Avid Softimage|XSI 7

Get your hands dirty with realistic particle simulations and real-time shaders

Avid Softimage|XSI 7
  • Avid Softimage|XSI 7
  • Avid Softimage|XSI 7
  • Avid Softimage|XSI 7
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

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

Bottom Line

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.

Would you buy this?

Note: Pricing for this product is in US$.

The standout new feature of 3D modelling, animation and rendering application XSI 7 is a visual programming environment, ICE (Interactive Creative Environment). This opens up the application to more than shader writers and effects teams with scripting knowledge. In the ICE workflow, elements, such as particle generators and emitters, are linked in a data-flow view with the forces that act upon them and the processes that they undergo, all connected in a node tree.

The procedure is similar to the methods now used to assemble shaders in the Render Tree, which have also been updated. Nodes in both ICE and Render Trees can be grouped together to form compounds, making it easier to quickly start working with more complex effects (or shaders when in the Render Tree) without having to set up everything from scratch each time.

It’s also easy to work with the nodes and compounds within the trees. Through the drag-and-drop system, you can quickly add new nodes, remove ones you don’t need and edit the properties of any part of the tree. Double-clicking on any node brings up a properties dialog, where you can fine-tune the effect of the modifier or force – or material when working with shaders. On the revised Render Tree, shader nodes can also offer multi-output nodes, allowing the information calculated by the shader to be extracted to multiple data channels and to serve several functions.

It’s likely that successive versions of XSI will follow a roadmap to offer new extensible toolsets based on the ICE platform. To kick this off, version 7 introduces toolsets for creating particle effects and deformations. Say you have a cloud of particles, emanating from a polygon disc (the particle emitter) and you want to add a turbulent force to make them swirl. In version 7, you just drag a turbulence-modifier node into the ICE Tree and link it to the input node of the particle emitter.

According to Softimage, the ICE Particles toolset can be used to make any object move or behave like a particle. As ICE also contains an integrated physX rigid-body dynamics engine, you could simulate a number of colliding objects such as bricks or stones falling in a pile using particles as rigid bodies in conjunction with instanced geometry. It’s also plain to see you could use it for animating crowds of characters.

ICE lends itself further to realistic simulation by the introduction of ICE Particle Shaders, which include new volume and density shaders for creating fire, smoke and dedicated effects, like the blob shader, which adds textured geometry to liquid particle effects.

Like Nucleus, Maya’s particle-based simulation framework, ICE is concerned with more than just calculating particle behaviours. The ICE tree makes creating simulated deformations rapid. Footprints Deformation, as the name suggests, allows you to set one object up to indent the surface of another when the simulation is running.

When you return to the first frame of the simulation, the geometry returns to its initial, undeformed state.Still on simulation, there are some updates to the Syflex Cloth add-on in XSI Advanced. The new mimic constraint can make the cloth imitate another shape, providing the second shape has the same topology as the cloth. There are sampling improvements for collisions and new parameters on SyCollide, one of which Softimage claims is intended for modelling wet T-shirts.

It might have been a long time in getting to XSI, but you can now zoom using the mouse wheel, with modifiers keys available such as Ctrl to zoom quickly, Shift to zoom slowly, and Ctrl + Shift to zoom even more slowly. However you can’t use the mouse wheel in other tools, for example to set the radius for the brush or proportional modification, so a combination of keys and mouse-dragging is still required.

Softimage has thoughtfully included a Disable checkbox in the preferences for users who dislike mouse-wheel zooming or want to restrict it to the Navigation tool – a wise move.

Sliders, toggle keys and numeric fields have been tweaked for more intuitive operation, and you can now display the values of attributes of objects and their components in the 3D views. This includes basic attributes like area, volume, and point positions, as well as attributes controlled by ICE trees.

ICE is responsible for many of the changes in version 7. For example, a new object-selection filter on the Select panel is dedicated to selecting ICE-based point-clouds.

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