By Michael Burns | on November 19, 2009
Price When Reviewed: 1725 . 2155 . 2700
Pros: Faster performance; improved interface, ICE system and interoperability; Face Robot toolkit; new mental ray.
Cons: Face Robot restricted to suitable head models and requires careful setup; relatively expensive; Multi-core system required; limited upgrades.
The 2010 version of the formidable Softimage modelling and animation suite – formerly Softimage|XSI – runs faster, thanks to the updated engine, Gigacore III. The new version takes full advantage of multiprocessor systems, which hugely boosts the handling of large, complex scenes with many characters or animated objects.
This efficiency drive extends to a new ability to create layer groups and, for animators, the introduction of an optimised FCurve editor. This offers faster performance when working with large numbers of curves or keys, so animators can edit the animations of a large number of complex characters simultaneously.
The interface has seen a productivity revamp too, with the ability to hide selected geometry in the 3D views during playback and to allow bones and their shadows to be displayed in the current viewport display mode. There’s also a new Scene Search tool (below), which again is handy for complex scenes.
ICE (Interactive Creative Environment) – the effects system introduced in XSI 7 – has been further refined here, with several interface enhancements to the ICE tree viewer (also mirrored in the Render tree) that aid navigation. There’s a new performance monitor (above) for the ICE tree for inspecting the time taken for each stage, which helps spot bottlenecks in the workflow. C++ developers and technical directors can also take advantage of some custom node-creation options, making it easier to create specialised ICE effects and tools.
Autodesk has added the option to export ICE effects to Maya, and there’s a range of other tweaks, such as the ability to make ICE particles in a rigid body simulation into obstacles (below), and rendering of rotational motion blur when using instanced geometry in place of particles.
The inclusion of the full Face Robot toolset allows you to easily rig and animate lifelike faces. It works by abstracting facial anatomy, using a soft tissue model of the human face, which you can then deform by weight maps or sculpt by directly manipulating facial features, such as eyebrows, the jaw and corners of the mouth.
You can load any humanoid head model into Face Robot, but it has to have common facial features and be high-res enough. Autodesk recommends a head mesh of between 5,000 and 10,000 polygons, as screen
update performance when animating deteriorates as polygon count rises.
Other critical factors when preparing the model include correct positioning of the mouth, modelling the surface flow so that it correctly describes where the lips are attached, and where they’re separated. Otherwise you’ll encounter problems in the animation process, requiring more mouth-sculpting fixes later in the process. A tongue is optional, but if you include one, it needs to be a separate mesh.