Friday Flashback #450

3D Festival 2003 Report
Read more about the new features of Softimage|XSI v.3.5, the crowd animation system Softimage|Behaviour and about the interesting seminars at the 3D Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark.
May, 12th, 2003by Raffael Dickreuter

Softimage launched XSI version 3.5 and Behaviour 1.1. at the 3D Festival in Copenhagen. There were a lot of interesting seminars about the current situation in the industry, the history of 3D graphics and even an entire day about the making of Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers.

Softimage|XSI v.3.5
Here’s the scoop about the new features of XSI 3.5: In the preferences you can now choose between two languages: English and Japanese, so you don’t need to buy a Japanese Version, you get it as a language package. You can now also set prefix-names for your models.

New features are the transform manipulators which may please especially former Maya and 3ds max users. On right mouse click you now get a little popup menu the options of “local”, “global” , “view” etc.. for faster access.

A new pivot point that has great snapping options makes it way easier and faster to rotate, move or scale a certain component of an object. Till now if you had a complex model and wanted to rotate an edge it was difficult to achieve the desired effect. Thanks to the new pivot point you can now work more accurately on a certain component. However it looked like it wasn’t yet animatable.

In the render tree you can now rename all your nodes. Mental Ray 3.2 now writes incremental .mi files. OpenGL accelerated scanline rendering and shadow maps are another improvement.

When rigging a character you will get a “move joint” tool in XSI 3.5 that makes it easier to edit your joints after they were created.

An impressive feature is that you can quadrangulate triangle objects. If you have a complicated object that consists of a huge amount of triangles you can easily convert them into quads. All triangles, as well as all n-side polygons will then become quad.
When you symmetrize polyongs it will symmetrize also the UV and keep only one UV map.

Two known features of RC Tools can now also be found in XSI: Select around corner and select edge loop.

Texturing a tree or a road will become very easy in XSI 3.5 You simply define four quarter points that will be the quarter points of the UV and you will see your texture to follow accurately the geometry. This feature is also animatable and fully interactive.

The animation editor now allows negative scaling. So you can move an entire curve into the negative area. The F-curve edtior got Softimage|3D’s slope handling tools.

Several improvements in the hair panel is going to make your life easier: A slider helps you matching the hair with the level of subdivision. The amount of hair segments becomes animatable and you can texture along the lenght of the hair. The tickness can be edited with proportional or absolute SI units. In the Shematic view you get memo cams that become very handy for complex scenes.

A new button allows you to clean up structure changes. An option lets you actiave it permantently so this process is automated. When using directX realtime shaders in XSI 3.5 a window no longer pops up but will also be displayed in your viewport just like the OpenGL realtime shaders.

Softimage’s Managing Director Michael Stojda (left) and Europe Business Manager Richard Craig-McFeely could also be found at the festival.
Softimage’s Erik Beaumont

Softimage|Behavior v.1.1
Softimage also showed Behavior 1.1 at the 3D Festival. It has a very strong API and through scripting you get full control about a huge amount of characters. You can tell them to move in certain directions. They avoid each other and obstacles in an intelligent way. In Behavior you create the crowds animation and you can get it into XSI or any
other 3d software via dotXSI.

James Rogers demos how to use XSI and Behavior together.
With Softimage|Behavior you can handle massive crowds.

They showed several examples of huge amounts of characters as well as how a rather small amount of characters reacts to it’s environment and to the other characters around it. To use Behaviour you have to know the programming language “Piccolo” which syntax is similar to JScript and C++.

3D Artist Ola Madsen just came over from Sweden to Demo XSI for Softimage.

Ola Madsen (XSI Base member Null) demonstrated also the power of XSI. The 3D artist from Sweden said that each demo session for a few people took often one or two hours. The people simply didn’t want to leave anymore and couldn’t get to see enough of XSI’s power.

Softimage’s women at the booth #1.

3D Festival Seminars

Creating Memorable Characters
Victor Navone of Pixar talked about creating memorable characters. He explained you should design a character from inside out. To get a proper design you first have to know what kind of person that character is. If he is friendly, generous, aggressive or whatever. This should then be applied to the look and design of your character.

It’s important is that your character is interesting for the audience, which means that it should have some type of flaw. Of course your character has to desire something which drives the story forward. A constrast between the different characters will make a story much more interesting. Your character is also defined a lot by his motion, The personality comes often accross to the audience via his motion. The body language also takes a key role when designing a character Of course the voice also plays an important role, so cast a memorable voice that suits your character.

Vitctor Navone also advises the visitors to exploit the opportunites unique to animation. Cartoon animation should be a combination of the familiar and the the fantastic.
A common mistake is that a character has too many flaws.

Rob Coleman
The animation director of ILM held a personal reflection about the evolution of 3d characters and showed how he got th job at ILM. He was the first person assigned to the postion of an animation director at ILM and stated that he loves to combine digital charactes with real life actors. Rob admitted that ILM’s great effects are the result of hard work and why ILM rather should be called “Industrial Light + Brute Force”.

He said that nowadays the 3d artists are no longer slaves to their computerers as they were the last 10-20 years. The todays challenge is no longer to overcome the limitations of the computer software but to teach the animators acting. Therefore the ILM people also have now acting classes.

