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 #375

Microsoft Softimage to Be Acquired by Avid Technology

REDMOND, Wash., June 15, 1998 — Microsoft Corp. today announced it has signed a definitive agreement to sell Softimage Inc., its wholly owned subsidiary based in Montreal, to Avid Technology Inc., a Massachusetts-based provider of digital video, film and audio solutions. As a result, Microsoft will own a minority stake in Avid and plans to continue its joint initiatives in digital television, interactive content development and other visual media technologies with Avid.

“For the last four years, Softimage has been an innovative leader in the digital media space and will continue this tradition of excellence as a part of Avid,”
said Craig Mundie, senior vice president, consumer platforms division, Microsoft.
“Microsoft will continue to be part of this success as an investor and strategic ally of Avid.”

Softimage has made major strides in providing state-of-the-art production tools for games development, films and commercials that have received numerous awards, including all seven films nominated for the Special Effects category at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony as well as blockbuster games like Broderbund’s Riven, Sega’s Virtua Fighter series and Nintendo’s Mario64. Since its acquisition by Microsoft, Softimage has added more than 100 employees in Montreal, mainly graphics artists and developers, reaching approximately 300 today. During this time, Softimage also helped pioneer the adoption of the Microsoft® Windows NT® operating system in the professional media creation industry and established Digital Studio, a state-of-the-art high-end integrated environment and tool set for digital media creation.

“Over the past three years, Softimage has driven major breakthroughs in the industry,”
said Moshe Lichtman, president of Softimage.

“We were the first to ship the highest performance3-D animation and video production products on the Windows NT platform. We have built and introduced a revolutionary nonlinear production paradigm base on our Digital Studio architecture. At the same time, we have grown our installed base from fewer than 1,500 users to over 21,000 and our customer base from fewer than 700 to over 6,000. Joining the Avid team will enable us to dramatically accelerate our joint vision of an integrated production environment and to continue pushing the envelope on behalf of our clients and partners in the digital media space.”

Avid, the industry-leading provider of digital content creation tools for professional film, video and audio post-production, has a user base of more than 40,000 editors and artists. Avid’s digital media expertise is well positioned to build on Softimage’s revolutionary digital nonlinear production architecture and its powerful SOFTIMAGE® |DS and SOFTIMAGE|3D product lines.

“This deal is a win-win for all involved,”
Mundie noted.
“Avid gains the benefit of rapid expansion into the 3-D market, a video production solution that ideally complements its current offerings and a stronger alliance with Microsoft. Softimage joins the team of a proven industry leader that will help the company continue to grow and be a force in the digital media space. Microsoft gains a strategic ally for continued development on Windows NT and our digital media initiatives.”

Softimage and its employees will remain in Montreal and other Softimage locations around the world. The parties expect to close the acquisition during the latter part of July 1998, subject to receiving clearance under applicable U.S. and Canadian laws and other customary closing conditions.

Founded in 1986, Softimage develops software for media-rich applications, including video, film, interactive games and CD-ROM applications. Products include SOFTIMAGE|DS (video production), SOFTIMAGE|3D (high-end animation), SOFTIMAGE|EDDIE (compositing) and Toonz (2-D cell animation). The company was acquired in 1994 by Microsoft. Additional information about Softimage and Microsoft can be found via the Internet at ( and respectively.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide 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.

Microsoft and Windows NT are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Softimage is a registered trademark of Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp.

Other product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

Friday Flashback #345

Softimage “Twister” Enters Beta at SIGGRAPH

ORLANDO, Fla., July 20, 1998 — Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp., announced today at SIGGRAPH 98 that its next-generation rendering system, code-named Twister™, is entering the beta test cycle with delivery to customers scheduled for the fourth quarter of 1998.

Twister is the first module of the soon-to-be-released 3-D animation platform, code-named “Sumatra,” which provides a revolutionary new approach to character animation and introduces the concept of nonlinear animation (NLA).

