18. Wagon Wheels and Black Vinyl Tiles: Softimage at Siggraph

We spent the night before the show sandpapering black vinyl tiles we had glued to the plywood wall of Softimage’s 10x20 foot Siggraph booth. Our booth certainly looked different, decked out with two large round coffee tables made of glass placed on wagon wheels. Each table held an SGI demo station with two monitors. It seemed to be part of the company’s DNA to stand out from the crowd. Not do things the traditional way.

And that we did, as we demonstrated our product over the three days of the Siggraph tradeshow.

Much of the demo-ing fell to me. Mike, due to a car accident in his youth, had limited motor control of his body. He could walk short distances, and type and speak, though with difficulty. Yet his renderer and my animation software would propel Softimage to success at the show.

This was the first time a 3D animation system had made doing 3D animation look, well, intuitive and easy. I would have an animation looping in one window and modify the motion in real time by dragging the handles of the f-curves in another window.

Then I would render a frame using Mike’s amazingly fast renderer, which had the ability to switch between scanline and ray traced algorithms on a per-pixel basis, as dictated by an object’s material properties.

There was another new 3D graphics company at the show that year. A company called Electrogig from Holland. They claimed to have a fast ray tracer, and I watched as they camped out at our booth and literally timed my renderings with a stopwatch. They didn’t look happy.

I noticed some Wavefront (a well-connected CG company out of Santa Barbara) people I knew from previous Siggraphs watching the demos from across the aisle. I invited Bill Kovacs and Mark Sylvester, executives of the company, to sit down for a demo. Later in the evening at a reception they asked if I would be interested in moving to California, but I declined, figuring I could make a bigger difference at Softimage. Turns out I was mistaken.

Siggraph 1988 was a proper coming out for Softimage. The word had gotten out that there was a new player on the scene which had leap-frogged older companies such as Alias and Wavefront. It was a system designed from the ground up for artists. The animation techniques we pioneered are still very visible in today’s animation systems.

The movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” had just opened in theaters, and as a fan of classic animation, I could not keep my enthusiasm for it in check. The day after we returned to Montreal, exhausted yet energized, I dragged everyone to see it. I looked over during the movie and noticed that Daniel was sleeping.

Design & Code

This snippet shows my meager interface, consisting of a few key bindings. Everything else is done using the REPL. The code also demonstrates use of the CCL Cocoa bridge, calling Objective-C methods, which is the main reason I am using CCL.

The lack of a simple UI facility for Common Lisp puzzles me. The commercial vendors have their own proprietary systems, but there seems to be little out there from the open source community. Maybe I’m missing something.




MIT mathematics degree • wrote animation software used in “Jurassic Park” • software R&D lead on “Final Fantasy” movie • software dev on “The Hobbit” films

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Kaveh Kardan

Kaveh Kardan

MIT mathematics degree • wrote animation software used in “Jurassic Park” • software R&D lead on “Final Fantasy” movie • software dev on “The Hobbit” films

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