|By George Maestri
Cinema 4D has been slowly gaining respect in the 3D world. The software provides excellent modeling, animation, and rendering tools for both Mac and PC platforms at less than $600 for the base package. Version 8 further strengthens Maxon Computer's flagship product by adding advanced rendering, particles, and character animation tools.
For more demanding users, the XL bundle at $1695 contains additional modules, including Advanced Rendering, Network Rendering, Thinking Particles, Pyrocluster, and Mocca for character animation. With this version, Maxon has separated the modules so that users can order only the ones they need. With each costing from $200 to $500, however, it makes sense to order the XL package with everything.
With this new release, Cinema 4D's interface has been updated to improve workflow. Along the top and left side of the window is a palette with the most common commands. Along the right side is a scene browser and the new Attribute Editor. A timeline and a materials window appear along the bottom of the viewport.
One nice new interface feature is the Attribute Manager, a window that consolidates a number of disparate dialog boxes into one interface. In addition to parameters common to all objects, such as position, rotation, and scaling, the Attribute Manager also displays parameters unique to a selected object. A HyperNURBS object would have an extra panel to control the amount of subdivisions on a surface, for example.
Expressions also have seen interface improvements. Cinema 4D provides Xpresso, a node-based interface for setting up and modifying expressions. The visual interface sets up each object as a node, the attributes of which can be connected to attributes on other objects.
You can model in Cinema 4D using primitives, NURBS, and polygons. The package comes with most of the standard primitives, which are all parametric, so they can be modified in real time.
One of Cinema 4D's new features is the Attribute Manager, which consolidates most dialog boxes into a single, seamless interface.
Image courtesy Maxon Computer.
The NURBS implementation is basic, offering the ability to draw curves, then lathe, extrude, or sweep them into 3D objects. Polygonal modeling probably is the best way to model in Cinema 4D, particularly when combined with HyperNURBS—basically a fancy name for subdivision surfaces. New to this version is the ability to weight specific vertices of a HyperNURBS object, allowing a higher degree of control over the resulting surface.
Rendering has been upgraded, with most of the improvements included in the new Advanced Rendering module, which supports features such as radiosity and caustics. The depth of field is powerful and has the added feature of being able to animate camera perspective over time.
Mocca, the new character animation module, allows for both motion capture and character animation. Rigging has been made easier with the ability to mirror bones as well as paint deformation maps.
Animation is simplified though a feature called Pose2pose, which enables you to create libraries of character poses, then drag them to the timeline. You easily can animate transitions between the poses. Taking this a step further is Mocca's MoMix tool, which groups any number of motions into tracks that can be placed in the timeline and mixed to create complex movements.
One special feature is the Cappucino animation tool, which lets you manipulate characters as you would puppets, in real time. As your animation and soundtrack play, you can use your mouse or graphics tablet to manipulate any number of 3D objects and create a rough motion track that can be refined as your scene progresses.
Thinking Particles is the new particle system module for Cinema 4D, and it builds on Xpresso's node-based interface. It makes creating complex effects simple and efficient. Particles can interact with one another as well as with other forces such as gravity, wind, and friction. Another new module is Pyrocluster, a volumetric shading system that uses particles to simulate smoke, dust, clouds, fire, and so forth.
Overall, I like Cinema 4D. This upgrade is a must for current users. At $595, the base package provides excellent bang for the buck for people new to the world of 3D. The XL package is a harder sell for new users, because the price is nearly the same as offerings such as Alias' Maya and NewTek's LightWave. Both Lightwave and Maya offer much more robust tool-kits, particularly in the areas of character animation and special effects. Those considering this package might want to download the free demo from Maxon's Web site and decide for themselves.
George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.
Maxon Computer www.maxon.net
Price: $595 for base package; $1695 for XL bundle
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS 9 or Windows 98/ME; 400mhz PowerPC, Intel Celeron, or AMD Duron