Softimage, Co. ("Softimage" is pronounced /sɑftɪˈmɑʒ/ (US pronunciation) or /sɒftɪˈmɑːʒ/ (UK pronunciation)) is a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc. located in Montreal, Québec, Canada that produces 3D animation software. Their flagship product, Softimage|XSI, is used in the creation of computer animation for films, commercials, and video games. Softimage has been attributed as a pioneer of computer graphics for motion pictures, used in the creation of special effects for movies such as Jurassic Park, Titanic and The Fifth Element. More recently, Softimage software was used in the production of the Academy Award winning feature film Happy Feet, as well as well known movies such as 300 and Charlotte's Web. Softimage software was also used for the production of games such as Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4.


Softimage was founded in 1986 by National Film Board of Canada filmmaker Daniel Langlois. Their original 3D modeling and animation package was called the Softimage Creative Environment, later renamed to Softimage|3D. Softimage|3D was a fast, simple-to-use animation package, the first commercial package to feature Inverse kinematics for character animation. Through a deal with Mental Images, Softimage began shipping with mental ray as an optional renderer in 1994.

The company was later bought by Microsoft in 1994, and subsequently bought by Avid Technology, Inc. in 1998.

To create a more advanced, open architecture for the next generation of 3D content creation, Softimage developed Softimage|XSI, codenamed "Sumatra" to replace Softimage 3D, which was released in 2000.

ICE Interactive Creative Environment

In 2008, Softimage released the ICE (Interactive Creative Environment) architecture. ICE is a visual programming platform that allows users to extend the capabilities of XSI quickly and intuitively using a node-based dataflow diagram. This allows artists to create complex 3D effects and tools without scripting. Enabling ICE is a parallel processing engine that takes advantage of multi-core CPU's, giving users highly scalable performance.

The ICE environment represents XSI functionality using a collection of nodes, each with its own specific capabilities. Users can connect nodes together, visually representing the data flow, to create powerful tools and effects that can be packaged and distributed for reuse.

This graph-based approach is far less limiting than traditional development using scripting and/or compiled code. It offers a cohesive development environment that large facilities can use to quickly develop complete tools from scratch. Smaller teams can use and modify tools provided by Softimage and 3rd party developers to suit the needs of a production.

ICE is also the internal development platform for new features being developed by Softimage. Rather than developing ‘closed’ systems that are difficult to extend or edit, Softimage gives users full control. If a user is not obtaining a desired effect using the internal XSI feature set, the user no longer has to wait for someone to write a plug-in or for the next version of XSI. The user can simply open it in ICE and modify it for the desired effect.

Key Features

  • ICE (Interactive Creative Environment) for extending the software and creating procedural effects quickly using a node-based dataflow diagram.
  • 64-bit multi-threaded architecture - XSI is advertised as the only 3D content creation platform that is fully multi-threaded and takes advantage of all available CPU power.
  • Customizable workflow - XSI gives a variety of tools that allows users to customize XSI to exactworkflow requirements. The availability of options and customizations are huge, allowing artists and teams to build efficient pipelines.
  • Non-Destructive Workflow - XSI comes with many features that allow users to 'build once'. For example, GATOR (Generalized Attribute Transfer OperatoR) allows users to transfer attributes such as textures, UV's, weight maps and enveloping from one mesh to another quickly.
  • Collaborative workflow - XSI has numerous features that allow it to operate in large teams such as a robust referencing system, interoperability between 3ds Max and Maya, extensive file format support and excellent support for COLLADA standards.
  • Subdivision surface modeling - XSI had one of the first commercially available subdivision surface polygon modelers. Combined with a high performance core architecture, XSI is able to render extremely high density 3D meshes in real-time.
  • Rigging and character tools - XSI has a comprehensive rigging system for demanding character work.
  • Non-linear animation - Softimage pioneered non-linear animation with the Animation Mixer – which allows for users to mix animation clips and layer them the same way as a non-linear video editor would.
  • Shading and texturing - A key feature of XSI is the ability to work iteratively and see results interactively. The Render Region feature gives users the ability to preview renders in the viewport and see changes made interactively render. The Render Tree allows users to build shaders quickly using a node-based dataflow diagram. For game developers, XSI enables users to build and preview real-time shaders interactively in the viewports.
  • Simulation, Dynamics and Hair - XSI comes with simulation, dynamics and hair tools integrated. Simulation is based on Ageia PhysX and hair is based on Joe Alter's Shave and a Haircut software. Cloth simulation is provided by Syflex.
  • Lights and Cameras - XSI features tight integration with Mental Images' mental ray renderer, with realistic lighting models as well as support for non-photorealistic renders. Softimage also provides XSI Batch, a command-line version of XSI used for render farming.
  • Support for major game engines - XSI comes with content pipeline support for major game engines including Crytek's CryENGINE 2, Valve Source, Emergent GameBryo, Microsoft XNA and Epic Unreal Technology 3.
  • Games tools - XSI comes with a host of features specific to games creation such as normal mapping, real-time shading, COLLADA support and a custom display host, allowing developers to integrate a game engine directly into XSI.
  • Compositing and Paint - XSI comes with an in-built compositor allowing users to create final frame shots, ready for editing.
  • Customization and development tools - in addition to the ICE node-based platform, XSI also has an extensive API and scripting environment that allows users to extend the software. XSI allows for multiple scripting languages including C#, Python, VBScript and Javascript. A C++ SDK is also available for plug-in developers.

See also

External links

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