Review Maxon's Cinema 4D XL R8

Paula Sanders

Ever since I saw the demonstration of Cinema 4D XL R8 at Siggraph 2002 this summer, I wanted to review it. I was very impressed with not only the new features but the simplification of many of the procedures, especially the look of the Attribute Manager. Last year I used Cinema 4D XL for the first time. This was version 7. The review can be found by clicking on the the highlighted word "review." I mention this specifically because I had to spend time learning the program before I could review it. Subsequently, I have reviewed another 3D program and I realized in retrospect and comparison how easy it was to learn Cinema 4D.

Before I actually review the product by discussing how the new features work and the learning curve necessary to use them, I will discuss the features of Cinema 4D R8. I will be reviewing the XL bundle using Windows 2000.

Maxon has changed how it is selling Cinema 4D R8. One can purchase the core of the program, which is Cinema 4D R8 and then add modules on to it. One can also purchase two pre-bundled versions, Cinema 4D XL or Cinema 4D Studio bundle.

The price for the new user for the core of the program, Cinema 4D R8, is USD $595.00. The price for Cinema 4D XL R8 is $1695.00 and for the Studio bundle $2495.00. I will discuss what comprises each bundle shortly. I will also list a few of the upgrade prices for the US and Canada. More prices as well as the cost for European editions and other country's can be found on the Maxon website in the Maxon shop.

From Cinema 4D XL R7 to Cinema 4D XL R8 the cost is $495.

From Cinema 4D XL R7 to Cinema 4D Studio Bundle R8 the cost is $1,495.

From ART R6 or R7 to Cinema 4D + Advanced Render Module the cost is $495.

The minimum system requirements are: Mac OS 9.x or Windows 98/ME; 128 MB Ram; Power PC, Intel Celeron or AMD Duron; and compatibles with 400 MHz.

The recommended System requirements are: Mac OS x or Windows NT4/2000/XP; 512 MB Ram; Power PC' Intel pentium 4, or AMD Athlon with I GHz.

As stated earlier, the core program is Cinema 4D R8. The available modules are: Mocca, Advanced Render, Thinking Particles, PyroCluster, Dynamics, Net Render, and BodyPaint 3D. Since BodyPaint 3D has not been upgraded since the last version, you can see my review of it by clicking on the underlined word review. However, I will mention it and the new module or upgrade for Cinema 4D R8.

What is Cinema 4D and what are the new and improved features of the program? Cinema 4D is a modeling and animation program that is sophisticated, affordable, and, even for complete 3D novices, can be learnt in a moderate length of time. For a 3D program, it is easy to learn.

According to Maxon, nearly all areas of Cinema 4D have been enhanced including modeling, animation, rendering, and especially workflow through the new and extremely time saving Attribute Manager which I will discuss in depth later in this review. The modules contained in Cinema 4D XL R8 are: Advanced Render, Mocca (character animation), Thinking Particles, Pyrocluster, and Net Render. I found this version comparison chart provided by Maxon to be very useful; thus, I am including it in this review. Notice, it lists features, some of which are modules while others are components of modules.

Features
Release 8
Cinema 4D
Cinema 4D XL R8
Cinema 4D XL R8 Studio Bundle
XPresso
x
x
x
Caustics
x
x
x
Radiosity
x
x
x
Mocca
x
x
x
Advanced Render
x
x
x
Thinking particles
x
x
x
PyroCluster
x
x
x
Net Render (3 Client License)
x
x
xz
Net Render (Unlimited License)
x
x
x
Dynamics
x
x
x
BodyPaint
x
x
x
z
xzz
zzxz
z
Features
Release 7
z
z
Cinema 4D XL V7
z
XPresso
z
z
z
Caustics
zz
x
z
Radiosity
z
x
z
Mocca
z
z
z
Advanced Render
z
zz
z
Thinking Particles
z
z
z
PyroCluster
z
z
z
Net Render (3 Client License)
z
x
z
Net Render (Unlimited License)
z
z
z
Dynamics
z
zz
z
BodyPaint
z
z
z

Maxon seems to have gone out of its way to provide links to information about its products. The Maxon website contains an exeptional display of information about this product through movies, displays, and text. Another source for information about Cinema 4D as well as a demo of this version can be found at another place on Maxon's website.

