Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 11 (November 2001)

Cinema 4D XL

By George Maestri

Maxon got a late start in the 3D business. While many of the major modeling and animation packages have been around for a decade or more, Maxon's Cinema 4D XL has existed for only about five years. In this time, however, the company has created a robust and competitive package.

Although I conducted this review on a dual-processor Windows 2000 machine, Cinema 4D runs on Macintosh systems too. Dongles are not required, and the soft ware supports multiple processors as well as OpenGL. The one setup glitch involved my ancient CalComp graphics tablet. When the tablet driver was running, the application wouldn't start. As soon as I removed the driver, everything worked perfectly. I think it might be time for me to get a new tablet.

Cinema 4D's interface is user friendly and efficient. Like many advanced packages, its menus are customizable, which enables you to create your own interfaces for specific applications such as modeling or character animation.
Cinema 4D's global illumination feature enables artists to create realistic indoor and outdoor lighting.

For modeling, the software supports a wide variety of geometry types, including polygonal and NURBS objects. The NURBS implementation, how ever, is basic. Although the software supports the typical extrude, lathe, and loft surfaces, most advanced NURBS tools, such as curves on surface, blends, fillets, and surface continuity, are not supported.

In addition to NURBS, Cinema4D has a feature called HyperNURBS, which are actually subdivision surfaces. Personally, I prefer this method of modeling over traditional NURBS in any package because it is easier to use. One nice modeling tool is Matrix Extrude, which enables you to extrude faces on a model automatically with user-defined offsets.

Another type of available geometry is metaballs. These were popular a few years ago, but have fallen out of favor with most modelers because they create dense and complex surfaces. However, metaballs are good for a number of visual effects in which objects need to "blob" together, such as liquids and other particle system effects. The metaball implementation in Cinema 4D allows for spheres, splines, and points to be made into blobby objects.

Animation is well supported. For character animation, Cinema 4D supports in verse kinematics and mesh deformation tools. The skeletons created with the IK sys tem tend to resemble those created in NewTek's LightWave, with each bone having a "target" to point at. In a simple arm, for example, the biceps would point to the elbow, and the forearm to the wrist. For more complicated setups, Cinema4D al lows bones to point at multiple targets. There are a few features missing, however, such as spline IK and the concept of an IK "chain," which allows groups of joints to behave in a predictable manner.

Mesh deformation in Cinema 4D is based upon bone-to-vertex weighting. It would be nice to also have the ability to place gizmos around a joint, such as in Alias|Wavefront's Maya and Discreet's 3ds max. For facial animation, the software supports morphing between multiple targets. Another way to do facial animation is with Cinema 4D's point-level animation tools. These enable you to define clusters of vertices, edges, or faces, and animate them.

Rendering in Cinema 4D has seen a number of notable improvements over past versions. Like many other renderers, it now supports caustics, which are formed by light that is reflected or transmitted by a number of specular surfaces before interacting with a diffuse surface. The software also supports global illumination, which simulates the natural scattering of light through a room. In a few tests that I ran, global illumination looked great. Rendering times seem fast enough for animation production, not just for architectural and still images.

Another excellent new feature is multi-pass rendering. This is becoming an essential tool for anyone involved in visual effects, as it enables you to separate the layers of a scene so they can be tweaked in a compositing program. For added speed, Cinema4D now includes adaptive anti-aliasing, which smoothes the pixels only on those edges that need it. This speeds up rendering times significantly with little loss to image quality.

To complement Cinema 4D, Maxon offers BodyPaint, a 3D paint package. The application has a full palette of painting tools, with standard paintbrushes as well as brushes that simulate other materials such as chalk, charcoal, watercolor, felt pens, and many more.

Overall, Cinema 4D is a mid-range application that should compete well with packages such as LightWave. Because the software is relatively new in comparison to other offerings, it doesn't have as much of an installed base, particularly in the US. This, however, shouldn't be a deterrent for those wanting a professional-level 3D package at a reasonable price.

George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.

Cinema 4D XL
Price: $1695 (BodyPaint 3D, $595)
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 95/98/NT/2000/ME or Macintosh OS 7.61+ and Mac OS X; 64MB of RAM

Maxon Computer