Softimage CAT 3.0

As a digital artist and frequent animator, I’m always keeping my eyes open for tools to make my job easier. CAT (Character Animation Tools) 3.0 is one of those that I’m really impressed with. I’m a little confused by its origins. It’s developed by Softimage’definitely the leader in character animation since the inception of CG characters, and one that other programs should take a cue from’however, it’s a plug-in for 3ds Max. Does this mean than the features are already built into XSI? I’m not an XSI character animator, so I can’t say for sure’but it would make sense.

If you take a typical 3ds Max character animator who works with Biped and hand over CAT to him, it would be like giving a coffee drinker a 64 oz. can of Rockstar. Suddenly, productivity goes up and at the end of the day you have an army of lizard kings fighting a gaggle of tortoise-shelled insects. It’s really that easy. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much!

The crux of this small, yet powerful, program is the procedural aspect of not only the rigging, but also the way these rigs move. Walks and runs of all types come packaged with the program, and they are easily adjusted. They auto adjust to the proportions, or sometimes even to the number of limbs of the characters. You can attach the character to a dummy node and the character locks its footsteps’even over rough terrain. This is great for crowds where you have set up animated nodes for the agents.

But the power doesn’t stop there. The CAT system is a layers animation system, so you can keyframe on top of the procedural animation and blend seamlessly between the two.

If you have complex characters needing complex rigs’spiders, horses, centipedes, cats and, yes, even humans, CAT’s presets are really a solid launch point. Sometimes I just don’t have time to really use a product in production, but in the case of CAT, I needed to rig and animate a spider in three days. If I had to do it by hand, I’d still be animating.

This is inexpensive, powerful and pretty straightforward. If you want to have the right tools for character animation and feel more comfortable in Max than in XSI, I would really recommend this product’honest and true’and how often can you recommend something without any reservations?

Website: www.softimage.com/products/cat

Price: $995 (commercial license); $259 (upgrade);

$195 (student/faculty); $60 (student/faculty upgrade)