I like to have a perspecive when writing a review because, then, I feel it is easier for the reader to evaluate the product. I, also, like to follow forums on the product to see what basic questions users have. Prior to reviewing Cinema 4D XL R8, I checked forums regulary and discovered that there were still a number of users who were either newbies to any Maxon product, interested in adding modules to this version of Cinema 4D, or considering purchasing it for the first time. Thus, I am taking the perspective of exploring Cinema 4D as a new user. Since I am more experienced in using 2D programs, although I use and have reviewed many 3D programs, this is not an artificial way for me to approach this program and review.

As I stated in the beginning, I first saw this program demonstrated at Siggraph 2002. What struck me initially was the new Attribute Manager. No longer will one have to open a miriad of possibly different dialog boxes to make changes. All changes can be made from the Attribute Manager's window. The following screen captures show the correspondence between the Object Manager and the new Attribute Manager.

Object Manager
Corresponding Attribute Manager
Object Manager
Corresponding Attribute Manager

It is hard to praise the Attribute Manager enough. While writing this review, I often went back and forth between R7 and R8. While I liked R7 and have worked with it, everytime I go back to it, I keep forgetting to open palettes and keep looking for the Attribute Manager. I can't say enough about everything being in one place. One can reference and manipulate almost (and I have to use that word) any property from this Manager.

In a similar vein, no longer will one have to group objects before making multiple selections since R8 allows for multiple selections. As can be seen by the table below, two objects were selected in the Object Manager and both were rotated simultaneously.

Objects in Viewport
Corresponding Object Manager

Maxon's Cinema 4D XL R8 bundle comes with a comprehensive in depth 1,000 pages manual for the core of the program, a manual for each of the modules, and a tutorial manual. There are also other tutorials on the Maxon website and in some of the graphic communities described on the website. The manuals for the different modules also contains tutorials where appropriate.

Since I review products and believe manuals to be helpful, I always pay attention to the manuals that come with the product. Often a tutorial manual can determine how easy it is to learn a new program. Initially I explored the tutorial manual that accompanied the core Cinema 4D R8. This tutorial manual is one I recommend strongly. It is excellently organized and unusually well written and thorough. This manual is one of the easiest to follow that I have used. It is task oriented rather than project oriented as was the one for R7. It has sections on modeling, animation, lights, etc. It also summarizes each section and shows how the skills learnt can be applied to other areas.

One of the basic properties of a program is its interface. If it is not easy to maneuver around in it or to customize it, it will affect the productive use of the program. The Basic interface of Cinema 4D R8 is similar to that of R7 except it has added a few new areas such as the Attribute Manager. Just one example of many how the Attribute manager can save time can be found in one of the tutorials. In a prior version, I would have had to have not only the Material Editor open but other palettes as well. Instead, I In R8, I can manipulate everything by means of the Attribute Manager. Each time I would click on an object or property, for example, in the object Manager, or the Material Editor, I could make all my changes on it through the Attribute Manager. Thus, if I was doing an animation, and had the timeline across the bottom of my screen and didn't want to open the Material Editor, I could make changes to a specific material through the Attribute Manager.

Changing Properties for an Animation in the Attribute Manager

The interface of Cinema 4D is very flexible. Individual tool palettes can be created and saved while "Editors" like the Material Editor can be moved to a new location and docked . This layout can then be saved. There is an icon in the upper left corner of the tool bar that one can click on to access a drop down menu showing different interface configurations. See the screen capture on the left. Again, I can't stress how handy this is. I guess, while I never thought R7 was clumsy, in comparrison to R8 it is because R8 has so many features that have been streamlined without losing any of their power. There are also many predefined and specialized tool bars that can be added permanently or "at will" to the interface. The example on the right shows a few of the various selection tools and commands.

