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CGChannel Interviews SOFTIMAGE|XSI guru Ed Harriss
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Its great that resources for XSI are starting to appear. Two books have been released on the program, but none of them cover the Rendertree, XSI`s new process for making textures. Recently Ed Harriss, an old softimage pro, released a set of training tapes aiming to introduce new users and former Softimage 3D users to the texturing possibilities in XSI. Lets see what Ed has to say. I have included some images grabbed from the tape, click on them to get a larger image. (They dont do justice to the videos image quality though. The real tapes look much, much better.)

Presentation and Quality
Ed`s videos come on two VHS tapes. The first tape is split into two sections, 'The interface basics' and ' Migrating from Softimage 3X to softimage XSI'. The second tape contains a set of 19 texturing projects.

The picture quality on the videos are excellent. The image appears crisp with little or no blurring. More importantly, nearly all the text on the interface is readable. Likewise, the sound quality is also good. Some noise is present, especially in the silent areas, but ist not very distracting.

Throughout the Videos Ed talk with a calm and informative voice. You get in a very relaxed mood listening to him, and he manages to hold your attention throughout the videos.

Overall the visual presentation is well thought out and clean. You get the feeling that these videos were not rushed into production. Different sections of the videos are separated by images/text and some moody music. At the start of major sections Ed gives an introduction to what he is about to cover in that section.

The interface basics

This is the first section on the video and deals with basic interface elements associated with texturing and mapping. Ed approaches this section as if you are completely new to XSI. In a short indroduction to XSI he start with an explanation of the interface and how to handle different views, like the explorer and the property editor.

Ed quickly moves on to explaining all of XSI`s available materials. As well as explaining the cons and pros of each material, he covers all the parameters for each material. Useful shortcuts and general functionality are also covered. While showing the materials, the render-region is introduced, and this plays a big part on these tapes. Because the render-region updates in near real-time, you can see both the sliders and the results they produce instantly.

While talking, the camera zooms into areas of interest. Also notable is the way onscreen clues are used to make sure you are looking at the right parameters. Clues include a pointing hand and transparent areas appearing over the parameters discussed.

Its worth noting that the Rendertree is not covered until later on. Where things get a bit complicated, Ed refers to this later section. For a beginner, the progression of the video is nice, covering the basics first and then moving on to real projects.


When starting on the Rendertree, Ed starts by explaining the general usage, shortcuts and handling of the most common nodes. As before, this is done in detail. You should quickly get a feeling for how the Rendertree operates. Still, this is just the basics, don't expect to become an expert after watching this section. Consider it more like an introduction. More advanced uses are discussed in the project section on tape 2.

Section one is ended by a brief explanation on how to apply texture supports to objects. These include planar and cylindrical projections.

Migrating from Softimage 3X to softimage XS
The main purpose of this section is to show the differences between texturing in Softimage 3D and XSI. The section is well planned out. Ed shows how to do a specific operation in Softimage and then switching over to XSI to give you the same functionality. Because of XSI`s complex nature, the differences can be quite significant.

Despite its name, this section is not just for those in transition. Many of the operations shown are not available anywhere else on the video, so make sure you don't skip this part. Actually, this is probably the most informative part of the videos.

This section is somewhat more fast-paced than the first section, as all of Softimage`s texture controls are covered. The pace was actually more to my liking, as the first section can seem a bit slow if you already have some experience with the program. Where more explanation is needed Ed refers to a specific project in the project section.

Projects
The projects start on tape 2, where Ed takes you through 19 examples of texturing. Each project starts with a still telling you what is covered and an image of the final rendering.

01. Bump Maps
02. Local Materials
03. Displacement Mapping
04. Texture Support Sharing
05. Procedural Bump Mapping
06. Animated Materials
07. Animated Textures
08. Constant Materials
09. Specular Mapping
10. Box Mapping
11. Double Sided Shader
12. Texture Blending
13. Decal Mapping
14. Glass Shader
15. Reflection Mapping
16. Texture Cropping
17. Dirt Maps
18. Transparency Mapping
19. Alpha Blending

Most of the projects are very good, but some are a bit similar in nature. For instance, several projects cover the use of alpha channels in images in one way or the other. While showing several uses, I felt that some of these projects could have been replaced. I`m not sure this is Ed`s fault however. While different mapping methods like specular and dirt-mapping produce different results, the approach is almost identical.

Also, while this is a tape for beginners I was expecting some more advanced projects covering a wider variety of the Rendertree`s different nodes. As it is, only the basic nodes are shown. The glass shader project stands out as a bit more advanced, showing how to get good results from the incidence node .

These issues aside I`m sure many will find this section very rewarding and informative, I know I did. If you are a beginner you will quickly get a good grasp of how to best texture your own objects in XSI. As well as the videos, the package also includes a CD with all the project`s scenes and images. This way you can try out the different techniques yourself while watching the video

Conclusion
These set of videos are so well produced and presented its hard to criticize them. Its clearly stated that these tapes are targeted at the beginners and that's where the videos shine. The pace and progression seems right and the information covered will get you well on your way to mastering materials in XSI . If you can afford the tapes ($149.95 for NTSC and $169.95 for PAL), I say go for it.

For the more experienced users, this might not be the tape for you. There is a good chance that you will already know most of the areas covered by Ed. Still, the tapes are entertaining, so again, if you can afford it, you could do a lot worse than ordering a copy.

Relevant links:
http://www.stayanimated.com Go here to order a copy of Ed`s tape
http://www.EdHarriss.com This is Ed Harriss` homepage. It`s quickly becoming THE source for XSI users as the site contains a respectable number of scripts and tutorials

Robert Ryan is the webmaster of CGChannel, you can contact him at robert@cgchannel.com