Cinema 4D to the Next Level

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Surely anybody who works with 3D graphics has heard about Cinema 4D, be it thanks to BodyPaint (a unique tool that lets you paint textures onto 3D objects) or to the fame it has earned for being user friendly. This last statement may sometimes become a two-edged sword, because I've met a lot of people who think that Cinema 4D is a pretty much a "click the magic button to get your results". The truth is, however, that is entirely false. What actually makes Cinema 4D user friendly is the workflow and how it helps you get the job done by placing the right tools when you need them.

Just like any other app, Cinema 4D can work with the standard primitives (cube, sphere, cone and so on), and you can use them as a starting point to create your models. For organic models, there is a generator that seems to be the most suitable of them all, though: the hyperNURBS. HyperNURBS are basically Subdivision Surfaces. You can create a polygon object and then connect it to a HyperNURBS and you get a smooth version of the same polygon object. Just like Subdivision Surfaces in any other application, the polygon object becomes the "proxy object" that controls the shape of the subdivided model. As a Maya user, I found Cinema to be very confusing at first. In fact, Cinema works very different than the 3D programs that I've used before (Max and Maya), mostly because it relies on what it calls "objects" and how they work with each other, while other 3D apps work mostly with commands. One example of this would be creating a symmetrical object. What you do in Cinema, is first model one half, then use a "symmetry object" and connect it to your model to get the full object (after that, if you want a subdivided version you can use a HyperNURBS object on top of that).


Cinema 4D helps you focus on your task in a very intuitive way. There is a button that lets you switch between "layouts" ("modules" in Maya) depending on whether you are modeling, animating or texturing. If you go to the modeling module, the UI will adjust letting you see modeling-related tools. The same happens for animation and texturing. You can even create your own custom layouts with your personalized tools. The program also lets you install additional modules to add extra functionality to it. They include a better render engine, specialized character animation tools and dynamic simulation tools. The modules work seamlessly within Cinema 4D so you don't need to go into any preferences editor to activate them, since they are easily integrated into the core application. At first this was a little confusing since I was new to Cinema and I couldn't find a way to tell if the modules were active or not (other than actually navigating through the menus and attribute boxes to check for the extra settings and commands).

There are other elements that are used extensively in Cinema: Tags. Tags have a variety of functions, like rendering switches, animation controls or constraints. If you have an object and you need it not to project a shadow or a reflection, for example, you can do that using a Tag. One may wonder why use Tags to create such simple things like "don't cast shadows," however I think it's related to the fact that Cinema lets you add the attributes as you need them.


Character animation in Cinema works in a similar fashion as any other application. However, Cinema adds a very interesting feature meant to make work easier. The obvious question is "how can you do that?" Well, Cinema has a "Visual Selector" tag that you can add to your character. What it does is open a little window with a character figure, and you simply drag and drop your controls over it (for example if you have setup IK chains for your arms and legs, you simply drag them from the object manager onto the Visual Selector. Then every time you want to manipulate that control, you simply click on the icon of your choice in the Visual Selector. If you are a rigging guru, you can also add your own functionality to the rig with Expresso (Cinema's expressions/scripting editor). Any object works with the Visual Selector (even light objects), so you can also put your custom controls in it and be sure they will work.

Another element that became a major difference between Cinema and my current workflow is the materials editor. If you are familiar with the materials editor in Max, then you will have no problems using the one available in Cinema, since they work very much alike. You have the channels and slots to place textures in a very straightforward way, so you will be making your materials in no time. An extremely nice feature in Cinema, is that you activate the new channels as you need them. So, you don't start with a material that includes specular shading, bumping and displacement, but rather you activate them as you go, which works based on the same philosophy of granting you access only to the elements that you need. Cinema 4D also includes some preset procedural materials that recreate a wide variety of effects.


Last year during SIGGRAPH, I grabbed a Cinema 4D 9.5 demo CD. One of the highlights from the Sony Imageworks presentation was that Cinema 4D would seamlessly work in their pipeline, which is a very important feature for any 3D app. In a studio environment it is very likely that you will find some people using Maya, while others are using XSI, Lightwave or anything else, and transfering data from one app to the other is very important. Cinema supports a wide variety of formats, including the industry-standard FBX (note: Cinema supports FBX version 5.0 and 6.0, so make sure you export to FBX 6.0 from your host application). I ran two different tests to check the results, and Cinema was able to read both of them.