Maxon has also made others more areas of the program more powerful to increase and streamline workflow such as OpenGL. According to Maxon, with a video card that supports OpenGL, the speed rate is 2- 4 times faster than R7. In addition, this new OpenGL supports adaptive plane redraw (PC Only), genlocking for realtime texture mapping, and improved texture interpolation.

As an aside, it was nice to see that Maxon is realistic in its benchmark systems. In the Advanced Renduring module, it states that its benchmark system is a 1 GHz Athlon with 256 MB of memory. For a machine to be used for 3D images as well as animation, this above machine is even on the slow side, in my opinion. But a lower level machine is so much better than a higher level one that no one can afford to own but a professional studio. When I tested it on my more powerul Athlon, it rendured in a little over 7 minutes. Maxon's time for their benchmark machine was 20 minutes.

Maxon has also beefed up it rendering capabilities. It is up to 40% faster than previous version of Cinema 4D. It also takes advantage of innovations in CPU technology such as hyperthreading.

For those individuals not familiar with multi-rendering, I'd like to spend some time describing its merits. It allows for "layered rendering". The example in the tutorial was so clearcut that I have used it, along with other examples from this manual, throughout this review. The concept of multi-rendering is that once rendered changes such as object colors can be changed in an image editing program and the file does not have to be renderd again. This, of course, can be a huge time saver. In addition, Cinema 4D R8 integrates with Adobe After Effects 5.5 to expand on this concept. As can be seen in the image on the right, the warm light and the cold light set layers can be expanded so that the colors of these two lights can be changed and, thus, the color of the car.

Before one starts to render a scene, render options should be set. Cinema 4D R8 allows for a lot of fine tuning. The screen below just shows a few of the options for multi-pass rendering since fly-out menus can be activated.

Cinema 4D R8 has expanded on its import and export formats. The following is a list of the file formats that a Cinema 4D file can be exported to.Some of the new formats are STL import/export; UZR which enables 3D models to be viewed on the internet without additional software; improved Shockwave 3D export which will deliver correct lighting, reflecions, and bone deformations. Also new Flash export will create SWF files for both still and animated imagery.

The tools for animation have also been improved, especially the new F-curve to fine tune changes of state, motion, etc. in an animation. Even someone not very familiar with creating animations should find the timeline and F-Curve easy to use.

Example of an F-Curve Creating a Variable Rotation of a Propeller

The Timeline has been improved with drag and drop functionality. Objects can be dragged into the timeline window; X, Y, and Z coordinates can be animated separately and each track can display an F-Curve. These are just a few of the improvements.

The new Node Editor called XPresso adds a lot to the field of animation and lets non-programmers visually build expressions and scripts. XPresso can be used with the Thinking Particles for some outstanding particle effects and with Mocca for advanced character animation.

The screen capture above shows how easy it is to access the XPresso Editor. All one has to do is right click on an object, in this case a cube, in the Object Manager.

One can build all sorts of relationships visually with the XPresso Manager by connecting nodes and creating relationships. To quote from the manual, page 915 " In earlier versions of Cinema 4D, to create extra interactions between objects required you to manually program C.O.F.F.E.E. expressions; and you can still do so if you like."

Some extremely useful tools have been added to the Cinema 4D collection. Some of these are: edge selection tools, edge selection mode, and hyperNURBs weighting. However, as is true of all many faceted programs, a list does not do justice to describe all the various new features. In edge selection mode, the user has the ability to cut, extrude, level, and weight edges. One can take a hyperNURB, in this instance a cube dropped into a hyperNURB on the Object Manager, make it editable, and then select 3 edges using the new Edges Selection Tool which is the middle tool of the tools on the left and the Live Selection Tool which is the tool on the right.

The circle shows the three edgest that are being selected through the use of the Edge Tool and the Live Selection Tool. To weight these edges, for example, all one has to do, is hold down the period key and drag the mouse to the left or right. Numbers near the bottom of the screen on the left will change as the mouse is dragged either left or right.

