3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 34: Softimage--View From the Top
Lesson 34 - Softimage--View From the Top - Part 2
Hard as it may be to believe, Softimage is not incredibly superior to Lightwave and MAX. Ease of use in creative tools is of considerable practical importance, as is the ease of learning, for one never stops learning no matter how experienced one may be. But even putting aside the question of ease, Softimage is not strikingly more powerful than the competition, and even lacks many significant features found in MAX and Lightwave. The argument for Softimage cannot be based simply on the premise that it is the "best" application available for the Windows NT environment.
The argument for Softimage comes, as previously suggested, from its very difficulty. As an old lawyer, I can attest to the significance of the bar exam. The subject matter of the test is not very important, and may even be irrelevant to one's field of professional attention. But the test is so demanding that it simply separates those with real commitment and persistence from the rest of the crowd. And so does Softimage. Anyone who uses this application necessarily respects anyone else who can use it as a dedicated professional of significant intelligence and exceptional discipline. Thus, mastery of Softimage is a basic and legitimate credential in today's professional 3D environment. Being able to afford the application and training in it is secondary to one's resolution to master it. You can't just buy your way into the Softimage club, and employers know it.
Everything about the program is difficult. The interface looks like a NASA control panel. The menu structure is labyrinthine. Click on one selection and a submenu of ten further choices appears. Click on one of these and a further submenu appears with even more selections. Dialog boxes offer mind-numbing arrays and numerical values are set to five decimal places. It simply doesn't feel like a place for an artist or creative spirit (although it very much is). It takes months to learn where features are located, much less how to use them.
Even when, through dogged persistence, one masters the technical difficulties and seemingly endless logical peculiarities of the package, there still remain the equally challenging conceptual aspects. Softimage makes no attempt to ease the artist into its conceptual underpinnings. The principles underlying true spline modeling and its surfacing and animation are subtle and far outside the student's normal experience. And it is simply impossible to just "wing" your way through concepts like spline (NURBS) parameterization or implicit uv coordinate mapping. You either understand these difficult ideas or you do not. And if you do not, there is no reason to spend the money on Softimage, whose great powers lie precisely in the implementation of the most sophisticated mathematical and geometrical concepts.
The whole process of learning Softimage feels different than with MAX or Lightwave. With the latter programs, one can figure out (or be told) how to do something and the knowledge will stick. If you forget, you can figure it out again. Softimage is more like learning a musical instrument. Even if you know, intellectually, how to perform an operation, you must practice it endlessly before it becomes intuitive enough to fit into the flow of creative work. What takes two steps in Lightwave takes ten steps in Softimage, and if you really have to remember all the steps your creativity grinds to a halt. So the Softimage practitioner must practice basic techniques again and again and again, just like playing scales on a piano, so that complex chains of actions become unconscious.
At the same time, the practitioner must develop a working discipline far beyond what is required in Lightwave or MAX. MAX, in particular, supports very organized work, a trait no doubt inherited from its Autodesk drafting forebears. Track View in MAX is unmatched for clarity and ease of use, allowing the user to see (and edit) project organization and animation from above. Lightwave presents you with a simple and readable scene graph, self-organized and allowing ready access to all elements of even complex scenes. And then there is Softimage.
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Created: February 16, 1998
Revised: February 16, 1998