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Softimage Expands Game Development Suite With New 'Mod' Tool

Avid Technology announced the SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool -- a free version of its award-winning 3D animation software designed for gamers who are interested in modifying the content of popular video games.

As part of the company's 3-Democracy plan -- to make the most advanced 3D content creation software accessible to all levels of CG professionals -- the SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool is available immediately from the Softimage Website (www.softimage.com), and enables users to generate material for HALF-LIFE 2, the recently released action video game by Valve.

Gamers and enthusiasts known as "modders" -- who routinely change the way video games are played -- can now use the SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool with Valve's Source Software Development Kit (SDK) to create props, characters, environment models and output their content directly into HALF-LIFE 2 and other Valve Source engine-powered titles. Through the use of additional plug-ins, the Mod Tool can also be used with other leading interactive game titles, extending playability of existing and upcoming games.

"Since we started working with Valve several years ago, it has always been a priority to ensure that fans would be able to easily customize their HALF-LIFE 2 experience," said Gareth Morgan, senior product manager for Softimage. "There are thousands of passionate gaming enthusiasts out there who are deeply immersed in video game art, and many see themselves as the creators of tomorrow. Continuing our 3-Democracy vision of 3D everywhere, we developed the XSI Mod Tool specifically for this mod community, giving them easy access to professional-level 3D character animation software and enabling them to alter the content and extend the life of their favorite games. Alongside Valve's pioneering investment in the mod community, we are really excited to be able to offer support for all of Valve's Source titles -- and we look forward to working with other game developers in the future."

Building on the SOFTIMAGE|XSI EXP for HALF-LIFE 2, which was released at the 2004 Game Developer's Conference and has been downloaded by more than 100,000 users, the SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool is based on the same professional architecture as SOFTIMAGE|XSI software. The SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool includes multiple toolsets for creating, texturing and animating props and characters, designing and previewing realtime effects, and outputting the results. It also includes the next-generation normal mapping features found in SOFTIMAGE|XSI 4.2.

"For many of our fans, modding is a key element of the HALF-LIFE 2 experience," said Gabe Newell, founder and managing director for Valve. "Since introducing popular games like DAY OF DEFEAT and COUNTERSTRIKE, we have seen incredible projects sprout from within the gaming community. I am thrilled that modders now have access to a free, professional-level tool based on the same software our own developers and artists use to develop our award-winning games. I can't wait to see -- and play -- what the community comes up with."

Softimage Co. (www.softimage.com), a subsidiary of Avid Technology Inc. (www.avid.com), is an industry leader in 3D animation, 2D cel animation, compositing and special effects software, designed to address the demands of the film and commercial/broadcast and games/interactive industries.

Digital Dimension's Blade Trinity VFX Highlight Collaborative Power of Microsoft Technologies

Digital Dimension, a four-time Emmy Award-winning studio specializing in high-end visual effects, 3D animation and motion graphics, used Microsoft technologies to create and manage 167 vfx for BLADE TRINITY.

All the effects for flame, ash and skeletal degradation of the vampires were executed by Digital Dimension's skilled CGI artists, who saved hours and resources by using Windows SharePoint Services and Windows Server System to simultaneously and efficiently collaborate on multiple motion picture projects. The studio's pipeline and business process management relies on the Microsoft .NET Framework.

"The Microsoft environment can support every single angle of our business, so it's easy to create, manage, distribute and share information between applications -- and that is priceless," said Ben Girard, president and founder of Digital Dimension.

Since the company's inception, Digital Dimension's workload has tripled every year, creating a serious challenge for the company. With more scenes to create, review, revise, finalize and return to the production company, Digital Dimension managers needed a collaborative workflow environment to manage the enormous volume of information. The company turned to Microsoft technologies to create a homogenous and powerful collaborative solution.

Using Microsoft Windows Server System and Windows SharePoint Services, Digital Dimension created a powerful workflow system that allows artists and managers to share information, collaborate on projects and manage workflow with greater efficiency.

"With the constant increase of work, there was just too much information in play, thus potentially affecting overall efficiency," Girard said. "We quickly realized that not everyone needs to be flooded with every little piece of information, such as what versions of each of the elements have been approved, or when 3D elements are ready for compositing, etc. The information needs to be targeted and flowing rapidly between parties involved in the visual effects process. With Microsoft Windows SharePoint and Windows Server System, we were able to better manage and orchestrate all the appropriate information."

Microsoft technologies offer production studios a convenient way to manage vast amounts of information. For the BLADE movies, vampire ashings have been the signature visual effect, and director David Goyer tasked Digital Dimension with creating the most detailed, visually impressive ashings seen to date. With 167 shots due in a short time frame, and some scenes involving as many as five vampires ashing at once, Digital Dimension relied on Windows Server System and Windows SharePoint Services to help manage the complexity. The company reaped the following benefits:

*High volumes of information were managed more efficiently. MicrosoftWindows SharePoint enabled Digital Dimension to create an integratedinformation "dashboard" for sharing notes, collaborating on projectsand managing workflow with greater efficiency.

*Mobile interactivity was enabled. Early in the deployment ofSharePoint, Digital Dimension realized that many of its projectmanagers were highly mobile. To accommodate their mobility, the companyoutfitted each project manager with a Tablet PC with wireless networkconnectivity. Using the Tablet PC, it became even easier for projectmanagers to interact with key information -- anywhere, anytime.

*Production costs were reduced. Digital Dimension built its entireproduction environment on Microsoft Windows Server System integratedsoftware and .NET-based solutions, creating a coherent IT frameworkthat is easy to use, integrate and support.

*Customer satisfaction was improved. Deploying Microsoft WindowsSharePoint Services created a cost-effective collaborative workflowenvironment, enabling Digital Dimension to yield impressiveefficiencies and better respond to its clients.

"The fact that the Microsoft operating system and most of its server products are now in every facet of our company allows us to automate and collaborate with all the assets and information we're creating," Girard said. "The servers are talking to the desktop systems and vice versa, and all the services in between those points allow us to create a much more unified production environment -- and the value of that integration cannot be understated."

"We're thrilled to support one of Hollywood's hottest visual effects and animation studios with technology that improves its ability to create, manage and securely deliver its digital assets," said Kimberly Till, vp of the Worldwide Media & Ent. Group at Microsoft. "Microsoft is dedicated to delivering integrated software solutions that help media and entertainment companies save time and money while enhancing the consumer's content experience."

Located in Burbank, California, Digital Dimension (www.digitaldimension.com) specializes in 3D animation, motion graphics and visual effects for the film, television, and interactive industries. The company, founded in 1997, has earned a Visual Effects Society and four Emmy Awards, as well as wide acclaim for providing innovative animated computer imagery. Digital Dimension's highly acclaimed visual effects have appeared in numerous movies, including THE LAST SAMURAI, SCOOBY-DOO 2 and the upcoming SUPER BOWL XXXIX opening sequence.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) is a worldwide leader in software, services and solutions. Microsoft's Worldwide Media & Ent. Group (www.microsoft.com/mediaandentertainment) is a vertical organization within Microsoft that develops tailored enterprise solutions to meet the media and entertainment industry's unique business and IT needs. The group partners with tier-one solution and service providers to deliver integrated enterprise solutions built on innovative software that help media and entertainment companies increase their efficiency and effectiveness and enhance the consumer experience. Established in July 2003, the group assumed a global role in 2004.

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