Friday Flashback #476

From a 2001 “industry backgrounder” published on


SOFTIMAGE®|3D: The First Creative Environment
Softimage was founded in 1986, with 3D animation as its core product. At that time, 3-D animation was still a very young, very technical and very complex product, with more engineers and technically oriented people using it. Softimage, under the direction of founder Daniel Langlois, became the first company to change that trend. The reason stemmed primarily from Langlois’ background as a filmmaker with the National Film Board of Canada. While at the NFB, Langlois wanted to create animated films but was dissatisfied with the existing technology and decided to create a tool that would suit the needs of film creators.

As more powerful platforms such as SGI became available, Softimage developed software that was able to exploit this power. This was the genesis of Softimage Creative Environment (later to be known as SOFTIMAGE|3D) in 1988: an approach from the artist and not from the technology, which was revolutionary at the time.

One of the main things that Creative Environment provided was an interface and a workflow geared towards artistic creation and production. The system offered a complete integration of traditional tools, using 3-D (modelling, animation, rendering), which were often separate processes in other products.

Softimage was the first to offer a product where artists had complete access to tools without having to follow a path or a sequence of operations. This type of workflow was different from the rest of the market and launched Softimage as a company very quickly.

A major turning point in the industry was at SIGGRAPH ‘93 with Jurassic Park. Although the technology had been in place before, Jurassic Park marked the first mass media photorealistic creation of CG characters that had not been possible before. This established SOFTIMAGE|3D as the industry standard for 3-D character animation and visual effects.

Several other technological breakthroughs at Softimage further boosted the use of 3-D animation. One of these innovations was the ‘Actor Module’ (for which Daniel Langlois, Softimage’s founder received a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1998), featuring ‘Inverse Kinematics’, enabling skeletons to be created for characters which provided very realistic motion. This one tool was revolutionary because it changed 3-D digital animation from being an object-oriented process to a character-oriented one, and it provided a tool which traditional animators
could comfortably use.

Other innovations included the introduction of Dynamics and Simulation into a 3-D package:
Performance Capture via Channels, which enabled the actions of a live actor to be mapped out in the Softimage program and then animated, allowing for real-time interaction in a computer environment; and other features, offering better integration with live effects.

The strength of Softimage was established in a way that would sustain it throughout the years ahead, with a single goal which never wavered: bringing creative technology to the artist – whatever their needs or level of expertise.