Softimage 3D

Softimage|3D was a high-end 3D graphics application developed by Softimage, Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc., which was used predominantly in the film, gaming and advertising industries for the production of 3D animation. It has been superseded by Softimage|XSI.


Softimage|3D was originally released at Siggraph in 1988 as the Softimage Creative Environment. Developed solely for Silicon Graphics workstations, it was a fast, integrated animation package that became highly regarded for its powerful animation capabilities. It was also quite expensive: an SGI workstation running Softimage cost upwards of $50,000.

The Softimage Creative Environment evolved a comprehensive and innovative toolset with particular strength in animation, and it was the first commercial 3D package to feature inverse kinematics. In a large visual effects studio environment, 3D models were typically created with NURBS in Alias|Wavefront's PowerAnimator, animated in Softimage, and rendered with Pixar's PhotoRealistic RenderMan. This process was often facilitated through the use of custom-made software like file converters and pipeline management tools.

A widely popular commercial 3D package by the mid 1990's, Softimage was used by Industrial Light and Magic to animate the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, by Cyan to create the adventure game Riven, and by many other companies for scores of film, television and video game projects. In 1994, Microsoft acquired the Softimage Corporation and renamed the package Softimage|3D, releasing a Windows NT port a year later. As the first high-end 3D package on the NT platform, it marked the beginning of the end of SGI's dominance in the computer animation industry. In 1996, Microsoft began offering Softimage|3D Extreme 3.5, which included particle effects and the mental ray renderer. 3D paint functionality was added a year later in version 3.7.

By the late 1990's, faster processors and cheap memory heralded the next generation of extensible, object-oriented 3D animation packages. Highly customizeable environments like Maya and Houdini became the vanguard of studio-level 3D software. The Softimage Corporation, which Microsoft sold to Avid in 1998, was unable to introduce its next generation package before Maya established a firm hold on the market. By the end of the decade, Softimage|3D had reached the end of the line with the release of version 4, concurrent with the debut of its replacement Softimage|XSI. XSI is still in active development as of 2007 but has yet to regain the popularity of its predecessor.


Menus in Softimage|3D are divided between five modules: Model, Motion, Actor, Matter and Tools.

The following is not an exhaustive list of features:


  • Geometrical Objects: Face, polygonal mesh, polygon, patch, Bezier/Linear/Cardinal/Free Form/B-spline/NURBS spline.
  • Meta-Clay Modeling: Density-based modeling for organic, sculpted objects.
  • 2D/3D Primitives: Arc, circle, cone, cylinder, cube, dodecahedron, grid, icosahedron, null, octahedron, square, sphere, spiral, torus, tetrahedron.
  • Operations: Animation-based dupication, alignment, bevel, convert, clean-up, fractalize, guided extrude, breakup, local lattice, shrinkwrap, polyskin, edit point/coordinate, freeze, inverse, merge mesh, merge surface, order, plane clipping, rotate, round, scale, subdivision, symmetry, tag, translate zip patches, extrude, skin, revolution, four-sided patches, proportional modeling.
  • Boolean: Intersection, difference, union.
  • Polygonal Operations: Polygon as object, three-point planar constraint, assignable centroid reference, multiple polygon select, rounding, extrusion, revolution.
  • Animated Modeling Operations: Animated bevel, bridge, bumpmap, duplicator, guided extrude push, shrinkwrap, duplicator, branch, Cometa, Shock, Shock3D.
  • Modeling Effects: Mosaic, Nebula, Wakeup, Zzot, ResetTransf, Boolean2D, ChangeInfo, Eater.
  • Instantiation: Reference one set of geometry or hierarchy many times.
  • Relational Modeling: Relate an object with its operator: extrusion, revolution, skin, four-sided, zip patches.
  • Polygon Reduction: Rule-based polygon reduction with decimation optimization by percent of reduction or specific polygon count.


  • Animation: Constraints, dynamics, explicit path, function curves, keyframing, inverse kinematics, lattices, shape, skin distortion, spline/patch deformation, motion capture.
  • Animation Editors: Function curves, DopeSheet.
  • Constraints: Position, orientation, direction, bounding plane, tangency to animation path, camera/object up vector, normal to polygon surface, object to cluster, cluster to object, three-point planar, two-point linear.
  • Object Attributes: Color, transparency, self-illumination, shininess.
  • Functions: Deform, rotate, scale, stretch, translate.
  • Deformations: Cluster, control point, effector, lattice, patch, spline, vertex.
  • Q-Stretch: Automatic "squash and stretch" deformation based on speed and acceleration.
  • Expressions: Define relationships between objects using expressions and math functions. Modify existing function curves or channel input/output.
  • Animation Effects: Flock, wave, explode, glue flake, jitter, limit, lockdown, magnet, polyshrink.


  • Kinematics: 3D ball joints with angle limits, inverse/direct kinematics.
  • Dynamics: Collision, density, elasticity, fan, friction, force, gravity, kinetic/static roughness, mass, nail, wind.
  • Skin: Automatic/local/global/weighted/rigid envelopes.
  • Weighted Envelopes: Automated weighting of vertices, Skeletal memory is maintained when a new skin is applied.
  • Rigid Envelopes: Transformation-based envelopes.


  • Shading Types: Blinn, constant, Lambert, Phong, shadow object.
  • Illumination: Ambient, diffuse, specular.
  • Color Systems: RGB, HLS, HSV.
  • Material Attributes: Refraction, reflectivity, transparency, static blur.
  • Mapping: 2D/3D textures, bump, cylindrical, raytraced/non-raytraced, reflection, reflectivity, spherical, transparency, UV, XY/XZ/YZ.
  • 3D Solid Textures: Cloud, marble, wood.
  • Masks: Alpha channel, RGB intensity.
  • Rendering Options: Field, frame, wireframe, solo-region, tags, z channel.
  • Effects: Ambience, depth cue, depth fading, layer fog, motion blur.
  • 2D Image Retoucher: Integrated 2D paint program accessed from texture editor.
  • UV Texturing: Edit and save UV texture coordinates on mesh objects. UV coordinates lock to vertices.


  • Autotrace, composite, flipbook, file management, hidden line, import/export images, input/output frames on film/video recorder, output to PostScript, print in line-rendered format, shell, scan images, database resource editor.
  • Import/Export Image Formats: Artisan, Alias, Aurora, Everest, RGB, RGBA, SGI, Targa, TIFF, PIC, Verigo, Wavefront, YUV, AVI, DIB.
  • Import Image Formats: JPEG, GIF, IFL, DMP, FLC, FLI, CEL.
  • Import/Export Object Formats: DXF, IGES (including NURBS entities).
  • 3D Studio: Import 3D Studio objects, animation and textures to Softimage|3D.
  • Color Reduction: Color quantize single image or sequence using a color palette or specific number of colors.

Projects Made with Softimage|3D

A partial list of productions that used Softimage|3D:



Video Games


External links

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