There are many other new features to the core of Cinema 4D R8 such as light inclusion/exclusion where lights for a scene can be turned on or off to create articial landscapes. Shaders have been improved, for example, to take advantage of new gradient functions. Color and Xray properties can be enabled for objects in the viewport for easy identification.

Default Cube
Default Cube with Xray
Colored Cube
Colored Cube with Xray

In the same manner, a Null Object's identifying shape - a dot - can be changed as well as its color. This is especially useful if one has a number of null objects.

Since I am reviewing the XL bundle, I will review the modules starting with Thinking Particles. I am introducing each one separately so that readers can gain a good perspective, I hope, on each one.

Thinking Particles is a modular based particle system. It uses building blocks - nodes - as does XPresso. It builds on XPresso's system, and when they are teamed up together they can create some very powerful effects. All of these effects can be as simple or complicated as the user wants to make them. Obviously, the learning curve for the new user will be steep, but the tutorials are a great way to start. The manual that accompanies each module also has a lot of information to help the new user as well as the more experienced one. The effects produced through Thinking Particles are controlled by object and particle interaction. One can get far away from simple particles reacting to wind or gravity. These Thinking Particles can work as independent groups, take many different shapes, change shapes as they move, and individual particles can take the motion of another object. To see Thinking Particles in action go to Maxon's website > products and click on the module Thinking Particles. Then click on the Quick Time screen to activate it.

A few paragraphs above is a very simple XPresso statement in the XPresso Editor. Following is a much more complicated relationship of actions, states, positions, etc. also in the XPresso Editor that combines Thinking Particle Expressions with XPresso Expressions.

Below is the Object Manager and a frame of this animation which contains shapes deforming and moving in and out of the window. These examples are from one of the tutorials that I did.

The Object Manager
Frame 33 of the Animation

The reason I keep stressing the excellent manuals and tutorials provided by Maxon is because I cannot see how users could learn these modules on their own without them. Since I was not familiar with Thinking Particles before I began to work with this module, I know that I would have been lost had I not had progressively built tutorials.

PyroCluster can also be integrated with Thinking Particles to add special material effects like explosions, smoke, dust, fire, etc. PyroCluster is a volumetric shading system which puts a procedural volume around each particle. Pyro Cluster will interact with either the regular particle system that comes with Cinema 4D's core package or it will interact wth Thinking Particles.

PyroCluster works with easily accessible gradient controls. One can animate Puffs, i.e., particles that have had a PyroCluster material appplied to them the normal way or through special gradients. The following graphics show a very basic and elementary set up for a PyroCluster effect.

Material Manager
Object Manager

Almost all parameters of a PyroCluster material can be animated leading to some very complicated looking effects. Another simple effect illustrated by a Maxon tutorial is comprised of Puffs growing in size from zero meters to 100 meters. The following are two screen captures of frame 14 and frame 90.

Frame 14
Frame 90

While one can edit multiple parameters and get very compicated effects, the standards such as smoke, clouds, fire, etc have defaults that can be used as is or as a starting point.

One can preview each frame by selecting the preview option. PyroCluster also adds a lot to 2D images. These effects can be saved in a 2D format and worked with as a post-render image.

To see a QuickTime example of PyroCluster, go to the end of the PyroCluster module summary on Maxon's website and click on the QT screen. Be patient, it takes a long time for the QT movie to start.

Cinema 4D XL comes with two rendering packages. Both are very different. Advanced Render allows for more controllable parameters to be offered when rendering and Net Render allows for rendering to be able to be accomplished over a network. This is especially useful when there is one server (in this case a server is the machine on which C4D R8 runs) and multiple client machines. Since I am not in a situation where I can experiment with Net Render, I will just describe it. Again, there is a description of this module in more depth on the Maxon website.

Net Render couples the idea of improved speed by rendering using multiprocessors with the idea of working with a network. Basically, here is how Net Render works. There are two programs, a server program and a client program. The server sends a file to the client program machine to be rendered. This machine, in turn, sends it back to the server when the rendering is complete. Thus, multiple renderings can be done at one time. In Net Render, the server license is not free, but with the Studio bundle, the client licenses are unlimited according to the Maxon documentation. The XL bundle comes with 1 server and 3 client licenses.

