BOP New Media Helps Make SOFTIMAGE|XSI a Hit in Spain
By Michael Abraham
They may seem a bit tame by today's standards, but for a young boy named Javier Alonso Varela, they were the very breath of inspiration. Like many future animators, it was from the moment he saw films such as the original Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and even Ghostbusters (1984) that Varela knew what he wanted to do with his life. Living in his beloved Spain, however, made it all the more difficult to imagine realizing his dream.
"I was enthralled by the images in those films, but I never really thought that kind of animation could ever be done in my country," says Varela, who now runs the 3D Animation Techniques and Visual Effects Training Center at BOP New Media (http://www.bop.es/), a top producer of 3D animation and visual effects and provider of architectural visualization and graphic design services. "It was even harder to imagine that tools such as SOFTIMAGE|3D would be available anywhere, let alone in Spain. I always assumed that the amazing things I saw on the screen were illusions particular to Hollywood."
Varela would become an audio and sound producer, but it would take until 1997, some twenty years after seeing Star Wars, that he would get a chance to realize his dream in his own country and on his own terms. It was in that year that a professional acquaintance, a creator of "stereographic" films introduced Varela to SOFTIMAGE|3D and the world of digital images.
"I owe that filmmaker a great deal of thanks," says Varela. "That introduction to SOFTIMAGE|3D really changed my life."
Within a year of his introduction to Softimage, Varela was working as something of a freelance digital animator in Spain, creating various character animations and effects for a wide range of companies and, when asked, training fledgling animators to use the new system. After another couple of years, Varela and some other enthusiasts started ReM3D3 Studios, a unique training center for 3D animation and effects (The studio was purchased by BOP New Media in 2003). From the outset, the links to Softimage were very strong:
"Our first contact with the Softimage company came through Trigital, Softimage's Spanish distributor," Varela remembers. "Our project was unique in Spain, both from a production and an educational standpoint, and we were still figuring out how we could best realize our mission. We began with the 'Softimage Education Program,' which made us true pioneers in our region. You have to remember that this was all very new for almost everyone we knew and worked with, and there was little demand for work. We knew we had a better way of working to offer artists and companies, and for that reason we felt compelled to carry out an intensive information campaign."
Varela's team at BOP New Media now trains eight students per year, incorporating both a winter and summer session into their curriculum. The company's educational reach, however, now extends far beyond their own classrooms. Responding to a dearth of Spanish-language materials, they have translated and adapted Anthony Rossano's seminal book Foundation XSI for their students and market, and provide a wealth of free training materials on their website. What's more, BOP has begun to provide on-site, "a la carte" training to a growing range of customers, including institutions such as the Spanish Armed Forces, the University of Oviedo, and the Astrophysical Institute of the Canary Islands, as well as high-profile entertainment companies including Zinkia Entertainment, Antenna3 Television, and TeleAsturias.
BOP's purchase of ReM3D3 in 2003 has only broadened the training facility's already formidable reach and influence, and through it all, SOFTIMAGE|XSI remains right where Varela believes it ought to be, right at the heart of things.
"BOP New Media production chain focuses on SOFTIMAGE|XSI," says Varela. "The reason for that is precisely because of the incredible results that we know can be obtained with the system. We are currently doing a great deal of architectural visualization for companies like Coca-Cola and Antenna3 Television. We're also doing work for the government of the Principality of Asturias, most notably on the new Hospital Universitario Central De Asturias complex. The project involves complete 3D interior and exterior visualizations of six different buildings covering a land area of some 385 square miles (www.bop.es/alone/huca.htm). It is by far the largest architectural project ever undertaken in our region, and we've been working hard on it for the last six months or so."
Still embracing entertainment, BOP has also been helping the Jurassic Museum of Asturias to create 3D animation and effects for an in-depth documentary involving dinosaurs (www.bop.es/alone/muja.htm). BOP is recreating both the creatures themselves and their prehistoric environment within areas of the still largely untouched Asturias region in Spain.
"SOFTIMAGE|XSI has been especially helpful to us in creating and giving life to all types of creatures and characters," says Varela. "Even in our specifically architectural visualizations, we like to include unique animated characters to add the realistic look. The SOFTIMAGE|XSI nonlinear structure has truly given us wings to soar. Being able to use reference models means we can tackle the most complex phases of the projects from the very beginning of the project. The shading and rendering tools mean that, sometimes, 'miracles' can be achieved."
Even with their recent successes, however, Varela sees an even brighter future for BOP, and therefore for SOFTIMAGE|XSI, in Spain:
"It is our strong opinion that SOFTIMAGE|XSI has no comparable system to match it," he says matter-of-factly. "Especially with version 5, XSI is the both the most powerful and the easiest system to learn, which is an unbeatable combination. The system easily lends itself to working in either a global or a highly-specialized way. A new animator can pick it up quickly and do everything with it, or a traditional animator can find new, more efficient ways to accomplish their creations and further their craft."
While professionals like Varela are always demanding better products - indeed, Softimage relies on such professionals to make the best systems we can - he is quick to point out that he is satisfied with SOFTIMAGE|XSI's rate of development.
"In my opinion, the development pace is about as high as you can get," he says. "New developments like the crowd animation and facial animation motivate further trust in this marvelous company. It shows that Softimage carries out a quite exhaustive analysis of their market when considering their evolutionary direction. They are always keeping their artists and customers in mind."
Knowing what customers want and need is key to the strength of the SOFTIMAGE|XSI, according to Varela, and he points to the Softimage beta testing program as essential in garnering the right information:
"The beta program is marvelous!" he says. "It makes the tool feel more like one's own. The Softimage technicians supervising the beta testers do an incredible job."
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About Softimage Co.
Softimage Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc., delivers innovative, artist-friendly character creation and effects tools to animators and digital artists in the film, broadcast, post-production and games industries. Its product line includes SOFTIMAGE|XSI, the industry's only non-destructive digital character production software, and SOFTIMAGE|Face Robot, the first production toolset that multiplies face animation productivity by simplifying the complex process of preparing the face for animation and by giving artists precise control over the results.