Softimage access to the largest installed base of computer users while maintaining a product line for high-end production facilities.

As it turns out, this is merely a return to the plan Langlois had originally charted in 1985 when he began developing the Creative Environment for the Macintosh. After only six months, Langlois abandoned the Mac and moved to Unix on the SGI, but nearly ten years later both the Mac and PCC offer a viable and more cost-effective alternative for many artists and small facilities. Langlois’ belief is that “The difference between a professional tool and a consumer tool will slowly disappear. As important as Digital Studio will be for production in the 1990s, it is hard to imagine that Microsoftpaid 130 million to enter a niche market. If Langlois is the artist who became an entrepreneur, he may be passing Bill Gates going the opposite way as Gates positions himself to be the first software mogul turned studio head. The Softimage purchase is not really about selling tools. It’s about creating content for home delivery systems that Microsoftis hoping to shape and control. For every tool sold, be it Word, Excel, or Digital Studio, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and home videos that are created with those tools. Microsoftis already a leading CD-ROM publisher and Gates’ expectation is that some type of set top box may allow Gates to do an end run around the major record, movie, and book publishing companies.

Langlois’ role in this is through the AAT group (Advance Authoring Technology) at Microsoft. Softimage is part of this group with the mission of providing the tools and production expertise Microsoft will need in the next five years as the media infrastructure undergoes radical change. Projects in this area include set top box and distribution technology for the home and office.

Since interactive media offers users the ability to shape the direction of the material they consume, they will also require new interfaces and the underlying tools required to make true interactivity compelling. It is not hard to imagine a time when the content of a work of fiction or game is judged as much by the innovation and the accessibility of the interface as the traditional elements of character and plot. If this happens, toolmakers will share intimately in the content creation process. So in a sense, the evolution of the new media may ultimately allow Langlois to become one of the first toolmaker/artists.

Digital Studio was conceived with this future in mind thought Langlois thinks it is too early to know what shape the aesthetic of interactivity will take. In charting a path for this uncertain future. Langlois has developed Digital Studio with an underlying operating system that will give him maximum flexibility in shaping the product for the special needs of interactive entertainment.

In its first release, however, Digital Studio must succeed as an innovative tool in a traditional, post-production setting. The grand synthesis of art and technology/creator and consumer is still in the earliest stages of evolution and Digital Studio will primarily be of immediate interest to the makers of commercials, network I.D.s and flying logos. Even Digital Studio on the PC will be a strategy to make a more cost-effective product for production facilities rather than non-professionals. It appears that the more interesting, consumer use of this technology is yet to come.

Friday Flashback #63


Microsoft buys Softimage – the press release and some news clippings about the 14 Feb 1994 acquisition

The press release:

Microsoft Corporation to Acquire SOFTIMAGE Inc.

REDMOND, Washington Ð February 14, 1994 Ð Microsoft Corporation today announced that the company has signed a definitive agreement to acquire SOFTIMAGE, a leading developer of high performance 2D and 3D computer animation and visualisation software. The $130 million stock transaction has been approved by the Board of Directors of both Microsoft and SOFTIMAGE.

“The market for digital media is growing rapidly and SOFTIMAGE is a technology leader in this area. We are committed to continuing this development of leading-edge professional authoring tools which accelerate the creation of high-quality digital content,” said Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft. “We are very excited at the prospect of combining their expertise with ours,” said Gates.

“We share with Microsoft a common vision of the role that authoring tools will play as the digital media marketplace unfolds. Microsoft has a wealth of experience in supporting open operating systems and building great software tools, and we will provide specialised expertise and experience in professional quality digital media tools. We believe that as a part of Microsoft we can more quickly realise our vision,” said Daniel Langlois, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and founder of SOFTIMAGE. Langlois will continue to head the development organisation located in Montreal, Quebec, which will operate as a part of the Advanced Technology division which directs Microsoft’s long- term technology vision.
Under the terms and conditions of the combination plan, each share of SOFTIMAGE stock will be exchangeable for 0.279 of a share of Microsoft stock, with an adjustment factor designed to provide not less than $21 and not more than $24 of value per SOFTIMAGE share. The agreement is subject to the approval of the shareholders of SOFTIMAGE, and the directors of SOFTIMAGE have unanimously agreed to vote the shares they own, which represent approximately 30% of the outstanding shares, in favour of the transaction.

SOFTIMAGE (Nasdaq-NMS: SFTIF), founded in 1986, is an innovative developer of high-performance 2D and 3D animation and simulation software. The company markets its sophisticated flagship product for 3D animation, the Creative Environmentª and a complete line of high-end 2D applications, including post- production editing and the integration of visual images, text, sound and special effects technology. SOFTIMAGE products are used by loading film studios, animation houses, broadcasters, graphic artists, product designers and engineers around the world.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq-NMS: MSFT) is the world leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.