Advanced Render adds its own advanced rendering engines to Cinema 4D R8 to create an environment of realism. Using it, one can control Radiosity, Caustics, Depth of Field, and the ability to produce highlights and glowing effects.

Advanced Render through the manipulation of the radiosity controls gives the user the ability to use a skydome to simulate natural enveloping lighting. Adding to this is the ability to manipulate the dials that control the caustics. Caustics controls how the light will look that reflects off of objects.

While depth of field is simulated in most 3D packages to some degree, the Cinema 4D R8's Advanced Render module brings in controls such as the ability to animate perspective over a period of time.

The highlights and glow portion of this module has the ability when activated to analyze a scene and add highlights.

One of the most exciting modules of the XL bundle is the MOCCA module. MOCCA stands for MOtion Capture and Character Animation. In the introduction to the MOCCA module it states that this module is a toolset collection created to build and amplify character developement. It is not a quick fix to create instant animators since this cannot be done. The tutorials in the manual first review forward kinematics, inverse kinematics, and the soft kinematics before going into MOCCA and creating a fully animated character.

I didn't fully work with the MOCCA module since I do not do character animation and, thus, couldn't honestly test it out. I worked with parts of the tutorials to become more familiar with the separate components. MOCCA uses a soft-IK system that can be affected by dynamic forces as well as gravity, inertia, etc. XPresso enters into to this aspect of the Cinema 4D with the MOCCA module by allowing for easier manipulation of these properties through sliders.

Below is a screen capture of the MOCCA plugins.

Two of the tools in MOCCA are a bone manipulation tool for an easy setup of bone chains as well as bone splitting. Bones can also be mirrored thus reducing the amount of work involved. I added bones to the tail by just clicking with the control key using the Bone Tool. Notice how these bones are arranged in the Object Manager as children of each other.

Bone Manipulation Tool

Animation of transitions has been made easy through the Pose2Pose library. All poses can be stored in this library and transistions between them can be controled by the click of a button. MoMix groups motion into tracks that can be placed on a timeline and mixed.

With the Cappucino tool you can "sketch" animation in real-time. You can manipulate 3D objects so as to see a rough outline of the animation.

The Posemixer is an invaluable tool for creating facial animations. Features such as brows, noses, as well as phonemes can be mixed together. These new poses remain linked to the others that were used in their creation so that editing can be done at any time.

Once again, I suggest you look at the MOCCA module on the Maxon website under products to see some of these tools at work.

The BodyPaint 3D upgrade installed perfectly with Cinema 4D XL R8. While it is the same basic program as the standalone BodyPaint 3D V6xxx, this new one is necessary if it is to be integrated with Release 8. For more information, contact Maxon.

Before starting to use BodyPaint 3D as an integrated part of Cinema 4D, it is wise to change the interface. In the top left corner of the screen, you will see a button that looks like the one on the right. When you click on it, a menu will fly out listing the preset interface configurations. One of these is for BodyPaint. And you can set up your screen to look exactly as if you were working in BodyPaint 3D as a standalone application.

There are a lot of materials on the web that relate to Cinema 4D and various versions. More and more are being added for R8. Maxon's website under Support and Resources list various communities, forums, tutorial sites, sites for downloading plugins, and forums. Some of my favorite forums are the Postforum, the Cinema 4D forum on Renderosity's site, the Cinema 4D forum on CGTalk's site, and the Cinema 4D forum on Creative Cow.

If you want to find out more about this excellent and actually "learnable" program even for newbies, I suggest downloading the demo at Demoversions and then going to Documetation and downloading the tutorials and examples, and if you are new to Cinema 4D, start with the tutorials. If you already are a Cinema 4D user, you might want to look through the QuickStart Tutorials found at http://www.maxontech.com/>support>tutorials>Cinema 4D R8 QuickStart.

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  • The Paula Sanders Report is a regular Renderosity Front Page featured column, where Paula investigates and comments on graphic software, techniques, and other relevant material through her reviews, tutorials, and general articles.