Review of the Video of

Softimage|XSI: Mastering Materials

Grubsrof Imagination Studios has produced a set of videos hosted by Ed Harriss
Next-generation animation package Softimage|XSI, which succeeded Softimage 3D, was released in May 2000. The latest version, 1.5, shipped on 29 December. As the product matures, so does the range of support materials available for it. There is a raft of Web-based tutorials and community Web sites, but because XSI is such a new product, the range of published training material is still thin on the ground.
Mastering Materials is a two-VHS tape set giving a complete introduction to using materials and textures within XSI. Included is a CD-ROM with all the scenes and textures used in the projects shown. Although the tapes are aimed at beginner to intermediate level, some of the new methods in XSI, particularly the node-based paradigm of the render tree are so different that even for the advanced user, revisiting fundamentals can be an invaluable exercise.
The tapes are divided into three sections: Interface basics, Migration from Softimage 3.x to XSI and Projects. The first section describes all the interface elements likely to be used when texturing and shows the commands necessary for getting the manipulation and display settings correct for the look you want. This section also crosses over into some more general areas such as viewports, and the explanations are concise and very informative.
Section two is a reference tool for the existing Softimage user. It shows function-by-function what a command is in 3.x and then how to achieve the same in XSI. For a prior user of Softimage confronted with an unfamiliar interface this section is a godsend. As a menu command is accessed, the camera zooms into the action area so that the command and its placement in the interface are clearly shown. Obviously this limits the viewer to what is achievable in Softimage|3D but this is addressed in the next section.

The projects in section three focus exclusively on how to achieve results in XSI and there are 19 of them to work through. They demonstrate most basic texturing tasks and on completion you will have gained a grounding of the processes involved in XSI. They range in complexity from simply assigning materials and textures through displacement and dirt maps, texture blending and using bitmap images to control texture and material parameters.

The render tree is confusing at first but is a very powerful material and texturing tool. In order to see and use these advances, it is necessary to complete the projects which are explained in a friendly and helpful manner. This is where the tapes really succeed. Reading manual sets has always been a chore, and having the commands demonstrated on screen is a much more powerful way of gaining knowledge, enabling you to visualise both where commands are and in what order to execute them.

3D World Verdict: 4/5

Pros:
Handy for users that are transitioning from Softimage 3D to Softimage|XSI Section two provides a solid reference tool Render tree well-explained

Cons:
New methods in XSI might prove confusing

By Rob Moodie