I first exported an animated character from Maya into Cinema, and after a few trials I got my fully animated character ready into Cinema. The other test was to import a room that I had created in Maya. The scene had already been textured and lit, so I was very keen to see what the result would be. Just like the first model, my scene imported with no problems (camera, textures and lights included). While both experiments worked, it is needed to mention (although it may be obvious) that not all of the data is transferred, since the programs may have some attributes, nodes or material types that are exclusive to them (for example, my Mentalray shaders were converted to standard blinn materials).


As I said above, Cinema 4D lets you install optional modules depending on the work you need to get done. One of the modules that was more interesting to me was the Advanced Render. The Advanced Render is a render engine that lets you output photorealistic renders using lighting effects and shader attributes. The most common use of the Advanced Render is the architectural visualization, although it can be used for many other applications. Compared to Mentalray, the Advanced Render is really fast. The settings can be tweaked in a way that let you get renders in a decent amount of time without losing much quality. On top of that, the Advanced Render is used to render out the particle and atmospheric effects created by Pyrocluster. The image below shows a render test using a floor object, a sky object with a HDR map applied to it and 3 reflective primitives. The complete GI render (default settings) took no more than 40 seconds on my test system (core 2 duo 1.86ghz).


We all know that Windows Vista is here to stay, so any program that is launched now should include Windows Vista support (although that's not always the case). Another thing to consider is the fact that 3D applications are begining to take advantage of 64 bits architecture (although 64 bits has been on the desktop computers for some time now). Having said this, it is good to know (although completely expected) that Cinema 4D runs perfectly on Windows Vista, even on 64 bits. By default, Cinema 4D installs both a 64 bits and 32 bits excecutable file, so you can choose to run either of them depending on the Windows version you are using. The software runs exactly the same on 32 or 64 bits, which means that anything you create on the 32 bits version can be sent to the 64 bits version for rendering, manipulation or anything you can imagine, and your file will work exactly the same. This may sound a little redundant, but considering that 64 bits have not been completely adopted in our environment, I believe it's worth mentioning.

For every new tool, be it a piece of hardware or a software application, support is very important. Email tech support from Maxon gets your questions answered, although you don't get immediate respones. I had to wait 3 or 4 days to get my questions answered, although I believe that the timeframe may be variable. However, this is something you may want to keep in mind if you are close to a deadline and you've found yourself stuck. On the other hand, Cinema 4D has a large user base and plenty of forums to visit (including our Renderosity Cinema 4D forum). If you have questions about the software, or you need help, make sure to visit the forum since there's always people willing to help.

The basic version of Cinema 4D gives you the tools to create almost everything you want out of the box, however, the additional modules will surely take your work to the next level. Considering that the Studio version is cheaper than most of the competition, I believe it's a very good deal for such a powerful program. Cinema 4D is a program designed to help the user focus on the creative side, without limiting you in what you can do. If you have previous experience with 3D apps, you shouldn't have much problem taking on Cinema. On the other hand, if you have never used any 3D software package, Cinema could be one of your first choices thanks to it's ease of use. Either way, you are likely to love the program after getting used to how it works.

For more information and to download a demo version, please visit the Maxon website.

 


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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.  

 

July 2, 2007


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Member Opinions:
By: deemarie on 7/5/07
The tag function is interesting. I also like the idea that Cinema 4D supports a wide variety of formats. I especially like the idea of the Advanced Shader. Fast renders are an oxymoron in the world of 3D rendering. As a person with little patience, I would consider giving this new version of Cinema 4D a try for that feature alone.

After visiting the Maxon site, I was glad to see that a demo version of Cinema 4D was available. With a purchase price of just under $900, it is good to have the option to try before you buy. Maxon Cinema 4D

Dee-Marie

By: ashwiniflowers on 7/5/07
Sergio,

Nice article. Almost a tutorial. Gave me inspiration to open up Body Paint and spend some time learning instead of .....all the things I do to waste time!

It is nice to remember C4D plays well with others and I can use it with 'kids' from other neighborhoods. Like friendly. What's the word? Interoperatability! We like that.

Best,
Ashwiniflowers

By: DRAKELOT on 7/5/07
Xcellent Sergio

By: Jean-Luc_Ajrarn on 7/14/07
Thanks for this review. :) Also to mention is that C4D has a lot of plug ins available (free or not) online. :)


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