Inside SoftImage 3D

Mark Christiansen reviews Inside SoftImage 3D, a long overdue text of tips, tricks and tutorials on the popular 3D animation package.

"At last!" was the typical reaction when Anthony Rossano's Inside SoftImage 3D hit the shelves around the time of SIGGRAPH `98. The book is certainly overdue; although SoftImage is still considered a "high end" rather than "mainstream" 3D animation package, everyone has to start somewhere, and this text is for the beginners. The author is co-founder and CEO of Mesmer, Inc. which has for the past few years been a SoftImage authorized training center in Seattle and San Francisco.

As a beginner, the things you want most from a book like Inside (that the manuals don't typically offer) are tips and tricks derived from "real world" use of the software, as well as evaluations of the relative usefulness of various tools and functions -- confronted with various modules filled with menus and commands, you want to know which ones you'll use all the time, and which largely to ignore. The book does a more than adequate job of helping to organize the interface, although I sometimes found it not as thorough or organized as I would have liked. Plus, some major features, such as Expressions, receive no ink whatsoever.

So many of the book's useful tips are contained within tutorials that it can be difficult to find them without actually doing the tutorials, and even harder to re-find them later when you wish to look them up. My preference would have been for a bit better organization of commands and shortcuts covered in a given chapter at the end of that chapter.

If you already have quite a bit of experience with SoftImage, or you're comfortable combing the manuals, you may prefer to save your seventy-five bucks. However, there's one seemingly minor thing Inside offers that the manuals don't: lots of detailed color pictures. SoftImage's documentation is fairly good, but the manuals contain limited grayscale graphics, and let's face it: the majority of the visual artists in the world prefer to learn visually, in color. If this is you (don't be ashamed!), and the manuals aren't getting read, then Inside SoftImage 3D is a must-have. Inside SoftImage 3D by Anthony Rossano. Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders Publishing, 1998. 784 pages. ISBN: 1-5620-5885-1 (U.S. $75.00 hardcover). Includes CD-ROM. Inside SoftImage 3D may be purchased in the Animation World Store. Mark Christiansen creates computer graphics animations for a prominent entertainment company in Marin County, California. He currently works with SoftImage 3.8 on an SGI, and has also created animations in Lightwave, 3D Studio Max and ElectricImage. His background is in filmmaking and live theatre.