Design That Makes Sense

March 25, 2012 9:11 pm

Tags: 3D, Adobe, After Effects, CINEMA 4D, Design, MAXON, Meleah Maynard

New York City-based Thornberg & Forester’s creative directors on why they’re increasingly relying on Cinema 4D

All creative people have their own way of doing things and Thornberg & Forester’s artists are no different. “We like to start with ideas first and decide what the software workflow will be later,” says Scott Matz, who founded the New York City-based studio with Justin Meredith and Elizabeth Kiehner in 2007.

While T&F wouldn’t say they have a signature style, agencies and individual clients often tell them that they appreciate both the thinking and the artistry behind the studio’s work. Until a few years ago, New York City-based Thornberg & Forester used Autodesk’s Maya for the bulk of their creative projects. Slowly, though, they’ve made Maxon’s Cinema 4D their “go-to option,” Meredith says. “We still use Maya, especially for character animation, but Cinema is proving its worth more and more and we can output something from Cinema that looks just as real as it does out of Maya.”


Faces of competing chef’s were often reflected in the knives shown in the show package Thornberg & Forester created for The Next Iron Chef.

In addition to being a reliable tool for producing “photo-real quality” work, C4D has caught on at Thornberg & Forester because designers are able to intuitively use the software quickly. “The type of animators and designers we work with really understand how Cinema works,” says Matz. “We like that they can just be artists and not have to think about a lot of technical issues.” (Watch their reel:

Iron Chef

Recently, the studio has opted to use Cinema 4D on several projects, including new show openers and broadcast ID packages for the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. “Iron Chef was a project that required a lot of organization and careful planning because we had to make sure we would be able to swap in new contestants for every season,” says C4D artist Keith Endow.


Titles for Iron Chef America were intentionally dramatic and included animated textures created with C4D

In addition, titles for both shows not only needed to be unique. Each had to feature a subtly different logo that felt heroic in some way. Varied textures and layered, extruded type were used to create an eye-catching look. While Iron Chef America’s titles were focused on dramatic movement and animated textures, The Next Iron Chef’s titles centered around a 3D world designed to pull the viewer toward the enormous logo at the end. [Watch the videos: and]

“For The Next Iron Chef show open we built the screens behind the title as a separate pass,” Endow explains, adding that blue flames were composited in with Red Giant’s Form plug-in. Those same flames are seen again in the ring of fire shot in the Iron Chef America open. “For these spots, we put as much work into post as we did into the 3D process,” he adds.

National Geographic Adventure

For the National Geographic Channel Thornberg & Forester created three network ID’s that “immerse viewers in different, yet related, journeys to convey a sense of place and destination,” Matz explains. In one ID, entitled Adventure, white bricks rapidly come together to create a “Temple-of-Doom-like” maze of subterranean tunnels. Only at the end is the National Geographic Channel logo revealed. [See the spot here:]


The maze of cubes in the National Geographic Adventure spot was inspired in part by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Thornberg & Forester’s C4D artist Michael Russo used MoGraph to construct the maze of tunnels. “Basically, I made a single wall of cubes, duplicated it four times and then arranged them to form a tunnel,” he explains. Next, he cloned that tunnel until he had enough to form the maze that the camera moves through.

The trip through the maze is meant to feel as if someone is running, looking for a way out, says Russo. “I animated the position of the Random Effectors to make the walls slowly close in as the camera passes by, and I put a vibrate tag on the camera to create the feel of someone running.” Just before the logo reveal, in the final tunnel, Russo used dynamics to get a few bricks to bounce around as if they’d been jostled by the runner.

For the yellow and white rectangles, Russo cloned splines, and then placed them in Extrude Nurbs. This gave him the ability to disable the Extrude Nurbs in order to greatly increase editor performance while using the splines as a reference point when animating the camera move. Next, Russo used a Shader Effector to create the undulating cubes falling into place, revealing the National Geographic logo mapped onto the squares. (Watch a second National Geographic spot here:

Ultimate Car Build-Off

Discovery Channel’s Ultimate Car Build-Off is “sort of a fusion between Monster Garage and MythBusters,” Meredith says. With this in mind, Thornberg & Forester’s mission was to design and produce a high-adrenaline show package that reflected the show’s drama and tension as teams compete to build the ultimate car.


Thornberg & Forester designed the Ultimate Car Build-Off show open to reflect the tension and drama of something being built over time. They also created custom audio for the spot.

“Our goal was to make the look and the movement photo-real,” says C4D artist Joe Russ. After designing the logo, he and others on the creative team did a few pencil sketches of ideas for the open before starting work in C4D and After Effects. “Once a concept was approved for the open, the production was pretty simple stuff, mostly extruded shapes and hand-made textures,” he adds. “But a great sense of weight was achieved by respecting the forms as heavy metal objects that were inspired by parts of a turbo engine.” (See the open here:

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Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. Contact her at her website:



March 26, 2012

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