Best Buy
  • Price: 299 . 1189 . 4159

  • Company: Central Saint Martins Coolege of Art and Design

  • Pros: XSI is a compelling 3D product that seems to have little in the way of weaknesses. It’s an artist-centric package and the Advanced version has all the tools and features you could wish for.

  • Cons: The Advanced version is expensive.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

When Softimage|XSI was initially launched as a next-generation 3D animation program, it showed a lot of promise but fell short of the initial hype surrounding its advanced animation capabilities. XSI 5.0 is at last the “next generation” 3D suite Softimage has always promised, thanks to some very important advances.

This is the first version of XSI to run on 64-bit enabled systems. We tested XSI on a Windows XP Pro x64 Edition workstation. Over the course of testing, the system was remarkably resilient and robust without a single system hang. This is quite a surprise for such a new technology, and bodes well for production houses chomping at the bit for 64-bit applications.

We tested the application on a Pentium Dual Core 3.2GHz Fujitsu-Siemens machine with 2GB of RAM and a NVidia Quadro FX 1400 graphics card (reviewed as part of our group test on page 108). We were not able to install a dual boot system to run the 32bit version of XSI – possibly due to the 64-bit architecture – but it was clear that XSI 64-bit was running very nimbly indeed.

We were advised that 64-bit really comes into its own when you run scenes requiring 4GB or more of RAM, but XSI
is designed to work with any amount of RAM efficiently.

Bold claims

 border=0 />At the heart of the new system is the Gigapolygon Core. Softimage claims that this new architecture allows artists to create scenes on an unimaginable scale in terms of numbers of polygons, animation channels, and other effects. According to the company, it allows for not just millions but tens of billions of polygons in a scene, without causing the application to keel over, freeze, or take a week to render a frame. 
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This bold claim is begging to be tested. We created a sphere, and set the Geometry Approximation to seven smoothing iterations both in OpenGL and the final Render. This gave a polygonal object with a couple of million polygons. Shaded scene interaction was more or less real-time at this stage, which is impressive.
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We duplicated that sphere ten times (not instanced, but raw duplicates) giving an actual triangle count of 21.6 million. This time the OpenGL interaction started to chug a little, but it was still usable. So, we pressed on. The ten spheres were duplicated a further five times giving us over one billion polygons in-scene. We waited for the duplication operation to complete and watched the Task Manager as XSI gracefully took over the system resources.
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After about five minutes, Windows popped-up a warning to say it needed to increase the virtual memory page file. Things did not progress further and we killed XSI. We tried again using wireframe display mode, and this time XSI had no problem whatsoever and we could pump up the polygon count to over a billion polygons, and render them without a hitch.
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There’s plenty more beside sheer polygon grunt, though. XSI’s interface has been refined and improved, making it a lot easier to use. There’s a good layout scheme, and key mapping that mimics that of Alias Maya so that migrating artists can get up to speed quickly. The Maya key map features QWERTY select-&-translate tools and Alt key view navigation. A mirror of Maya’s handy Channel Box and Layer bar is also implemented.
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XSI features an all-new rigid body dynamics system from Ageia called PhysX. This offers a radical increase in performance over the old ODE system (which is still available for backwards compatibility and is selectable in XSI’s preferences). The new dynamics engine is capable of calculating thousands of interactions in near realtime, and it’s a joy to use. 
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Gator is a new general attribute transfer tool for transferring surface attributes such as UV textures, weight maps and animation from object to object, and is particularly suited to characters. Gator streamlines character production and allows easy re-use of existing character model data, even of different and totally unrelated topologies.
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<b>Gimme some skin</b>
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