SoftImage XSI - A Quick Look

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SoftImage XSI - A Quick Look
Square-Enix, Industrial Light & Magic, Studio Gibli, what do these names all have in common? They all use, or have used, Softimage XSI in their pipelines at some point. What is Softimage XSI? Softimage XSI is one of the worldís leading 3D modeling and animation packages and rightfully so, as it is one powerful program.

One of the first things that youíll notice after starting up the program is that the user interface is unlike most of the interfaces youíve probably come across. The left side of the interface allows access to the various modes or sections of the program, almost like flipping through a file cabinet.

There are five different toolbars/modes that you can access simply by clicking an icon, or right clicking and choosing the mode you want from the upper left corner of the workspace. These areas of the program are divided into; Model, Animate, Render, Simulate, and Hair.

Modeling within XSI usually starts inside the Model mode of the program by selecting the GET button, which gives you full access to everything you could want in a scene: from Poly primitives, to NURBS curves, straight on to cameras, lights shaders, and more. Each item found in the GET button has its own pop-up window, which allows you to adjust the model as needed before actual work begins.

Need a cylinder with 8 sections, but want it to be open instead of closed? No problem, simply move a few sliders and youíre ready to start your modeling. The same can be said for adjusting models later in the project. If your model needs more edges in a certain area simply select the edges. and you have your option of manually cutting them, or using a slider tool to do multiple cuts at the same time.

With XSI 4.2, character setup for animation is made easier with the use of both traditional setup tools and template based setup features. All of the animation rigs that come with XSI can be tailored to your modelsí specifications, and can provide a great starting place to work from, or you can create your rig from scratch. XSI supports weight mapping for smoother deformations, and also blend shapes, scripted operators, and various components that can be mixed and matched or created from the ground up to aide you in your setup process.

Rendering in XSI is a cakewalk. You simply select the shader, or material, that you want, and apply it to the model. It canít get much simpler than that, but it can get more complex. XSIís render tree allows any material, lighting, post, or image based texture components to be mixed and matched to the artistís whim. Each material or feature added to a material has its own adjustable sliders and settings to tweak for that ultimate render. XSIís integration and communication with Mental Ray has long been known as the best relationship two programs have ever shared. Itís truly seamless, allowing you to get what you want, when you want it.

Now, you may say to yourself, this is like one big advertisement, and in truth, I canít argue with you. However, the reason is that at XSIís Foundationís price point, you canít go wrong with this huge list of features. Granted, some things, like hair for example, is only available in the Essential or Advanced versions of XSI. Yet, the majority of features the foundation version has, still lays waste to most of XSIís competition.

Certain features could have been done a bit better though, like the tweak tool for example. In XSI 4.2, the tweak tool only allows you to move points, as a modeler, I feel this is a crime. You have to use the separate translate, rotate and scale buttons to manipulate the other components of a model in XSI, which slows down productivity and destroys the desire to model within the program. In comparison, programs like Silo and WINGS allows modeling with more versatility.

The upcoming Softimage XSI version 5, puts my complaint of the tweak tool to bed with a tweak tool that can be used not just to adjust all aspects of a model, but to also assist with other features like sliding edges or sliding points (yes, points!), and even weld points as you go. Other enhancements and changes to XSI with version 5 will be; improved mapping tools, modeling tools, better (and faster!) rendering, improved compatibility with ZBRUSH, improved hair controls, tools to assist Maya users in transitioning to XSI 5, and a 64 bit architecture allowing users the ability to handle gigapolygon models.

Preview of XSI 5, Image courtesy of Softimage Co. and Avid Technology Inc.

Not to mention the ability to transfer anything between models, and I mean anything! You want a model to share the same walk cycle as another, no problem. You want them to share the same hair, no problem. Same rigs Ö well, you get the idea. Softimage XSI 4.2 is an amazing piece of software, however ó Softimage XSI 5 is in a universe by itself. My feeling as a modeler is that while XSI 4.2 was great, I really canít wait for XSI 5 to arrive. I give XSI 4.2 a 9 out of 10 and based on early video and reviews (wait until you see Gator and Face|Robot in action), Iíd say XSI 5ís a perfect 10.

Face Robot: Rock Falcon Astounded / SOFTIMAGEģ|FACE ROBOTô
allows 3-D artists to achieve realistic, lifelike facial animation for high-end film, post and games projects.
Credit: Rock Falcon © 2005 Avid Technology Inc.

  • SoftImage
  • SoftImage XSI Foundation v.5.0
  • pre-order: $495 [USD]

    A special "thank you" to
    contributing columnist, artist, Teyon [Teyon Alexander],
    for taking time out of his busy schedule
    as Renderosityís Comics Corner, 3D Modeling,
    and SoftImage XSI Moderator.
    We invite you to view Teyon's Gallery

    September 19, 2005

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    Member Opinions:
    By: SndCastie on 9/21/05
    Wow great article never realized what XSI was thanks Teyon


    By: Magix-101 on 9/22/05
    Incredible article...SI XSI is certainly a great piece of gear.
    I'm blown away.

    By: crocodilian on 9/22/05
    Teyon, very nice review. You're completely right about the price point-- its shockingly inexpensive. Oddly, I think that the low price point hasn't helped XSI all that much in attracting mid-range users. . .its a little odd, given that XSI Foundations is so much more powerful than the other apps in its price range--and its upgrade path so formidable.

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