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Remembering SOFTIMAGE founder Daniel Langlois, one of the founders of 3D software

Pic: Fondation Daniel Langlois
2 minute read
Pic: Fondation Daniel Langlois

French Canadian Daniel Langlois, who has died in mysterious circumstances in Dominica, founded SOFTIMAGE and played a key role in the establishment of both modern 3D graphics and non-linear editing.

Dominican police say that Daniel Langlois, the founder of SOFTIMAGE, one of the most influential companies from the early days of 3D software, has died alongside his partner Dominique Marchand in the Caribbean country.

Charred remains were found in a vehicle in Gallion on December 1, 2023, and according to Dominica News Online, police sources have disclosed that the remains are believed to be those of Langlois and Merchant, who had been reported missing just days earlier. The exact circumstances are uncertain, but DNO also reports that three individuals are currently in custody and being questioned.

Langlois was born in Quebec, Canada, in 1957 and founded SOFTIMAGE in 1986. Based in Montreal, the company had a significant influence on the early days of CGI, and its ground-breaking development of inverse kinematics made it the go-to tool for many high-profile projects. Meeting rooms in its downtown Montreal offices had names such as Salle Jurrasic Park, reflecting the company’s French-speaking heritage and the movies that helped make its name.

Langlois was President and Chief Technology Officer of the company, and as well as cutting edge 3D was the driving force behind the development of SOFTIMAGE | DS. This was one of the first all-in-one systems designed to replace a linear tape suite and offered non-linear editing, vector-based paint, 2D compositing, audio tools, video effects (latterly 3D), and more. 

Arguably, when it was released in 1998, it was the best of them too. However, by then, the company was already owned by Microsoft (it had gone public in 1992, and Microsoft bought it for $130m two years later). Microsoft never really knew what to do with SOFTIMAGE, though porting its tools onto its own platforms definitely played a part in helping wean the industry off of SGI workstations and onto Windows NT. Therefore, it was happy to sell it to Avid in 1998, who swiftly rebadged SOFTIMAGE | DS as Avid |DS. The SOFTIMAGE 3D software division was eventually sold again to Autodesk in 2008, when the name disappeared.

Langlois had left much earlier, though, in 1998. He set up the Daniel Langlois Foundation in 1997, a private, philanthropic charitable organization that sought to further artistic and scientific knowledge by fostering the meeting of art and science in technology. And he became closely involved in sustainable development and research projects for different sectors such as hospitality. The high-end Coulibri Ridge resort in Dominica was part of that work. As recently as November 3, 2023, during the island’s Independence celebrations, the government of Dominica honored Langlois with a Meritorious Service Award for his contributions to sustainable development and research projects.

Langlois and Marchand’s deaths have shocked communities in Dominica, back in Quebec, and VFX communities around the world. I interviewed him a couple of times in the 1990s, and he was both as charming and effortlessly cool as he was intense and visionary. His legacy will remain, but the world is definitely a poorer place without him in it. 

Tags: Post & VFX