Softimage|XSI 7 Review by Ed Harriss. [Page-2]
There is a feature called render archives/stand-ins. These are objects that can be loaded and unloaded on-demand if mental ray starts to run low on memory allowing for faster rendering times.
The Rasterizer gets a couple of new options as well. Motion Factor, which lowers the shading frequency as an object moves faster and Max Depth, which will adjust shading samples based on the distance to the camera
The interface for the render manager has been streamlined and simplified. Many of the requests made by users of the previous incarnation of the render manager have been addressed.
Some of the ICE tree features such as node compounding and annotations have been added into the rendertree. Also, unconnected rendertree nodes no longer vanish when you refresh the tree: Dropping a rendertree node on to a connection line between two other nodes will auto-insert/auto-connect the three nodes together as best it can.
Fantastic new color management tools have been added to XSI allowing you to manage your gamma correction so there won't be any surprises when your renders get shipped out the door. It's not just some lens shader that makes an attempt to show you what you are going to get. It's fully integrated into the software. Total support is available everywhere you'd need it. From the rendertree with f-curve controls similar to the curves control in Photoshop and textures that can have their own profile, to the built in compositor, to the render region (allowing for side by side comparisons) to the full support of lookup tables of just about any type and much more. It really is a first class implementation.
There are quite a few miscellaneous rendering features that have been added as well. There is a terrific new realtime shading API. The ability to edit multiple UV sets in the texture editor. Support for importons, which is an irradiance particle algorithm used to get a similar rendering solution to FG + GI but faster. In order to speed up renders there is a new option to display or not display the frames as they render. When the display is turned off, only the render progress bar is visible. There are quite a few "Binary Alchemy" shaders such as Volume, Cell, Fractal and a few other volume specific shaders. The Render Channel Shaders and the Share Shaders have been updated to include more features geared toward making them easier to use and access. The editing of local or global passes is now the same as all other shared properties in XSI, making the "Make Local to Current Pass" and "Copy This Pass to Global" buttons obsolete. A new function allowing you to override any of the global rendering options for a specific pass (just editing the options) has been added. There is so much more I'd like to add here but again, like the ICE tree, the rendering and materials upgrade for this release is just too massive to list in one single review.
Sometimes it's the small (or not so small) stuff that makes life easier. Quite a few useful tools and functions have been added to XSI 7. A new licensing system has been implemented. It is much easier to use and includes a "Panic Buttons" in the event that there is a problem. This button will allow Softimage to continue to function till the user(s) have time to contact support and resolve the issue. Interface speed has been increased dramatically. I've done some tests and scenes that previously ran at 4 or 5 frames per second are now running at 30 to 45 fps. Included with version 7 are eight hours of training created by Digital Tutors. This should really help users get a grip on the new ICE tree as well as some of the other new features. The text editor now has a customizable Scintilla-based editing feature that allows full text adjustment of color, font, size, syntax styles, auto-complete, folding, highlighting and much more.
There are quite a few new primitive models like, XSI Man Armored and Little Dude. There are dozens of small user interface enhancements. Sliders now dynamically "adjust" for ranges that were not coded into the property page. Zooming in views (any view, not just 3D views) can now be done using the scroll wheel on the mouse. Typing in a very, very small value such as "0.00001" is now accepted in XSI and not "rounded" to zero like they were in the past. There is a new display mode dedicated to particle work. Filtering via keyword has been added to so many new areas of XSI that it is just too much to list. Audio support has grown to include WAV files that use MP3 compression. There is a new referencing system called Delta II that is more robust than previous referencing systems. In fact, referencing is such a massive update that there is simply too much to list here.
Softimage has phased out the Foundation version of its product, leaving only Advanced and Essentials. At first this may seem to be a disappointment to current Foundation owners. However, Softimage is offering a very good upgrade price for those willing to step up to Essentials regardless of what version of Foundation they have. For a very reasonable fee Foundation users can now access the functions that only Essentials users could, such as: The FX Tree compositor Illusion, polygon reduction, GATOR, MOTOR, references, the ability to code operators, cloth, hair, rigid and soft body dynamics and more. As well as all the new features of XSI 7, such as ICE.
This release of XSI has really lived up to its expectations. There was so much hype around ICE and version 7 that many were worried it might not live up to it. But from what I've seen so far, it has gone beyond the hype and surpassed even the most hardcore critic's expectations.
Ed Harriss is a 3D artist/technical director, working at SAS Studio Productions in North Carolina. He is a Softimage expert and very well known in the community for his Softimage Learning Tools at EdHarriss.com and his book How to Get a Job in Computer Animation. Ed is also writing for several online and print magazines and he is forum moderator on XSIBase.com.
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