Softimage is aiming to release the next version of its Softimage|XSI 3D modelling, animation and rendering application in time for Siggraph 2008, which kicks off on August 12.

Softimage|XSI 7 introduces an open platform called ICE, which the company says is designed to make it easier for artists to work with models and animations in ways that would usually require programming. With a visual interface and an easy-to-use node-based programming model, users will be able to quickly create complex visual effects. ICE will allow artists to explore and modify the library of particle-based visual effects and deformation tools that will ship with XSI 7, or simply build new ones from scratch.

Powering the ICE platform is the GigaCore II, a parallel processing engine that will deliver optimum performance on any modern workstation, according to Softimage. Designed from the ground up to take advantage of multi-core workstations, the Softimage ICE platform is designed to directly scale with the number and speed of processing cores available.

Softimage will offer numerous pre-built, production-ready ICE ‘compounds’ for particle-based effects and deformations. The company says that unlike tools in other 3D systems, these pre-built compounds are open, and will allow users to examine and learn how they work and modify them.

Users who create their own ICE compounds can share them in their facility or with the global community on Softimage|Net, in either an open XML format, or a locked binary file to protect their Intellectual Property (IP).

Other new features in Softimage|XSI 7 include support for mental ray v.3.6 with new rendering ‘stand-ins’ that will allow users to offload objects along with rigged and animated characters to the disk until render time, resulting in lighter-weight scene assembly for much larger rendered scenes, and optimized controls for final gathering and global illumination.

Delta II is a major update to the lightweight referencing system in XSI, with enhanced support for clusters and cluster properties, including materials, textures and UVs. RTS III id a new Real-Time Shading architecture that will allow fragment and vertex shaders to exist in one node, and will be programmable and controllable from any ICE attribute.

The upgrade also introduces a streamlined licensing process that is dongle-less, with a new temporary licensing fail-safe feature.

Other improvements include support for colour management, and enhancements to the Render manager.

Softimage|XSI Essentials costs US$2,995 (around £1,520), with the Advanced version costing $4,995 (£2,535). Both will ship with a training DVD by Digital-Tutors.