Friday Flashback #478


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

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

“Sumatra” reflects what’s happening to 3-D animation: as it’s evolving, it’s becoming available to more people in a more functional manner. And, Softimage is leading this transformation.

As SOFTIMAGE|DS was being released, Softimage was acquired by Avid Technology, Inc. and SOFTIMAGE|DS became part of Avid’s family of editing products, taking the “editing” process one step further by providing a complete integration of all functions – not only editing, but also paint, compositing and audio.

“Sumatra”: The Path toward the future

As the world begins moving to more pervasive 3-D content – on the Web, on advanced games consoles, on the home PC – Softimage is focusing on providing tools for these arenas. With SOFTIMAGE|DS completed, the Company began moving their 3-D animation package onto the Digital Studio framework. This became referred to under the code name “Sumatra”: the next incarnation of 3-D animation tools, based on the Digital Studio framework, offering the high-end SOFTIMAGE|3D animation toolset in a completely integrated nonlinear environment of post-production and production tools.

“Sumatra” heralds a revolution in the way people work in 3-D animation, taking a complex process to a new level, where not only is it readily available to more people but it is available in an easily-accessible and useable environment, providing a way to create images in a freer, more efficient fashion. “Sumatra” offers a modular environment where people can have access to whatever level of complexity they’re comfortable with, then move up from there to wherever they want to work.

The whole process of doing character animation is going from black box to mainstream. “Sumatra” is a major step in that direction moving towards a character animation system that can be used by virtually anybody. Any professional media-creation artist will be able to easily animate characters. If they want to dive into the nuts-and-bolts of 3-D animation, “Sumatra” is more powerful than ever. It also introduces high levels of control that allow motion to be re-used and, since it’s a nonlinear animation system, motion can also be easily layered using an existing walk cycle and adding any motion on top of it.

This ability to decompose and recompose motion is a critical element for productivity. In the same amount of time, users will be able to produce better quality animation, without having to start from scratch. This will make “Sumatra” ideal for demanding 3-D animation works, such as creating an army of CG characters and rendering them in a minimum amount of time. In addition, an animator, technical director, and lighting specialist can all customize “Sumatra” to best fit their own task.

Another innovation in “Sumatra” is a series of high-level tools that allow people with fewer skills and experience to do more complex tasks. Thus, “Sumatra” packages the underlying complexity of 3-D data into blocks that people can put together and transition between, including rendering with a variety of pre-sets. Such features, in conjunction with the underlying Digital Studio architecture will enable parts of “Sumatra” to be re-focused to emerging markets, such as interactive content on the Web and in games, while still catering to the high-end user.

Another feature of “Sumatra” is that the entire software is scriptable, meaning people can create their own tools and programs using Java script, Visual Basic or Python. And, it allows people to get data in and out of “Sumatra” with their own file formats, in ASCII, binary or whatever other format they choose.

On one level, this means that “Sumatra” will insert itself much more easily into a wider variety of pipelines. On the other level, as with the original SOFTIMAGE|3D, people can build their tools right into “Sumatra” through an SDK, further expanding the system’s and their own potential. In terms of performance, customizability and collaborative workflow, “Sumatra” reflects what’s happening to 3-D animation: as it’s evolving, it’s becoming available to more people in a more functional manner. And, Softimage is leading this transformation.

Friday Flashback #477


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

MORE TOOLS TO MORE PEOPLE: THE MICROSOFT YEARS

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 (http://www.softimage.com/) and http://www.microsoft.com/ 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.