maxon Cinema 4D 9.5 review

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Improved interface, lighting, material handling and rendering ensure that all users benefit from this latest upgrade.

cinema 4d bake

Cinema 4D’s reputation has been booming recently thanks to its core power and value and especially its usability - with its object-based handling and streamlined environment, it’s much the simplest of the high-end modelers. Things can always be improved however and this latest version sees a number of interface tweaks such as a new full-screen toggle for all managers and the ability to select objects with the cursor keys and to rename them directly in the Object Manager. There’s also a new Incremental Save command, the Picture Viewer can display previously rendered multi-pass files and pasted images and the Project, Round, Array and Clone commands now use the Attribute Manager to ensure a smoother workflow.

The biggest usability advance is the reworking of the Content Browser. As well as catalog management this now offers on-the-fly browsing via a new folder-tree view to the left, with instantly resizable thumbnails of all supported file formats generated to the right. The Content Browser also keeps track of all files accessed during the current session for instant access and offers advanced keyword-based file searching. Best of all Cinema 4D and the browser now support presets so that you can quickly save and reload scenes, objects, materials, shaders, tags, render settings and render effect settings. The difference this makes to productivity is enormous.

In terms of new creative power, the biggest changes have been made to lighting. The entire system of applying lights has been reworked with a rationalization of both toolbar icons and Attribute Manager properties and the liberating ability for lights to cast shadows without adding illumination. The biggest change is to Cinema 4D’s area lights which can now take any 2D shape or even 3D volume. Creating a disk-based area light is ideal for recreating the illumination from a desk lamp for example, whereas the hemisphere option can be used to simulate natural outdoor lighting.

cinema 4d lighting

Lighting has been comprehensively overhauled.

Cinema 4D’s reworked lighting also becomes apparent when you render your scene with area lights being processed up to four times more quickly and, in conjunction with enhanced area shadow handling, capable of producing near global-illumination quality results. Usability has also been improved with a new Global Brightness setting which is much more convenient than manually updating every light. The biggest advance is the new support for 32-bit per channel output to the most popular HDR (high dynamic range) formats (Radiance and OpenEXR) as well as to TIFF and PSD which ensures maximum quality and post-processing flexibility.

When creating materials these same 32-bit per channel formats are also supported for import which enables more realistic reflection handling. You can also now specify the gamma setting for 32-bit images and quickly set the exposure and black-and-white point for all imported bitmaps. And for Photoshop PSD files you can choose to load individual layers, layer sets, layer masks or alpha channels so that you can handle all material maps via a single file. Cinema 4D 9.5 also adds an entirely new material-based capability with its support for Normal Mapping. This is best seen as a cross between bump-mapping and displacement in which a RGB texture map is used to control the XYZ dimensions of a surface’s normals. What that means in practice is that a low-polygon object can quickly be given the appearance of high-polygon modeling – especially useful for computer game production.

Bringing together Cinema 4D 9.5’s advances in both rendering and material systems is the completely reworked Bake Texture capability. This converts complex materials built up from multiple channels and advanced procedural shaders into simple texture maps so cutting rendering time dramatically especially for animations. In the past baking could only be done laboriously one texture tag at a time, but now all of an object’s materials are baked together. There is also far more control over the process including the ability to set exactly which channels to include (these can also now be saved as layers in a single PSD file) and to preview the texture before baking.

cinema 4d bake

The new Content Browser and Baking capabilities shine when creating materials.

Particularly useful is the ability to bake not just channel shaders but lighting, shadows and reflection which, after a bit of work assigning texture maps, leads to further significant boosts to rendering speed. Even more impressive, if you are a proud owner of the Advanced Render Module (see opposite), is Cinema 4D 9.5’s ability to also bake in Global Illumination and Ambient Occlusion and to convert Sub-Polygonal Displacement to Normal Mapping. The new Baking capabilities are an excellent example of Cinema 4D 9.5’s in-built power and its extensibility. And typically Cinema 4D 9.5 also goes a step further to make the whole process as simple as possible with its new Bake Object command which not only generates the desired texture maps, but also creates and applies a new multi-channel material based on them.

With unmatched ease of use, core power and a very attractive price, Cinema 4D provides an excellent 3D platform. Even better, thanks to advanced add-on modules such as Advanced Render and Sketch and Toon, it’s a platform on which you can build.


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ratings out of 6

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System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP

Tom Arah

December 2005

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