Twister is well-suited for use in combination with SOFTIMAGE® |3D version 3.8, now shipping to customers, which allows users to perform interactive rendering in a next-generation environment. Combining the power of mental ray® version 2.0 with the architecture and interface of the “Sumatra” next-generation 3-D platform, Twister fits neatly into the SOFTIMAGE|3D 3.8 workflow with an interactive tool set that complements and extends the functionality of the current-generation software.

Twister takes advantage of the forthcoming “Sumatra” user interface, which provides much smoother workflow and data access while maintaining the familiar and intuitive Softimage user environment that has become integral to much of the animation industry.

Twister will revolutionize the way people handle production-level rendering,” said Dan Kraus, product manager for Softimage. “Not only does Twister provide the next generation of mental ray, but it also makes tuning and editing scene-rendering parameters a completely interactive process. We fully expect Twister to set a new benchmark in the industry as the first truly interactive renderer.”

“As a beta test site for mental ray 2.0, we’ve been extremely pleased with the truly interactive nature of the tool set and we eagerly await the opportunity to put ‘Twister’ to use in our facility,” said Dave Throssell, head of 3-D animation at London-based The Mill FX.

“Twister seamlessly integrates mental ray 2.0 into the rendering environment, thereby taking full advantage of new functionality for both interactive and batch rendering.”


Interactive Renderer Delivers Improved Creativity and Workflow

Twister allows users to render directly in the 3-D view, with instant feedback that shows how parameter changes affect the final rendering quality. Whereas rendering was once a time-intensive process, it will now become essentially another viewing mode. This interactive view evaluates the entire scene-rendering tree, and it allows users to view and modify all rendering effects, including motion blur and shadow mapping.

Twister also integrates many production conveniences, such as scene-level renderpass definition, allowing users to predetermine all of the computer graphics passes to be used in a production.

Next-Generation Photorealism Sets New Standard for Quality and Workflow

Twister is based on mental ray version 2.0, a next-generation renderer that will set new standards for quality and workflow. In addition to significantly improved performance, mental ray version 2.0 offers a host of new features, such as depth-map shadows, scanline motion blur and polygon displacement, as well as support for caustics, which allows the renderer to accurately calculate and render the light diffusion around a scene.

Twister allows users to distribute jobs quickly and easily across multiple CPUs, both locally and remotely, using new techniques such as distributed tesselation and local texture caching for significantly improved distributed performance.

Pricing and Availability

Twister is scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter of 1998. Licensed users of the extreme version of SOFTIMAGE|3D under a valid maintenance contract will receive
Twister at no charge. Customers with the base version of SOFTIMAGE|3D will receive an approximately 50 percent discount on Twister.

About Softimage

Founded in 1986, Softimage develops software for media-rich applications including video, film, interactive games and CD-ROM applications. Products include SOFTIMAGE|DS (video production), SOFTIMAGE|3D (high-end animation), SOFTIMAGE|EDDIE (compositing) and Toonz (2-D cel animation). The company was acquired in 1994 by Microsoft. Additional information about Softimage and Microsoft can be found via the Internet at and , respectively.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq“MSFT”) is the worldwide 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.

Softimage is a registered trademark and Twister is a trademark of Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft is either a registered trademark or trademark of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Mental ray is a registered trademark of mental images Geselleshaft fur Computer Film und Maschinenintelligenz mbH & Co. KG, Berlin, Germany. All rights reserved.

Other product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

Softimage general information:

United States and Canada: (800) 576-3846

International: (818) 365-1359

Note to editors: If you are interested in viewing additional information on Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft Web page at  on Microsoft’s corporate information pages.

Friday Flashback #321

softimage_3d_extreme_datasheet_snippet Even the best animation system is not complete without the extendible capabilities of a fully functional, high-quality rendering solution. With mental ray, artists can easily create the type of complex, photorealistic and innovative imagery that provide a competitive edge in the industry.