Commentary on the acquisition of Softimage by Microsoft

Seattle Times: Microsoft To Purchase Softimage — Software Giant Gains Access To Graphics For Interactive TV

“You don’t just hire folks that have this stuff [Jurassic Park-type graphics technology],” said Dain Bosworth analyst Glenn Powers. “It’s the type of thing where there are 100 people that are good. If you want to get a bunch of them at once, this is the way you grab them.”

Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft senior vice president, said yesterday that the acquisition will give Microsoft a tool to create sophisticated computer-generated graphics that are going into movies, video games and commercials. Also, he said, “This kind of technology is the minimum (needed) to create effective CD-ROM titles.”


Microsoft Buying Maker of Animation Software

In a move underscoring its commitment to digital multimedia, Microsoft Corp said it has agreed to acquire Montreal-based Softimage Inc, a developer of computer animation software, in a $130-million stock deal. The acquisition, the software giant’s second biggest ever, increases by nearly 50% the size of the Microsoft’s 18-month-old Advanced Consumer Technology division, which is leading its efforts to help shape the information highway.

Software Industry Report, 21 Feb 1994

The buy is considered very important for Microsoft, which to date has not made any significant inroads in the emerging market for interactive television and multimedia production. Daniel Langlois, the Softimage founder and CEO, will continue to head the development organization, which will operate as part of the Microsoft advanced technology division.

In a recent press interview, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said his Redmond, Wash., software company will vigorously pursue opportunities in the multimedia field. How the Softimage buy will play out remains to be seen. Softimage makes tools for Silicon Graphics Inc. workstations, and its software was used in the special effects for the movie “Jurassic Park.”

http://www.immersence.com/publications/1996/1996-PLunenfeld.html

Davies is the director of visual research at SoftImage, a high-end computer graphics software group that was recently purchased by Bill Gates in his quest to have Microsoft own everything in North America that the Disney Company does not.

Microsoft Morphs into a Media Company –
Mr. Bill makes a billion-dollar bet on interactive entertainment

Wired 1994
Microsoft has been gradually creating or acquiring crucial pieces of media technology, which alone or in combination with others have the potential to spawn powerful new forms of media. Softimage 3-D animation and product tools now being ported to the PC, for example,

Excerpted from the book, “Becoming a Computer Animator” by Michael Morrison

ADVANCES OF THE 1990s In February 1994, Microsoft Corporation acquired Softimage for 130 million dollars. Microsoft’s initial use of TDI technology will be internal, to enhance their multimedia CD-ROM products and interactive TV programs. Microsoft also plans to port the Softimage software over to its Windows NT operating system. This may be the first move in starting a trend for the shifting of high-end graphics software from workstations to personal computers.

Commentary on the release of Softimage 3D for Windows NT

Graphics and Windows NT 4.0 – A Diamond Multimedia White Paper

Microsoft helped to pave the way to Windows NT for many applications by porting the highly regarded Softimage animation studio from Silicon Graphics workstations to Windows NT. For many creators of digital content in the highly competitive worlds of advertising and film, the existence of Softimage on Windows NT has proven the PC is ready for the big time.

1996: Microsoft delivers high-end 3-D animation software for Microsoft Windows NT; Softimage 3D for Windows NT provides workstation-class capabilities and performance at approximately half the system cost

“Today marks an important milestone in making high-end 3-D animation capabilities widely available,” said Daniel Langlois, senior director at Microsoft and founder of Softimage. “Because Windows NT offers the same high-performance graphics capabilities as UNIX(r)-based workstations and all of the benefits of a highly competitive ‘PC economy,’ many more content creators will be able to take advantage of high-end 3-D animation software. And these compelling price/performance figures will get even better over time.”


MICROSOFT’S SOFTIMAGE STRESSES LOW-COST HARDWARE AS IT LAUNCHES SOFTIMAGE 3D FOR WINDOWS NT

Published 06 February 1996

Microsoft Corp’s SoftImage Inc has opened up the market for its three-dimensional modeling and animation software, Microsoft SoftImage 3D, by launching a version for Windows NT (CI No 2,831). The software, which traditionally ran on Silicon Graphics Inc workstations under the Irix Unix operating system, will now run on any personal computer supporting NT.

Montreal-based SoftImage founder Daniel Langolois said the NT system has all the functionality of the Unix-based system, but enables users to choose much lower cost hardware as an option. He insisted that his aim was not to knock Silicon Graphics, but simply to open up choice for the users, and to enable more animators to use SoftImage’s three-dimensional animation software.