3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 73: Notes From SIGGRAPH 99
Lesson 73 - Notes From SIGGRAPH 99 - Part 2
If there was one question that was preeminent in the minds of SIGGRAPH attendees, it was the status of Softimage and it's much-delayed Sumatra project. Softimage 3D has suffered enormously as Alias/Wavefront (SGI) released MAYA 1.0 a year ago, and released version 2.0 in time for SIGGRAPH. At the same time, 3D Studio MAX has radically improved its profile in the now-released 3.0 version, with features that raise it to a level comparable with MAYA, and certainly with the existing version of Softimage 3D. Both MAYA and MAX were seen everywhere at the show (with Lightwave close behind), being used as standards to demo all kinds of hardware and graphics cards. Everyone, it seems, has concluded that if Sumatra didn't make an appearance at SIGGRAPH, Softimage would be dead as the last element of its committed following migrated to MAYA, or perhaps MAX.
But Sumatra was there. The main exhibit was not in the Avid booth, as you might expect, but rather in the IBM booth, where it was being used to demonstrate the impressive new Intellistation line of high-end PCs. IBM was right to use Sumatra as the lure to get visitors to look over its own project because the booth was consistently packed, and as much as I waited, I could never seem to a get a spot in front of a workstation. I did, however, spend a fair amount of time looking over the shoulder of people using Sumatra, enough to get the impression that Sumatra is no myth. Just as with MAYA, the interface is vastly different from (and superior to) its predecessor product. There is an enormous emphasis on the rendering side of things in Sumatra, which implements the new version of the Mental Ray renderer with extraordinary interactive control over every stage of the rendering process. It implements radiosity for accurate global illumination as part of the rendering process, as well as caustics (which is a sophisticated model of the behavior of light).
The Avid people were quoting a release date of December 1999 for Sumatra (or whatever the new version of Softimage will end up being called), which sounds suspiciously like the first quarter of 2000. But a Softimage employee I met sharing a crowded lunch table insisted that release by year-end was a do-or-die mission at the company. He conceded that Softimage had been barely hanging on to its installed base as MAYA tore ahead, and expressed the corporate concern that if the new product was not out by the end of the year, there would no longer be anyone waiting for it. I was left with the firm impression the new Softimage will be appearing before too long, and that it will make a huge impression of the 3D world. A little more delay may not hurt at this point. With Maya 2.0 and MAX 3 released now, Softimage will have the stage for itself as the "next big thing" if released around New Year 2000.
Another thing I wanted to see at SIGGRAPH was Houdini, from Side Effects Software at www.sidefx.com. This application is enormously respected in the film effects industry, but is not well known in the broader 3D graphics world. Wow! This is one sophisticated package that would necessarily appeal only to the most experienced artists and animators. If you are serious about finding a place in the film industry, I highly recommend that you find a way to become familiar with this package.
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Created: August 17, 1999
Revised: August 17, 1999