–Daniel Langlois, founder of Softimage and senior director at Microsoft.

Softimage Launches New Version of Mental Ray Distributed Rendering Environment

LOS ANGELES, May 16, 1996 — As part of its latest high-end 3-D modeling, animation and rendering software, Softimage Inc. is introducing a more powerful version of mental ray, its distributed, fully programmable rendering environment for Softimage® 3D. With this new release, available with Softimage 3D Extreme or as a concurrent user network license, mental ray is significantly more capable, faster and easier to use. It supports many new innovations, including interface enhancements, an extensive library of shaders and effects, a robust development environment and support for cross-platform distributed rendering. All mental ray features, including distributed rendering, are now available for the first time on Intel® Pentium® Pro, Alpha and MIPS® RISC 4400-based systems for the Microsoft® Windows NT® operating system and Silicon Graphics® platforms.

In addition, Softimage has announced attractive pricing for network and standalone concurrent user licenses of mental ray that will enable customers to build extremely cost-effective distributed rendering networks, also called renderfarms. Renderfarms speed production work and lower costs.

As part of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) here, Softimage is demonstrating a massive renderfarm, with mental ray, running in a network of more than 30 Windows NT and Silicon Graphics laptops, single and multiprocessor workstations, and servers based on Intel Pentium Pro, Alpha and the MIPS RISC 4400 microprocessor.

Several independent software developers, including Lightscape Technologies Inc. and The VALIS Group, are demonstrating new plug-in applications that enhance mental ray’s rendering capabilities. These plug-in applications are based on Softimage’s new software development kit.

Through a combination of advanced ray-tracing capabilities, procedural shaders, volumetric rendering, distributed processing and a programmable architecture, mental ray has established the benchmark for rendering quality by producing the industry’s most detailed, photorealistic images for films, videos, commercials and games.

Most recently, Buf Compagnie (France) used mental ray to produce imagery for the feature film “The City of Lost Children” (“La Cité des Enfants Perdus”).

R/Greenberg Associates (New York) used mental ray to create a photorealistic version of the Statue of Liberty for an Oldsmobile Aurora commercial.

Digital Domain (Los Angeles) used mental ray to produce a stunningly realistic animated character, the T-Meg, for the Terminator 2 3-D attraction at Universal Studios Florida.

“Even the best animation system is not complete without the extendible capabilities of a fully functional, high-quality rendering solution,” said Daniel Langlois, founder of Softimage and senior director at Microsoft. “With mental ray, artists can easily create the type of complex, photorealistic and innovative imagery that provide a competitive edge in the industry.”

All mental ray enhancements are available for Windows NT-based workstations and servers and Silicon Graphics systems. The enhancements include the following:

  • Distributed rendering. Mental ray is a distributed rendering solution that can take advantage of multiprocessor and networked hardware, including Windows NT-based workstations and servers and Silicon Graphics systems, to dramatically reduce the time it takes to render a complex animation scene. Availability of mental ray on Windows NT allows customers to choose from a variety of high-performance, low-cost hardware platforms based on Alpha, Intel Pentium Pro and MIPS R4400 microprocessors for fast, cost-effective renderfarm solutions.
  • Shader library. Softimage 3D Extreme ships with an extensive library of mental ray shaders and effects, including some of the most challenging effects such as hair, smoke, fog and environmental effects such as sunsets and sunrises. Shader libraries are updated continually at no charge through Softimage’s World Wide Web site, . Through an Internet browser, customers can quickly view an effect in action to determine how it can be used in an animation scene.
  • Enhanced programmability. With mental ray programmable shaders, animators can differentiate their imagery with unique, visually exciting custom effects. An open application programming interface based on C, made available through the Softimage software development kit (SDK), enables customers to directly access the mental ray rendering engine for building custom shaders that match their unique creative environments. To help bolster a community of plug-in applications, Softimage in February introduced the Softimage Developers Connection program.
  • Interface enhancements. Mental ray is now fully integrated into Softimage 3D, making it easier to render images. A new render preview window also saves time in getting the right effects. A new shader ball allows customers to find the desired effect quickly.

