3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 34: Softimage--View From the Top
Lesson 34 - Softimage--View From the Top - Part 1
There is only one word to describe Softimage 3D.
At $14,000 for the full package ($8,000 for the stripped-down version), the vast majority of people entering 3D graphics can only window shop. Yet everyone who is serious about 3D must come to grips with this application one way or another. I'm fond of telling my students that someone who wants to get started as a plumbing contractor will probably have to put at least $15,000 into a truck and tools. If Softimage is actually essential to a professional career in 3D animation, the price is not impossible.
I've been working intensively in Softimage over the last few months, polishing up my skills in hopes of being able to offer the application to my students at Cogswell College in addition to our studies in Lightwave and 3D Studio MAX. Being able to compare these critical applications has given me a valuable practical perspective to share in the next few columns. Some of my observations may surprise you. They have certainly surprised me.
The next few lessons, focusing on Softimage 3D, are intended for two distinct audiences. The first is composed of those people who do not have access to Softimage but wish to understand what the application offers and why it is held in such high regard. Perhaps they are attempting to determine whether to study it, for the decision to direct one's energies toward Softimage is a critical one for today's 3D artist. This is a large audience that deserves serious attention, and I will try to serve it here.
The second, necessarily much smaller audience, has access to the application and has begun to study it, either in formal coursework or individually (typically using the tutorials provided with the documentation). For this audience, I hope to be able to provide insights into basic (but subtle) principles that underlie any serious relationship with Softimage, and also to contrast the program with its less expensive competitors--Lightwave and 3D Studio MAX. Too many Softimage practitioners (perhaps because of the commitment the program demands) lack a breadth of knowledge about the application landscape that enormously enhances ones powers with any particular package.
Believe it or not, price is not the main obstacle to learning Softimage. Softimage is the main obstacle to learning Softimage. Anyone just starting in the application can get along for quite a while without the particles system and the high-end Mental Ray rendering engine, and will have his or her hands completely full with the $8,000 version. Make no mistake. This is still a large chunk of change. But it is not the main consideration when making the decision about where to put one's energies. If command of Softimage is critical to one's success as a 3D animator, the price of the program cannot be the only factor.
The major issue to be faced when considering the study of Softimage is difficulty of the application itself. In ten weeks of intensive work, a talented person can produce remarkably professional output with Lightwave--undoubtedly the most intuitive of all the professional 3D packages. In four months of intensive work, an intelligent person can develop real creative comfort with Studio MAX (though nothing like what is possible with Lightwave). Softimage is a different beast altogether. The time frame for learning Softimage is considerably longer, and the curve is so steep at the start that one will often find himself sapped of even that natural enthusiasm that powers the 3D student through the tough times.
Yet it is this very disadvantage that, paradoxically, constitutes Softimage's greatest appeal.
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Created: February 16, 1998
Revised: February 16, 1998