Another session was the “History of 3D Graphics”. CG Talk held a voting before the event where the users could vote for the most important film effects. The winner was Jurassic Park followed by The Two Towers.

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
During an entire day Jason Schleifer, Matt Aitken and Bay Raitt showed what it took to bring Gollum to life and how they achived the impressive effects like the crowds.

Gollum was modeled in Mirai by Bay Raitt and he developed a great character system that made it very fast for animators to give Gollum that strong facial expressions. They used two different characters as one was Gollum and the other Smeagol. Bay’s job was also the help the animators so that they understand that brilliant system to get the desired expressions. It was based on sliders that let you achieve many different facial expressions depending on their combination and their weight.

A funny moment came at the end of the presentation when a young person asked where you could download that animation plugin…

Shelley Page Special Student Session
Shelley Page from DreamWorks held a special seminar for students on how to get a job in a large studio. She explained that you should try to specialize in a certain area. There was no need to show great modeling if you wanted to be a character animator. You should rather work full time on your animation skills and then show that in your reel. If you create a great short film with your firends then this might be good way to get an award at a festival, but to get a job it might rather be difficult as it was hard to see for a studio which part of the film was done by you. If you want to show a group project in your reel be sure that you state clearly what you did and what is other people’s work.

Friday Flashback #435

From Computer Graphics World, January 2001 (volume 24, issue 01)


By George Maestri

After many years and two changes of ownership, Softimage finally released its long-awaited successor to Softimage|3D. The software codenamed Sumatra now goes by the name of Softimage|XSI, and it includes many of the company’s high-end animation tools, plus a nice user interface and numerous new features including scripting, paintable deformations, and nonlinear animation. The software comes in two versions: the Essentials package, reviewed here, and Soft image|XSI Advanced, which includes integrated particles, soft bodies, and an additional Mental Ray license.

Softimage’s new interface retains the feel of the original but adds a number of new features, including floating windows.

For any software company, a ground-up rewrite such as this is painful. Like a newly constructed building, Softimage|XSI’s architecture is there, but not all the features have moved in yet. Some of those waiting to be added are polygonal modeling with subdivision surfaces, a dope sheet, and advanced NURBS modeling tools such as trims and blends. A few are already slated for inclusion in Version 1.5, which was in beta at press time.

Seasoned Softimage users should take to the new interface-which includes features such as object orientation and floating windows-fairly quickly. As in Softimage|3D, most functions are accessed through a series of buttons running vertically along the left side of the application.

Those familiar with object-oriented packages such as Maya, Max, and Houdini will be happy that Softimage is now part of the club. Most tools, including deformations, are non-destructive and are manipulated through Softimage’s Properties panel, enabling you to tweak object modifications at any time.

Other interface tweaks include the ability to float windows such as the Scene Explorer, Schematic window, and Animation Editor above the workspace. You also can create and add custom toolbars at will.

Scripting is a new feature that enables you to write custom scripts and interfaces quickly and easily. To create a custom button, for example, simply highlight the commands and drag them to a toolbar. For custom script writing, Softimage|XSI supports several standard languages, including Perl, VBScript, and Java Script.

For animators who don’t like writing expressions, Softimage|XSI includes Linked Parameters, which enable you to create relations between objects. For example, having a character’s teeth drop as a slider when the jaw is lowered is accomplished simply by linking the motion of the teeth to the jaw.

Modeling in Softimage|XSI is NURBS based. One welcome addition to the toolkit are stock deformers, such as bend, bulge, shear, twist, and taper, which you can apply to all or part of an object. Sub-object editing in XSI is powerful because deformations can be weighted. You assign these weights using a paint tool, which you also can use to paint almost any type of property-deformations, NURBS weights, etc. When you use the paint tool in conjunction with the push deformer, you get a modeling tool that enables you to sculpt surfaces.

Improvements in inverse kinematics include a friendlier user interface for setting joint limits and behaviors, and support for different types of IK solvers. XSI ships with two solvers, but you can implement custom solvers as plug-ins. You also can create an IK chain from a curve, then use the curve to animate the chain.

XSI boasts an excellent nonlinear animation editor, the Animation Mixer. By offering tools for positioning, cycling, scaling, warping, bouncing, and mixing multiple animation channels, the Animation Mixer enables animators to manage animation and motion-capture data quickly and efficiently, and therefore puts Softimage|XSI at the cutting edge of animation. Users still will need to manually write expressions (or set up Linked Parameters) to create an interface for controlling the tools. Animators shouldn’t be doing this-the task should be automated.

Materials also need some fleshing out. Softimage|3D never had the shader balls that are so common in other packages, and XSI doesn’t either, making it difficult to fine-tune shaders. I also expected to see the interface that Softimage demonstrated a few years ago as “Twister,” which was an interactive interface for Mental Ray.

Overall, this software holds great promise. It has an excellent architecture, and some killer animation tools. Several important features are missing, however, particularly in the area of modeling. With a 1.5 release already on the way, however, it seems as though these problems are being addressed quickly.

George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.

Price: $7995
Minimum system requirements: Windows NT/2000: Intel Pentium processor; OpenGL graphics card; 128MB of RAM; 200MB of free disk space. Irix: SGI workstation with MIPS R10000; 128MB of RAM; 345MB of free disk space.