In addition to mental ray distributed rendering, Softimage 3D version 3.5 includes many other significant enhancements including full NURBS (nonuniform rational B-spline) modeling, an enhanced particle animation system and other features. (For more information on Softimage 3D, see the “Microsoft Introduces Major Upgrade of Softimage 3D” news release.)

Plug-in Applications

As part of E3, several ISVs plan to demonstrate applications developed with the Softimage SDK. Lightscape Technologies (San Jose, Calif.) is demonstrating the integration of the Lightscape Radiosity Server and Softimage 3D using the Softimage SDK. A viewer linked to the server will provide real-time display and navigation of the radiosity solution from within Softimage 3D. The VALIS Group (Tiburon, Calif.)will announce it plans to ship several cross-platform, procedural shaders that eventually will be included as part of its Shader of the Month Club for Softimage 3D. The VALIS Group develops and markets special-effects applications and a series of procedural shaders for Renderman.

Pricing and Availability

Softimage 3D and Softimage 3D Extreme are shipping today for the Silicon Graphics platform; Windows NT-based versions are scheduled to be available in August. Licensed users of Softimage 3D version 3.5 can obtain networked or standalone, cross-platform concurrent user mental ray licenses. Approximate U.S. prices are single license, $2,495; four-pack, $7,995; eight-pack, $13,995; 16-pack, $23,995; 24-pack, $29,995; and 48-pack, $47,995.

Founded in 1986, Softimage develops software for media-rich applications including video, film, interactive games and CD-ROM applications. Products include Softimage 3D (high-end modeling, animation and rendering), Softimage Eddie (compositing) and Softimage Toonz (2-D cel animation). The company was acquired in 1994 by Microsoft Corp. Additional information about Softimage and Microsoft can be found via the Internet at and respectively.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (NASDAQ “MSFT”) is the worldwide 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.


Softimage is a registered trademark of Softimage Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft Corp.
Microsoft and Windows NT are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.
Intel and Pentium are registered trademarks of Intel Corp.
MIPS is a registered trademark of MIPS Technologies Inc. MIPS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Graphics.

Friday Flashback #308

GAME DEVELOPER • JUNE/JULY 1995 Microsoft’s Softimage is suddenly challenged by Silicon Graphics’s merger with Alias and Wavefront. What can game developers expect from these two?



3D Graphics Goliaths Square Off

Yesterday, as I was cleaning out a bookshelf in our office, I came upon an issue of Byte magazine from Aug., 1987. Although I was throwing everything away, I had an urge to flip through its pages—there’s something compelling about a computer magazine that’s over seven years old. Volume 12, number 9 of Byte may only have been 49 in dog-years, but it was much older in computer-years. I couldn’t believe it—ads for 386 16Mhz computers selling for $4,400, 9600-baud modems for $1,000, and articles about EGA graphics. It’s amazing we got through those rough times. (Some know-it-all will read this in 2002 and say the same thing about 1995, no doubt.)

One article that caught my eye focused on the technique of transferring cartoon-quality film (a clip from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) into digitized EGA display. Yeeeesshhh, the final result looked horrible. So, maybe the time wasn’t right back then for creating digital media from live footage. But, like a rolling snowball picking up size and speed, the graphics industry is maturing to the point where there’s not too much anyone can’t do at an affordable price. Microsoft and Silicon Graphics (SGI), thanks to recent acquisitions and mergers, are helping to fuel this momentum.


Competitive Partners

The relationship between Microsoft and Silicon Graphics has changed enormously over the past 12 months. Silicon Graphics is the dominant player in the graphics
workstation market, and Microsoft is the giant in the PC software market.

