3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 34: Softimage--View From the Top | 2
Lesson 34 - Softimage--View From the Top - Part 3
The "Schematic View" in which one organizes and selects scene elements in Softimage is about as freeform as you can get. The user is completely responsible for keeping this critical information organized, and for the beginner, who doesn't understand the program anyway, this task can be near impossible. The icons here are generally difficult to read without zooming in, and once you are zoomed in you lose, of course, the very overview of the scene elements that is the entire purpose of the Schematic View. Softimage work is characterized by very complex interrelationships between scene elements. One curve controls the shape of another surface. The material assigned to a parent object may govern its children in the modeling hierarchy. An animation path controls the movement of an object. Lights may be associated with some objects but not with others. Softimage's Schematic View exposes this naked web of connections through criss-crossing colored lines and cryptic abbreviations, and however important this information may be, its organization and management are left entirely to the user.
Thus, perhaps the first skill that must be addressed by the student is the management of scene elements in the Schematic View. This is hardly much fun, but it does indeed separate those with persistence and discipline from those who just want to play. If you understand the Schematic View, you necessarily understand Softimage, in much the same way that Track View teaches the serious user the entire structure of Studio MAX. The situation in Softimage, however, is more extreme because the application lacks the inherent organization of MAX. Thus there is no inherently correct way to organize the information, and one is compelled to develop a personal, somewhat unique, understanding of Softimage that shapes one's work. In this respect, as in many others, Softimage can be embraced as an artist's tool of the highest order, unquestionably on par with oil or acrylic painting, intaglio printing or traditional sculptural media.
But the status of Softimage as a fine art vehicle--that is to say, a medium that transcends the expressive demands of even the most sophisticated commercial work--is most clearly evident in its output. Renderings in Softimage are simply beautiful. Color and light are rich and expressive in a way that never fails to amaze and excite me. Renderings in MAX are weak in my opinion. Lightwave's output is much stronger. But Softimage is quite a step further, and I'm speaking only of the regular Softimage Renderer and not the Mental Ray renderer, which is something else again. Renderings in Alias on SGI machines are very excellent, arguably as good (or in the taste of some people, even better). But for those working in the Windows NT environment, as the vast majority now are, Softimage images are the standard.
It's often said that Softimage is "French," and it is indeed a French Canadian product (always pronounced in the French manner as soft-i-MAGE). What is meant, however, is that it is less than well organized and often illogical. I don't doubt that a French person would insist that that it is fluid as opposed to rigid, and intuitive rather than strict. There's truth on both sides. For those who are learning the program, the absence of rigid structure is a source of much difficulty. For those who are over the Sierra crest of the learning curve, the intuitive side begins to flower and the rewards of Softimage as an artist's tool become real. Like the violin, Softimage is very difficult to learn but a pleasure for those who can play it. Someone I greatly respect once told me that when you really start to learn Softimage, you just float away while working with it. I've been having that feeling more and more lately.
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Created: February 16, 1998
Revised: February 16, 1998