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Being quite a "newb" when it comes to this genre of computing I obviously can't give an expert opinion, but I can give my views on getting to grips with the software and it's many features.
-----So what is it?-----
Softimage XSI, is a 3d modelling, animation and rendering program which is used by hundreds of companies to make everything from tv adverts, animation films and the latest games.
The interface is well laid out and is easily visible but as a complete new-comer to 3D it is almost impossible to use. After a couple of months learning from tutorials you'll easily of learnt all the short cut keys and the basics of modelling and be able to make basic objects with no problems what so ever.
You are able to create simple shapes eg cubes spheres and manipulate them and expand them to the shape you want, quite amazing when you think about the depth some of the films like Wall-e go into when everything started from a cube.
In the later versions of XSI there is a character creation option which creates a basic human shape which you are then able to adjust the features of, such as biceps, height and fatness.
Probably one of the more difficult things to get to grips with and involves creating key frames, selecting an object, clicking on what you want to do (transfom, rotate or scale) key frame it, change dimensions at later time and keyframe there. The beauty of the software is that it will fill in all the gaps between your keyframes with clear smooth animation which can all be adjusted more indepthly.
Animating objects is easy, but when it comes to animating more complicated structures like humans you will need to create a skeleton shape, envelope it to the human mesh then animate the skeleton, very difficult and takes a long time, which is why many companies choose to use motion capture to animate people.
I have yet to really use this menu much as it is very difficult, but when you can use it you are able to create all sorts of particle effects like rain or falling objects
Seems weird that hair should have its own menu but the detail that has been put into this feature is outstanding and is a major selling point of the software.
This is where you get to flesh out your creations with colours and shading and export them as a movie file, haven't done this much with complicated projects as it is a very VERY long process, I even had to leave one project rendering overnight and it still hadn't finished.
There are even more features that don't have their own menu for example the lighting options are also very impressive to use and allow you to create some seriously cool effects.
It's an amazing piece of software to use but deffinitely not suitable for people interested in learning, I would recommend a much cheaper Software like Blender or 3ds Max if you want to learn before moving on to this more advanced but kick-ass software
EDIT: If you would like to try out this software for FREE. then you can download a mod version from the softimage.com website