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Friday, 2 December 2011

An Appointment with Softimage XSI Again

I was given time off from work today to attend a software demonstration on Maya and XSI workflow. Initially I thought I would not be able to spare the time to go, because of my commitment to the schedule at work. At the last minute I asked Darryl my producer who told me to go for it.

At lunch time I left work with William, Nizhen, and Mengdi. After having lunch at Bak Kut Teh across Clarke Quay Central, we went to ACA Pacific's office just across the road. The demonstration was held in one of their training rooms.

My former classmate from CG Protege, Edward, was the demo artist who did the Maya 2012 part of the demonstration. He showed HIK (Human IK), camera sequencer and Softimage XSI's interoperability with Maya and Max.

Some parts of the Maya 2012 demonstrations in points:
Human IK
- Human IK provides an automatic rig that is very close to look and functionality of Motion Builder.
- Easy and familiar for animators using Motion Builder.
- Once character is defined (characterisation), animator can toggle between specific controller and all controllers for operations like set-key, delete keys, etc.
- Marking Menu access to return to T-pose
- Motion re-targeting with blending option to reach the arm/feet space of original mo-cap performance for object interaction (reaching for door knobs, grabbing props, etc)
- Definable ground plane. Toes and Feet will auto "collide" with ground and rocks, etc.
Camera Sequencer
- Camera sequencer allows loading of cameras into a Trax-like editor that has a multi-track timeline.
- Possible to load audio track and do real time camera frame range edits
- After editing is done, a "uber-camera" can be created that jumps to assume the positions of different cameras on the appropriate frames
- With the Uber camera, artists can then render the whole sequence with a single camera (I feel this isnt that helpful if we're rendering for production where there's motion blur in the camera. if Uber cam just jumps position we'll get a huge motion blur in the first few and last few frames in each shot. but it'll work nicely for previz purposes)

Second Part of the demonstration was Softimage XSI 2012. This was done by his colleague (his name sounds like Cidar, but alas I forgot to ask for his name card). He was one of the developers of the underlying ICE framework that is the core of XSI. He gave a very comprehensive introduction to XSI, ICE, FaceRobot, Lagoa and some plugins. The things that it can achieve and the proceduralism is very similar to Houdini.

During my last 6 months in Double Negative UK I've had some experience working with Houdini 11 in the course of costume simulation work. Having experienced Houdini what amazes me most is how responsive and interactive XSI's ICE is. The developer told me it was developed in C++. User interface is very intuitive and modern in its design. Attributes are easy to access and to manipulate. The demonstrating developer said "anything and everything (attributes and data in the scene) is accessible in Ice".


Before the last few versions, XSI users were complaining about the inability for the software's architecture to support plugins. However it is now easier than ever for third-party developers to do just that. The demonstrator showed us 2 plugins: Slipstream and Momentum, both by Exocortex Technologies. Slipstream is a realtime fluid simulation engine while Momentum is an implementation of Bullet Physics that supports multiphysics and procedural fracturing, right inside of XSI. 

There is also a huge community willing to share their Ice assets called Compounds. Compounds are encapsulated Ice nodes that can be added to regular XSI menus as a menu-item. Furthermore there is an option where the creator of the Compound can lock the Compound so it cannot be opened up when it is shared with other users. That gives you a level of control over who can access the underlying nodes and change them.

Tutorials on XSI and examples of the things people are doing with them are regularly updated on Vimeo. Here are a few channels related to XSI, Ice and Lagoa.