However, when Microsoft acquired Softimage last summer, Microsoft gained a powerful suite of IRIX-based animation, editing, compositing, and cel animation tools. It instantly became a key partner of SGI. Eight months later—last February—SGI merged with Alias and Wavefront, two companies that compete against Softimage on the SGI platform. How have these developments changed the relationship between Silicon Graphics and Microsoft? More importantly, how does it affect their customers?

I spoke with Andrew Wright, group product manager of advanced authoring tools for Microsoft/Softimage, and Dave Larson, director of marketing for Silicon Studios, a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Graphics, about the actions their companies have taken recently in the digital entertainment industry.

The most recent event, Silicon Graphics’ merger with Alias and Wavefront, achieved two objectives for SGI, according to Larson.

“We felt that by merging with Alias and Wavefront,” Larson explained, “we could get two of the most important groups of engineers together with our engineers and accomplish two things. [The first objective] is to drive the development of our 3D software environment… [Second,] we don’t have expertise in entertainment and industrial [software] markets at the customer level like we do with hardware. We’re getting a sales force that knows the customers really well at the application level, a sales force that has a much greater depth of knowledge.”

What was Wright’s reaction to the SGI merger?

“Surprise,” he said. “From [Microsoft’s] perspective, it actually puts us in a stronger position because we feel that for our customers a cross-platform solution is important. Where they want the performance of SGI, we provide it, where they want the price-to-performance ratio and openness of a Windows NT system we’ll provide that to them. We’ll be the only high-end 3D animation vendor that’s effectively able to execute a crossplatform strategy.”

I sensed no edginess from either Wright or Larson about the relationship between Microsoft and SGI, and both played up the positive aspects of their new product lines. Wright stressed the fact that many of SGI’s partners, not just Microsoft, were now competitors, but that it wouldn’t make sense for SGI to consider them as such: “Yes, we are a competitor to [Silicon Graphics], but they’re also a competitor to a number of their other ISVs [independent software vendors]. Companies like Side Effects, Discreet Logic, Avid… One thing I can say absolutely outright is that if SGI loses their third-party applications as a result of this merger, they’re dead in the water. I think they’ve almost got to overcompensate to make sure that their third party ISVs are treated fairly,” Wright commented.

Dave Larson adamantly agreed.

“We’re going to treat [Microsoft] as we do a whole category of partners who will get early access information, and it’s based on business parameters. These guys, as well as other 3D vendors, are still selling SGI software and we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure they continue to do so. That’s our business.”

Softimage off the SGI Platform?

Upon acquiring Softimage last year, Microsoft stated its intention to port the Softimage tools over to Windows NT. I asked Wright whether Microsoft had plans to pull Softimage products off the SGI platform at a later date and focus exclusively on its own operating system implementation.

“No. One of the key reasons Microsoft bought Softimage is that Softimage had a tremendous presence in the community that was producing the world’s best content. ILM [Industrial Light and Magic]. Greenberg. Rocket Science. For those companies, the SGI platform is absolutely critical because they need that level of performance… We think Windows NT and the associated hardware developments are going to provide a very price-attractive alternative. But in no way is that going to put SGI out of business. They are going to continue to do very well and we need to be there.”


Microsoft looks at its partner/competitor relationship with SGI in the same light as its association with Apple.

“We’ll continue to invest in SGI,” Wright stated. “It’s very similar to our situation on the Macintosh. Microsoft makes a lot of money on the Macintosh and it’s a very vital platform for us at the application level, even though we don’t own the operating system. The fact that we’ve got applications on Windows 95 as well does not in any way affect our investment in the Macintosh platform.”

Wright sees Silicon Graphics remaining the superior platform for highend digital video and three-dimensional animation over Windows NT, just as the Macintosh held its position as the superior platform for graphic design when Windows 3.0 was introduced.

“Macintosh had a very strong position in graphic design. Windows came in and everybody thought that it was going to completely take over the market. As a result, companies like Aldus and Adobe developed their applications first on Windows and second on Macintosh. But they realized over time that the Mac wasn’t going to go away… We think a similar thing is going to happen in the SGI world,” Wright said.

