Friday Flashback #133

1998. The Sumatra logo derives from nautical and navigational imagery, such as a sextant, astrolabe, or compass. It’s also suggestive of a gyroscope, but is not a literal translation of any of these objects. This logo imagery is used to elicit the idea of a vast, unexplored environments as well as to recall the renowned navigability of the product. The “axis” suggest cartesian planes, and the arcs communicate motion/animation about a point of origin. The rough, hand-drawn character of the lines lend it an asiatic quality, in keeping with the graphic design of our other product logos.
— Charles Migos, User Interface Designer

Saturday Snippet

This is a bit of a snippet and a bit of a flashback. Back in the early days of “Sumatra scripting” (14 years ago), commands like GetValue didn’t have a return value. They had output arguments and you had to go through the ISIVTCollection to get the output value.

Here’s a classic example of the .Value(“Value”) syntax.

Name = GetValue("Sphere.Name").Value("Value")

Friday Flashback #103

Just about 13 years ago to the day, the URL went live.

Sumatra is Coming from

Sumatra is Coming from

Rather predictably, this sparked some debate on the mailing lists, with a number of different riffs on the URL, including “”:

Sorry Softimage, your software has served me well, but it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. You sat around on your ass too long while I watched everybody around me switch to Maya, now it’s my turn. I’m actually excited to learn Maya, it seems like it’s creators are willing and able to stay up-to-date and on the cutting edge.


3d Discussion archive via the Wayback machine

Friday Flashback #98


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

>>I wanna know what the interface will look like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday Flashback #79

I found this screenshot in an 1999 interview on

Sumatra multibot

Here’s the interview:

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with some representatives from Softimage about their new versions of Softimage 3D and Sumatra and their uses for game developers. The following is taken from a recording of a phone conversation with Michael David Smith (Program Manager 3D Model), Gareth Morgan (Program Manager of 3D Interactive Media Tools) and Véronique Froment (Public Relations Manager) as a precursor to an interview we’ll be conducting at the GDC.

GDNet: A lot of our readers probably know you by reputation as a leader in the 3d modelling and animation world. For those who aren’t familiar with your products, which are you targeting to be used by game developers?

SI: We’ve got a new product coming up called Sumatra that we’ve been working on for a few years and that’s going to have some pretty good stuff in it, both for game development and our more traditional work.

Actually the game market has become quite a significant part of our focus and we’ve been very successful in the Japanese game market.

GDNet: Do you think that’s because the Japanese market is more console oriented and they have more budget for their games?

SI: That may be true, I don’t know exactly the real reason, but we are working with a number of game companies in North America, but perhaps we are more successful with companies in Japan.

GDNet: You’re starting to do a game SDK, for plugins for exporting data from Softimage. Can you tell us a little about that?

SI: We’ve had an SDK for plugins for Softimage for a few of years now, and a number of games companies told us it was too low level. So responding to that we produced the GDK (Game Development Kit), which is closely tied into C++ to provide powerful access to data that can be used in a game.

There are a whole bunch of functions for optimizing and filtering the data, as well as ASCII based file formats with a host of parsing functions. For low level the SDK goes a lot deeper, allowing people to implement their own topologies as well as tool interfaces.

GDNet: Have you thought about in the future as hardware evolves, possibly providing any kind of real time engine support as well as your content creation tools?

SI: As time goes on and the systems get more powerful, we can do more things on-target, but its not something we are looking at doing in the short term. We’ve always done on-target viewing on the Nintendo and PSX, so developers could see it there using a playback engine. That is a very different thing than having a full game engine though. So, we have experience with on target platforms, and have a good idea on how to do that, but right now our focus is on getting the new generation of our tools out there.

GDNet: Sounds like a good plan, you guys are already doing a great job with your content creation so far; from the feedback I’ve gotten Softimage is considered the premier high end content creation tool. One of the issues I know of is that the tools are priced over what a lot of people can afford, are you looking at doing any different pricing models to open up the availability for more users?

SI: In the new technology we will have the opportunity to do something with this as its much more modular. We don’t have any specific plans right now, as we just want to roll it out, but it will be easier to do this with the Sumatra technology than in the past.

With Sumatra you can manipulate larger amounts of data, without having to deal with all the underlying details and this will also allow us to work with the modular system. It can be used separately for people with limited experience to do animations.

GDNet: For people who only get updates at the conventions every year or so, what would you say are the biggest changes for your software in the past year?

SI: The Sumatra tools and some high level animation tools that allow character animation to be created in a shorter period of time, with a higher level of control. We are now developing ways to get that high level of quality for video, down to working in a way that can be used for the game platforms. We’re concentrated on creating a set of tools and a file format for rich interactive media and game file formats, to take information from Softimage or Sumatra and import it into the game with parsers. We offer lots of examples that are designed to help game developers get things into their games quickly. In terms of what’s coming, we are on the verge of shipping Beta 3 of Sumatra which looks like its going to be the final beta.

An example of how Sumatra is going to help with gaming is that you can use a variety of scripting languages to get in and massage the data that is created. Because the Sumatra architecture is modular, you can use the tools more easily with your pipeline. Sumatra allows you to integrate your data into your pipeline by taking just the information that you need which will help game developers transition into using it easier.

GDNet: Thanks for taking the time for the interview, I’m sure our readers are looking forward to hearing more about your products and seeing an evaluation review as well!

Interview by Geoff Howland.