maxon Cinema 4D 8.5

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RECOMMENDED

An excellent mid-range solution that manages the near-impossible: making the difficult task of 3D modeling both creative and intuitive.

While a budget program like Carrara Studio 3 is up to most 3D tasks such as bringing a 2D logo to life, creating a high-impact introduction to a presentation and even producing impressive works of art - ultimately it’s not up to producing truly realistic immersive worlds. From its name it’s clear that the mid-range Cinema 4D 8.5, is designed to break through that limitation and its credentials are proved by starring cameos in major blockbusters such as Star Wars and Spiderman. This emphasis on absolute realism in its output is reflected in Maxon’s company slogan “3D for the Real World”, which also shows the importance placed on productivity and getting the job done as efficiently as possible.

This productivity comes firstly from Cinema 4D’s excellent interface. This is simplicity itself (well for a 3D application it is). Panning, rotating and zooming your scene, for example, which Carrara makes a huge song and dance about is efficiently handled with small icons at the top of the Viewport window. Moving and positioning your objects is also simpler than in Carrara – simply drag on the object’s x, y and z arrows when you need to constrain movement and toggle the four-pane view – top, left, right and perspective by default - when you need to arrange and align your scene. For absolute control meanwhile, the modeless Attributes Manager means that all properties can be changed precisely with the object updating in real-time.

The ease of use and extra power becomes even more apparent when it comes to modeling. In Cinema 4D all modeling, whether based on primitives, splines or polygons, happens in the main window. Polygon mesh editing is naturally central and, with over thirty tools to choose from, it could be intimidating but Cinema 4D makes it as simple as possible – right-click and select extrude, for example, then right click to scale, bevel and so on.

Features such as HyperNURBS make it simple to model advanced objects in Cinema 4D.

Even more powerful than its polygon handling is Cinema 4D’s ability to take 2D splines and instantly extrude, lathe, loft and sweep them into 3D objects based on NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B- Splines are the 3D equivalent of 2D paths). This is particularly well handled as you simply add the effect as a NURBS object and then drag the spline or splines onto it in the hieararchical Objects Manager. You can then fine-tune the effect in the Attributes Manager and it updates in real time or temporarily switch it off to edit your spline(s). Other modifiers such as deformations and arrays can also be applied by similar drag-and-drop in the Objects manager but much the most impressive is the HyperNURBS option which converts your polygon-based models into smoothly curved objects (the level of smoothing can be controlled through weighting) while retaining the easy editability of the simple polygonal cage.

To then bring your models to life, Cinema 4D provides its Material Manager which lets you quickly set up your own shaders built from no less than a dozen layers: color, diffusion, luminance, transparency, reflection, environment, fog, bump, alpha, specular ( ie highlights), glow and real displacement. I particularly like the way that you can drag-and-drop bitmaps from the Browser as texture maps onto your material especially as these can be Photoshop PSD files. For more power Bhodinut’s “Smells Like Almonds” (don’t ask me what it means) range of procedural, ie programmatically created, shaders has been fully integrated enabling advanced effects such as translucency, realistic clouds, true volumetric materials that you can carve into and the ability to creatively combine existing materials say to add realistic rusting to the upward facing faces of a metal material.

Next you can animate your scene. Again Cinema 4D makes this as simple as possible – simply drag the Time Slider, reposition your objects and click record – but when you need more control it’s there on hand complete with auto-keying, a full Timeline and F-Curve editing (a visual view of your keyframes) to make the flow of your animations more naturalistic. There’s also XPresso, a node-based expressions editor which lets you set up relationships between objects, say using the rotation of one object to change the position of another, through simple drag and drop. And Cinema 4D also recognizes the importance of sound with the ability to load and play WAV files (essential for lipsynch) and its 3D sound rendering which enables you to attach sounds to objects so that they seem to move with the animation.

Now you’re ready to output your scene and Cinema 4D again shows its high-end credentials with the ability to render images up to 16,000 pixels square. Quality is also ensured with no less than 8 available anti-aliasing algorithms, up to 256 levels of oversampling, and the ability to control anti-aliasing on an object basis. Also invaluable is Cinema 4D’s integration with larger workflows. In particular you can output to Flash SWF format, to After Effects project files and to Photoshop PSD format complete with separate layers/channels for features such as individual lights, shadows, reflections, highlights and objects – ideal for efficient and creative post-processing.

Cinema 4D’s excellent material and rendering engines result in truly realistic output.

But hang on: what about those high-end rendering features such as support for radiosity, caustics and image-based lighting that the budget Carrara Studio provides? These are available (and with considerably more power and control) to Cinema 4D users but only if you purchase the separate Advanced Rendering module. While you’re at it, you might well be interested in Maxon’s other modules: Thinking Particles a particle animation system; PyroCluster volumetric particle effects for producing realistic clouds, fire and smoke; MOCCA for realistic character animation including Soft IK; Net Render for sharing the processing burden of rendering across your network; Dynamics for setting up real world physical effects such as gravity, collisions and wind; the superb BodyPaint 3D 2 for controlling surface materials in real time by painting directly onto your 3D models; and the latest module, Sketch and Toon, for advanced artistic NPR rendering.

The problem of course is that costs soon mount up. Maxon does offer discounted bundles, but if you go for the full power of the Studio suite which includes all modules apart from the latest Sketch and Toon you’re talking about an all-in price of £2160 inc VAT! For that price you might well want to take a look at other, more mainstream options such as LightWave and 3ds max which offer the benefits that come from larger communities of users (support, training, an add-on market and so on). Most users though won’t need the full range of power that Maxon offers and as such its modular approach is one of Cinema 4D’s biggest strengths as it effectively lifts the ceiling on what you can do while ensuring that you only pay for the functionality that you need.

For its smooth workflow and smooth modeling, its integration with other applications, its natural if expensive upgrade path and its amazing combination of creativity and productivity, I’ve become a hopeless fan of Cinema 4D.

Features
5
Ease of Use
6
Value for Money
5
Overall
5

ratings out of 6

System Requirements: CPU from 1GHz, 512MB of RAM , 200MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP, 1024x768 display, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

September 2004


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