Porting Softimage Products to Windows NT

Upon acquiring Softimage, Microsoft announced that it would port the company’s toolset to Windows NT. Wright indicated that Softimage products would be available on Windows NT this year, but he declined to be more specific, fearing that divulging an estimated date could raise false hopes.

I wanted to know what strengths Windows NT could offer over the SGI platform to game developers. After all, SGI has been targeting this market for years and has optimized its hardware for high-end graphics and animation. Wright responded: “We think that the Windows NT platform will offer very attractive price-to-performance ratio in the range of performance that it delivers. We also feel that for people who have PC-based networks, for example developers who are using [Autodesk’s] 3D Studio, it will be important for them to run a high-quality 3D product in the same environment that they’re running their other tools. I think that’s going to be key to the games development area.”

Downward Pressure on Prices

In addition to announcing the porting of Softimage tools over to Windows NT, Microsoft announced in January that it was slashing the price of all Softimage software by up to 50%. What was behind this aggressive move? Wright explained:

“Over the last couple of years, interactive developers [have begun to] require [highend] tools as games have become more sophisticated. We looked at our pricing structure and said, ‘Well, those prices make sense if we continue to maintain our high-end feature set for our traditional market.’ But if [Microsoft] really wants to penetrate the market for game developers as well as other emerging interactive media, it’s important to have more aggressive price points and maintain that leadership position.”

A large number of graphics and animation products have been launched for the Windows, DOS, and Macintosh platforms recently by companies like Caligari and Strata. Although these products aren’t in the same class of function or performance as either the Microsoft or SGI tools on IRIX, they seem to be exerting pressure on software prices for the entire market, regardless of platform. I asked Dave Larson how Silicon Graphics viewed these lower-priced products, and how his company would respond.

“We’re moving down in terms of markets,” declared Larson. “As our price points come down, we’re cutting deeper into various markets… Historically, SGI has been perceived as vastly more expensive and out of reach, a boutique kind of machine. We think we’re rapidly expanding beyond that, and that we’re within reach for a lot of people [developing digital entertainment] for a living. It’s all about how much time you have to get your work done. For instance, a friend of mine just came up who’s been doing a lot of audio work on the Mac, and he just started using a new audio application on our platform. He says it’s dramatically affected his work just after a few days of working with it. What he used to think ahead to do he now does in real time. He can test his decisions as he goes. That’s the metaphor for performance change. Everything happens so much more quickly [on the SGI platform], and your creativity can increase.”

Sega and Nintendo Choose Sides

There’s an interesting sidebar concerning SGI and Microsoft. The two archrivals in the game cartridge market, Nintendo and Sega, have gone to separate corners for their respective development tools, and you can probably guess whom each has enlisted. In 1994, Nintendo selected Alias (whose software was used to create the Super NES blockbuster Donkey Kong Country) as the authorized graphics development system for both current games and next-generation 64-bit games. Last January, Sega chose Softimage 3D as the official three-dimensional development tool for the new SegaSaturn game platform. I’m not saying that this is an instance of “any enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but it is predictable political maneuvering.

As long as the Softimage tools on IRIX don’t take a distant second priority to their Windows NT version, users stand to gain from a price war between two resource-rich companies like Silicon Graphics and Microsoft. Feature sets and performance should evolve more rapidly, and it undoubtedly will spur other SGI platform competitors to keep up.

You’d better get used to seeing more companies merging or acquired as the digital entertainment market expands—it’s a natural consolidation that should continue for the next couple of years.

Alex Dunne is contributing editor for
Game Developer magazine.

Friday Flashback #285




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.


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.


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


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



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.


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.


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.


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


Creative Environment 2.1 released.


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.


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.


• 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.


•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).


• 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.



• 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.


•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.


•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.



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


Men in Black / Industrial Light & Magic (1997)

Meet Joe Black / Industrial Light & Magic (1998)


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

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.