With R14 of Maxon’s CINEMA 4D adding new modelling tools, digital sculpting and Nuke integration, we asked 3D consultant Ben Kitching to run through the new features and let us know what he thought. Well, we say asked. We actually came into the office the day after it came out to find that he’d been 4D-ing for eighteen hours straight…
Maxon have announced that CINEMA 4D R14 will be shipping in September. I made some time over the past few weeks to have a play with the demo version (which is already available from Maxon’s website) and yet again Maxon have come up with an exciting release. CINEMA 4D R14 strikes the right balance between adding new features and improving on existing workflows.
There are way too many new and improved features to cover them all here, so I’ll focus on a few of my favourite ones.
One of the biggest additions to R14 is sculpting. This feature is only available in the Studio edition, and is a completely new toolset for CINEMA 4D. It adds sculpting tools like those found in the likes of Mudbox or ZBrush, enabling artists to quickly add fine detail to polygon meshes. While the toolset is nowhere near as comprehensive as that found in ZBrush, the de facto industry standard, the tools on offer are more than suitable for 3D generalists.
Artists are able to subdivide their base meshes to add resolution and then use tools such as wax, pinch, pull and stamp to add detail to the geometry. Maxon have opted for a layer-based system, giving fine-grained control of this added detail with the ability to switch layers on and off and vary their opacity. Added detail can be baked into texture maps to improve the rendering performance and make it easy to move the extra detail into game engines or other rendering software.
In typical Maxon style, these features are easy to use without sacrificing power, and when combined with the other toolsets in CINEMA 4D they can give some interesting and unique results.
Also included in R14 are a whole raft of new camera tools and enhancements, the most obvious of which are the new viewport camera transitions. Changing the viewport view from one camera to another now results in an animated transition between the cameras. This feels like a gimmick at first, but the more you use it the more you realize its usefulness in helping you to understand where the cameras are placed. This is especially useful in complex scenes with many cameras. It’s little things like this that I love about CINEMA 4D.
As well as this, there is the new Camera Calibrator, which is essentially a camera tracker but implemented in Maxon’s trademark easy-to-use style. Its purpose is to match your virtual camera settings to a photographic backdrop, so that the perspective and scale of your 3D objects will match. Placing lines, grids and measurements on to your photographic backdrop accomplishes this so that CINEMA 4D can calculate the perspective and scale. Once this is done, you can create a tag to place on to your objects that will adjust their perspective to match your scene. In use, this is very effective – another nice tool.
There are other smaller but no less useful improvements, too. There are now presets to add realistic shake to a camera, with settings to mimic jerky handheld cameras or the smooth motion of a steadicam. There are even settings to control the height of the virtual cameraman, complete with a representative stick man in your viewport. Camera focal points can now be chosen by clicking the object to focus on in the viewport rather than having to mess around in orthographic views.
Finally, the camera morph tool will take several different cameras, even animated ones, and create a single camera which transitions between them all smoothly. Anyone who’s tried to animate complex cameras in a 3D app will appreciate this feature, which makes the whole process easier.
CINEMA 4D has always had excellent interoperability with programs like Adobe After Effects and Illustrator, but Maxon have raised their game with R14 and added Nuke and Photoshop interoperability into the mix as well. These are two widely used and highly regarded programs in their own right, and Maxon have made it easy to move content from CINEMA 4D into them. You can now generate a layered Nuke project file from your render passes and even import geometry into Nuke via the FBX format. Maxon also supply an Adobe Photoshop Extended plugin that allows you to directly open a CINEMA 4D scene as a 3D layer inside of Photoshop Extended.
Very few digital artists do all of their work in a single program so to have these simple ways to move content in and out of CINEMA 4D to other widely used apps is a huge saver of time and frustration.
CINEMA 4D’s render pass system now includes a ‘position pass’ option. This will generate a simple matte pass, colouring objects in flat, high contrast colors. This allows easy selection of objects within a compositing application, aiding advanced effects such re-lighting.
Maxon have also added Alembic support to R14. Developed by Sony Imageworks and ILM as a replacement for the ageing OBJ format, this is a new open source file format. It was designed as an efficient way to transfer assets and animation between software packages in a VFX pipeline while keeping disk usage to a minimum. It is too complex to go into detail here, but it’s nice to see Maxon supporting this high-end format in CINEMA 4D.
Interface and Workflow Enhancements
As usual Maxon have made several usability enhancements to the interface for R14. Objects in the viewport are now highlighted as the cursor hovers over them and remain highlighted in a different colour when selected. These highlights outline the actual object rather than showing a bounding box as in previous releases, making selections easier and more accurate.
R14 now allows you to define ‘workplanes’, which are like the default grid but can be oriented any way you like, with the co-ordinate system being aligned to the workplane. This makes creating objects on the faces of other objects or at strange angles to the grid far easier.
There is also a new ‘Commander’ that allows adding of effects and tags to an object by searching for them, rather than having to dig through layers of menus to find the right thing. This is a huge time saver.
Again, there are also several smaller tweaks, such as the ability to add to-do tasks directly to objects and have these shown in a list within CINEMA 4D’s project settings. Animation paths shown in the viewport will now clip to the preview range set on the timeline, allowing users to focus in on the important parts. There is more fine-grained control over positioning and animation of xrefs. It is also possible to show a sound wave in the FCurve editor, making it easier to sync animation to music.
Rendering and Simulation
There are also several enhancements to the rendering and simulation toolsets. The dynamics module now sports improved aerodynamics that can take an object’s shape into account when calculating aerodynamic effects such as wind and turbulence, meaning that objects behave more realistically.
The plastic deformation tools are also improved. Springs now have plastic deformation and connectors are able to break and deform, meaning that objects can be made to keep their deformation. Aside from allowing more realistic simulation, this feature opens up more creative control, as the dynamics module can now be used to put realistic dents and other plastic deformations into objects.
When it comes to rendering, there are more new toys. The new wood shader replaces its ageing forerunner, giving far more control and more realistic results. And there is a new weathering shader, making it easier to add a weathered, faded look to renders.
The new ‘normaliser’ can take a greyscale image like those commonly used for bump maps and convert it to a normal map. Normal maps provide better results than traditional bump maps, but until now could be more difficult to create. This shader changes that and gives very nice results.
All in all, CINEMA 4D is an exciting looking release for Maxon with a nice combination of workflow improvements and new features. R14 cements CINEMA 4D’s position as a high end yet user-friendly VFX tool. Having played with the demo I’m looking forward to the full release in September.