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Software Review: CINEMA 4D R11, Part 1: The Core from MAXON

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CINEMA 4D R11 – Part 1: The Core is the first of a multi-part series covering MAXON's new CINEMA 4D Release 11's offerings. Because this product has so many items available for the user, that I could not do it justice in a single write-up, and so I will break it down in separate articles. This first one will cover the core product functionality.  (Note: you may need to update QuickTime before viewing the videos linked in this article, which you can do here)

CINEMA 4D R11 is the latest release of the commercial cross-platform, high-end 3D graphics application from MAXON Computer GmbH of Germany. It is extremely popular among matte painters in film, and motion graphics artists. It has been used for films such as Polar Express, The Incredible Hulk, Beowulf, and The Golden Compass. It has been used in The Weather Channel's 100 Biggest Weather Moments, as well as in architectural modeling, graphic design, science, and engineering.

Cinema 4D Release 11
CINEMA 4D R11 has tight integration with Adobe Photoshop and MAXON BodyPaint 3D which simplifies the editing and manipulating of extensive digital mattes and even fully immersive 3D environments. It also has an enormous following among users of Adobe After Effects because the exporting of 3D data and separate alpha and depth information is efficient and simple. The export feature also supports Apple's Final Cut Pro, as well as other software, and thus allows it to fit in to a number of post-production studio configurations.

What do you need to run CINEMA 4D R11? On Windows you will need XP Home, Pro, or Pro 64-bit, Windows 2003 Server (32- or 64-bit), Intel Pentium 4, Athlon 64/MP (K8 with SSE2), Sempron (K8 with SSE2), and VIA C7. On Mac you will need Mac OS X 10.4.x or Mac OS X 10.5.3 or higher (10.5.0 thru 10.5.2 are not recommended), IBM PowerPC G5, or Intel CoreSolo. You will also need a modern video card, a DVD drive, and an Internet connection to register and activate your product.

CINEMA 4D is a product that was first released in 1993 in Germany. It stepped into the U.S. market at MacWorld in 1998 and took the Best Product award at SIGGRAPH, the annual conference of computer graphics. After winning many other awards and acclimations over the years, it soon found its way to the film and graphics industries, as well as into the fields of architecture and engineering.

Its claim to fame is its combination of state-of-the-art technology and its ease of use, which makes it possible for those who are new to the technology to become productive much more quickly than other similar products. Because of it modularity, the core product gives you everything that you need to create high-end 3D images and animations. As you need additional features, you can get those as well. There are a number of integrated modules that are available for purchase individually, or in bundles.

While when working with CINEMA 4D, the actual steps performed may differ depending on what you are trying to accomplish, but a basic workflow would go like this. First you would make a model of the items that you are trying to create. Take for example the spoon in the image listed. Using the primitives you manipulate and shape the spoon into its final form. The next step would be to add texture to the model. This is effectively giving it its outer coating. From there, if this were an item that had animation you could work that in. Then you would set up the lighting so that it further gave that 3D look. Once all that was done, you could render the image into its final form as was done in the donkey scene listed below.

So what comes with the core of CINEMA 4D?

Cinema 4D Release 11
• Content Browser – will help you manage your content of your projects and all of the related files. It provides the ease of use that will help you locate your files quickly and provides thumbnail previews so that you can find just the right file.

• Customizable Interface – lets you work how you want to. You can use the default layout when you are first starting, and then easily customize the interface to optimize your own workflow efficiency.

• Integration – allows you to exchange files with a lot of other programs coming from various disciplines that include architecture, CAD, special effects, compositing, motion graphics, character animation, and more. You can check out the MAXON site for a listing of all the different formats that are available.

• Modeling – is the one of the first steps in most 3D projects. Basic shapes are provided within CINEMA 4D. Their parameters like size, fillet, and orientation are adjustable. They can be used as-is or combined together to create more complex objects. To create even more complex objects you can use the extensive polygon modeling tools that are available in the core product.

• 3D Painting – gives you the ultimate control over your textures with complete layers, filters, and tablet support. The Projection Painting tool makes distortion-free painting very easy even when painting textures onto complex geometries. No longer do you have to put up with visible seams. The Raybrush Technology allows you to paint directly onto a raytraced image and eliminates the need to switch applications or perform test renders.

• Material System – brings you a comprehensive material system which is key for creating realistic and convincing 3D images. Regardless of whether it is artificial or natural materials that you need, CINEMA 4D provides the control over the properties of your 3D objects. It also handles Normal Maps, which until now have been primarily used in game development.  They let you create more realistic surfaces and lighting with low-poly objects that result in more realistic surfaces and lighting. With the CINEMA 4D baker, you can even create Normal maps from displacements.

