Softimage 3D

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Softimage Creative Environment
Developer(s)Softimage, Co.
Initial release1988; 35 years ago (1988)
Stable release
4.0 / August 2001; 21 years ago (2001-08)
Operating systemWindows NT, IRIX
Type3D computer graphics

Softimage|3D was a high-end 3D graphics application developed by Softimage, Co., which was used predominantly in the film, broadcasting, gaming, and advertising industries for the production of 3D animation. It was superseded by Softimage XSI in 2000.


In 1986, National Film Board of Canada filmmaker Daniel Langlois, in partnership with software engineers Richard Mercille and Laurent Lauzon, began developing an integrated 3D modeling, animation, and rendering package with a graphical interface targeted at visual artists. The software was initially demonstrated at SIGGRAPH in 1988 and was released for Silicon Graphics workstations the following year as the Softimage Creative Environment™.[1]

Softimage Creative Environment was adopted by major visual effects studios like Industrial Light & Magic and Digital Domain for use in their production pipelines, which also typically included software from Alias Research, Big Idea Productions, Kroyer Films, Angel Studios, Walt Disney Feature Animation Inc., and Pixar Animation Studios Inc. as well as a variety of custom tools. Its character animation toolset expanded substantially with the addition of inverse kinematics in version 2, which was used to animate the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.[2] In 1994, Microsoft acquired Softimage, Co. with the intention of introducing high-end 3D animation software to its Windows NT platform, and subsequently renamed it "Softimage|3D."[3] In January 1995, Softimage|3D was announced as the official 3D development tool for the Sega Saturn.[4]

The first Windows port of Softimage|3D, version 3.0, was released in early 1996.[5] Softimage|3D Extreme 3.5, released later that year, included particle effects and the mental ray renderer, which offered area lights, ray tracing, and other advanced features.[6] 3D paint functionality was added a year later in version 3.7.[7]

In the late 1990s, Softimage Co. began developing a successor to Softimage|3D codenamed "Sumatra," which was designed with a more modern and extensible architecture to compete with other major packages like Alias|Wavefront's Maya.[8] Development was delayed during a 1998 acquisition by Avid Technology, and in the summer of 2000 Softimage|3D's successor was finally released as Softimage XSI.[9][10] Because of Softimage|3D's entrenched user base, minor revisions continued until the final version of Softimage|3D, version 4.0, was released in 2002.[11]

Release history[edit]

Version Platform Release date Price Notes
Softimage Creative Environment 1.0 SGI Jan 1989 Beta debuted at Siggraph '88, v1.0 commercial release in 1989[12]
Softimage Creative Environment 1.5 1989
Softimage Creative Environment 1.65 1989 Added texture mapping
Softimage Creative Environment 2.0 1991 $30,000 Introduced Actor module, IK, constraints, deformation lattices
Softimage Creative Environment 2.5 1991
Softimage Creative Environment 2.6 1993 Added clusters, weighted envelopes. Used in Jurassic Park[13]
Softimage Creative Environment 2.65 1994
Softimage 3D 3.0 SGI / WinNT Jan 1996 $7,995 First Windows release
Softimage 3D 3.5 May 1996 $7,995, $13,995 (Extreme) Introduced Extreme edition (metaballs, mental ray)
Softimage 3D 3.7 Apr 1997 $7,995, $13,995 (Extreme) Added 3D paint, NURBS surface blending
Softimage 3D 3.7 SP1 Aug 1997 $7,995, $13,995 (Extreme) New selection & viewing tools, RenderMap, Nintendo 64 support
Softimage 3D 3.8 Jul 1998 $4,995 Added animation sequencer, polygon/color reduction tools
Softimage 3D 3.8 SP1 Jan 1999 $4,995 First release by Avid Technology, Plus & Performance options
Softimage 3D 3.8 SP2 Aug 1999 Mental Ray 2.1, Surface Continuity Manager, DropPoints & SlidePoints, GoWithTheFlow
Softimage 3D 3.9 Mar 2000 $1,995, $3,995 (Extreme) Improved envelope weighting, updated GUI
Softimage 3D 3.9.1 May 2000
Softimage 3D 3.9.2 Dec 2000
Softimage 3D May 2001
Softimage 3D 4.0 May 2002 $1,495, $2,495 (Extreme) Added multi-UV texturing, vertex colors. Final release


The Softimage|3D feature set was divided between five menu sets: Model, Motion, Actor, Matter and Tools, each corresponding to a different part of the 3D production process:[14]

Softimage Creative Environment 2.66 - Matter module with Render Setup dialogue box

Model: Tools for creating spline, polygon, patch, and NURBS primitives (later releases also included Metaballs). Boolean operations, extrusions, revolves, and bevels, as well as lattice deformations and relational modeling tools. Subdivision surface modeling was available via a third-party plugin from Phoenix Tools called MetaMesh.

Motion: Animation of objects and parameters via keyframes, constraints, mathematical expressions, paths, and function curves. Animatable cluster and lattice deformations. Motion capture through a variety of input devices.

Actor: Rigging and animation of digital characters using skeletons, as well as dynamics tools for physics simulations of object interactions. Included inverse kinematics and weighted / rigid skinning.

Matter: Creation of materials and rendering images for output. Standard features included 2D and 3D textures, field rendering, fog, motion blur, and raytracing.

Tools: Utilities for viewing, editing, and compositing rendered image sequences, color reduction, and importing/exporting images and 3D geometry.


  1. ^ Softimage: 16 Years of Leadership and Innovation, Softimage, archived from the original on 2002-10-15.
  2. ^ 3D Software Reviews: Softimage, Jeremy Birn.
  3. ^ "An Acquisition by Microsoft", The New York Times, Feb 15, 1994.
  4. ^ "Sega and Sony Announced their 32-Bit Systems for the U.S.". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 68. Ziff Davis. March 1995. p. 89.
  5. ^ Microsoft Delivers High-End 3-D Animation Software for Microsoft Windows NT (press release), Microsoft, Jan 16, 1996, archived from the original on 2011-12-29, retrieved 2009-10-10.
  6. ^ Microsoft Introduces Major Upgrade to Softimage 3D (press release), Microsoft, May 16, 1996.
  7. ^ Softimage 3D Version 3.7 for Windows NT and IRIX Platforms Now Shipping (press release), Microsoft, Apr 7, 1997, archived from the original on 2009-05-02, retrieved 2007-10-13
  8. ^ Softimage's Next-Generation 3D System, SUMATRA, Introduces Non-Linear Animation (press release), 1999
  9. ^ The Long and Lonely Death of Softimage, DigitalArts
  10. ^ "Softimage Co. Announces First Customer Shipment of SOFTIMAGE/XSI Version 1.0; Softimage Grants 17,000 Licenses of Next-Generation 3-D Animation Software", Business Wire, Find articles, May 30, 2000.
  11. ^ Softimage Slashes 3D price, Broadcast now, Jun 12, 2002
  12. ^ Helen Shortal (Apr 1992), Private Revolution: SOFTIMAGE Animation Software Breaks New Ground
  13. ^ Remembering Softimage, fxguide, Mar 4, 2014
  14. ^ On Powerful Wings, Imagination Soars (PDF) (brochure), Microsoft, 1996.

External links[edit]