• Price When Reviewed: 1725 . 1895 . 2700 . 2875

  • Pros: ICE node-based programming model; ICE Particles and Deformations; enhanced Render Tree, mental ray and real-time shaders; expansion of character primitives.

  • Cons: Some crashes; no Mac version; some key tools for Advanced users only.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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Other interface improvements include the ability to specify a single viewport for animation playback. This speeds up playback and is activated when there are multiple viewports displayed and none of them are solo-ed. Character animation is enhanced with the arrival of new ready-made characters, including bipeds of different sizes and setups: a head rig, a face-maker, and man-maker, as well as quadrupeds incuding a dog and an elephant.

Mental ray continues to evolve, and version 3.6 now has built-in support for ambient occlusion, which is now enabled for the scene in XSI 7 by default. It offers a new final gathering mode named Exact, for more accurate and higher-quality results. The new Irradiance particles algorithm provides a method of calculating global illumination using importons – ‘virtual particles’ that are emitted from the camera and bounce towards light.

There’s a new shader architecture, and a way to offload assets to ‘stand-in’ archive files during assembly of scenes, then call them back to be loaded on-demand at render time.

The dataflow structure used in both the Render Tree and ICE gives you the flexibility to create, adapt and try out effects and shaders rapidly. Best of all, it’s not confined to the Advanced version.

The Realtime Shader API version 3.0 focuses on programmable shaders and file-based effects, and has greater support for particle clouds.

We crashed several times when opening a texture editor, so a few bugs need to be ironed out, but scene recovery was swift and total. Possible glitches aside, if you want to get your hands dirty with realistic particle simulations and real-time shaders, but don’t want mess about with code, XSI 7 is definitely worth a look.