• Lighting – as with any other image, it is critical for the believability of your 3D render. In CINEMA 4D you have a complete array of gaffer's tools at your disposal to get the lighting just right. You can adjust the density and color of each light's shadows and create visible or volumetric lights with noise patterns that appear in the light cone.

• Rendering – CINEMA 4D is considered one of the best in the business here. It can support almost any broadcast or film application with a maximum image size of 16,000 pixels square, as well as support for QuickTime, PSD, TIF, and other formats. It also supports rendering in 32-bits per color channel for images in HDRI or OpenEXR format.

• Animation – places you now into the 4th dimension. Just about any object, material or tag parameter can be keyframed, and, with non-linear animation, it is easy to build and loop discreet motions into complex hierarchies to create professional animations. You can even import sound to sync with your video.

• Custom Scripts and Plugins – these let you program it yourself. If there is a specific task the CINEMA 4D doesn’t already do, then you can do it yourself using the imbedded programming language C.O.F.F.E.E. to create a script to use over and over.

So what is new with this version of CINEMA 4D R11?

Cinema 4D Release 11
• Non-linear Animation – lets you move beyond the keyframe by making it easy to build, layer, and loop discreet motions containing hundreds of keyframes in complex hierarchies. Using Animation Layers you can build up complex movements from layers in the same way you would with an image. Motion Clips lets you group complex keyframe animations on an entire hierarchy into a single clip that can be easily moved, layered or looped. Pivots come in handy if you need to change the direction of a walking character, without changing the walk cycle itself.

Ghosting – a.k.a., onion-skinning, lets you analyze the animation of an object so that you can fine-tune its motion.

• Render Speed – has been increased by as much as twice over the previous version R10.5. On my system the speed increase between R11 and R10.5 on the donkey render shown below is much more than twice. The speed increase is dependant on the project you are working on, but based on their tests, you should see increases between 1.3 to 9.5 times faster.

• Collada – is now supported in CINEMA 4D. This is the open standard XML-based format that facilitates the transfer of 3D assets between applications. This makes the exchanging of scenes with other 3D applications easier than ever.

• License Server – is a robust server that makes the management of numerous licenses and groups of licenses more manageable. Now network administrators can define groups and assign each party the correct configuration.

• Projection Man – now lets you leverage the same matte painting system that was developed by MAXON for Sony Pictures Imageworks and was used on Polar Express, Open Season, and Beowulf. It utilizes camera mapping to project detailed paintings onto simple geometry to create an environment that a 3D camera can move around and through. Tight integration with Adobe Photoshop and MAXON's own 3D-painting system BodyPaint 3D makes it easy to edit and manipulate extensive digital mattes so that long, wild camera rides are possible.

• 3D Painting – has been enhanced that allow you to paint rich, detailed textures directly on your 3D model. New Blur, Sharpen, and Colorize tools make it easier than ever before to tweak your textures, and all paint tools now retain their own independent settings.

Cinema 4D Release 11
• Native 64-bit Mac Leopard – support for this is now implemented. CINEMA 4D has been completely re-engineered to take full advantage of Mac OS X 10.5. All 64-bit processors are supported.

A full list of new features can be found on the MAXON site.

There are a lot of reasons to like CINEMA 4D Release 11. For Mac users, the 64-bit support will be welcome since running on Leopard it can access all available RAM that can be put into a machine. The true non-linear animation is another big shot in the arm to this version, as is the 3D painting.

The other thing worth the purchase/upgrade is the Projection Man matte painting system which was developed for Sony Pictures Imageworks. It supports the COLLADA File format and CineMan, a professional RenderMan format which has been used in blockbuster movies. All of these features simply make this product irresistible to own.

Personally, I found CINEMA 4D very easy to use and straightforward in its layout. It did take a little bit to get the hang of modeling items and making more complex shapes, but with the help of training DVDs that come with the package and MAXON's Cineversity training subscription, it wasn't long before I was able to get a handle on this.

You can download a demo, or purchase the core product for $995.00 USD. There are even bundles available for a better deal. If you want to get into 3D then now is the time to check out CINEMA 4D Release 11. I highly recommend this product.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.
  • Marcus

    Contrary to the information in the review, Cinema 4D was available to the U.S. market several years before 1998. It was available for the Amiga platform (in the US) as early as 1994 (if not actually 1993).