CINEMA 4D v10 (Cadalyst Labs Review)31 May, 2007 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
Exciting rendering capabilities let designers create like film animators.
It might strike some people as odd that a product called CINEMA 4D should be reviewed in a technical publication. Wouldn't it be better in some kind of entertainment newsletter? No. Cadalyst is the perfect place to look at this software. Why? Because of the ever-increasing use of engineering 3D data in traditionally non-engineering disciplines. But that's not all! Engineering functions benefit greatly from non-engineering software (just try to get along without Word or PowerPoint if you don't believe me). You need to make animations of your new product going through its motions. You need to show a prospective client what your new design will look like. You need to put together an assembly manual. You can do these and all sorts of other things with this software. Let's take a look.
CINEMA 4D v10 is made by MAXON. It's intended to be a tool for the pipeline. As such, integration is vital, and CINEMA 4D v10 works well with most software packages. It is platform independent. Only 5% of the program is OS dependent, so it's very stable. It also takes advantage of multiprocessors, meaning that it's fast and can handle very large files. CINEMA 4D v10 is easy to learn and use, which is important because unless you work in the entertainment business or your company has you dedicated to this sort of thing, you won't be using it every day. Most high-end 3D modeling systems make a lot of noise but aren't really friendly to casual users.
Cinema 4D v10
CINEMA 4D v10 has a great new user interface that places emphasis on quick recognition of icons (figure 1), which is good because there are quite a few of them. The icons are also color coded so like functions can be identified at a glance. Object-creation icons are a teal color, deformer icons are blue, translation icons are yellow-orange and so forth. The icons can be rearranged however you want, so you can tailor your workflow for efficiency. If you get stuck, just right-click to access a very detailed help menu. But don't get the idea it's a walk in the park—MAXON says working with CINEMA 4D is like playing a piano. You can learn in 5 minutes, but it'll take years to become a true expert.
Figure 1. CINEMA 4D v10's interface may look like there's a lot going on, but when you get into it you find that it's simpler than it looks.
For those of us out there who need a little help learning new software or refreshing what we already know, MAXON's Cineversity Web site (www.cineversity.com) helps (figure 2). It's full of tutorials spanning several releases of the software. You can find a video of just about anything you want to do in CINEMA 4D v10. Even if you've used the software for a while, you should check the site periodically because new things are added frequently.
Figure 2. MAXON maintains a Web site (www.cineversity.com) that is chock full of video tutorials. If you need to know how to do something, it's the place to go.
Content creation in CINEMA 4D v10 is very freeform. You start with primitives and push and pull them into whatever shape you need. You can also create more complex custom shapes by creating 3D objects and expanding them. If you need to make something such as an extrusion, you can make the path you need it to follow and sweep a control profile along it. It's very easy.
But what if you want to be more accurate than that? CINEMA 4D v10 has you covered. You can build with parametrics, which come in handy for all sorts of things. One feature I like is that your construction history can be animated. Why would you want to do that? You can create a video of how you did what you did that would tell others what you did. If nothing else, it would be interesting. Visualization is a very important part of CINEMA 4D v10. You can create stunning downstream presentations. You can assign a color/texture per polygon, so you have unprecedented control over how your objects look.
CINEMA 4D v10 comes with some exciting rendering capabilities. MAXON says it's the best renderer on the market—it is impressive. BodyPaint 3D used to be a separate module for CINEMA 4D, and now it's included. BodyPaint 3D lets you paint right on your models. You can get very detailed, too. Not only can you paint on them, you can apply textures as well. What I think is particularly great is that you can paint directly on your model and then extract the flat image (figure 3). Usually it's the other way around. Of course, if you want to do it that way you can. You can paint over multiple objects just like you would in real life.
Figure 3. You can extract the surface of an irregular object very easily in CINEMA 4D v10. You can either paint directly on the 3D surface or apply the image to the flat pattern. It looks weird but works great.
BodyPaint 3D also lets you paint on textures. You know, bumpy versus silky smooth (figure 4). Textures control the lighting and reflection on the faces of your model. A satin finish will reflect differently than a stone finish. And the level of detail is amazing (figure 5). Take rust, for example. If you look closely at something rusty, you'll see that it has a texture. It's not just a color spot. And skin is the same way. BodyPaint 3D uses subsurface scattering, available through the Advanced Render module. What? Look closely at the skin on your fingertip—really closely. You can see partially into the skin. It has a certain amount of transparency. Why would you need that level of detail? Well, if you design medical products like I do, you frequently need to present your design in the context in which they will be used. Likewise, if you design things such as silicone parts, they too have transparency. It's always good to see exactly what your finished product will look like.
Figure 4. Look at the textured finish you can achieve with CINEMA 4D v10. Imagine what your product would look like.
You can even do things that can't be done in the real world. You can define and control your lights however you want, without regard to what's possible. Say you want to show a green light that casts a purple shadow. You can even have an animated light to depict things like movement or different power settings. I know it's all so terribly artistic, but it can come in very handy.
Figure 5. This image is not a photo of actual bindings. It's a tremendous bit-map image that shows how realistic you can be with CINEMA 4D v10.
Speaking of animating, CINEMA 4D v10 can handle the job with some pretty nice features. It uses keyframe and node-based animation, which is created in the relation-ships users set up using Xpresso. You establish various spots throughout the animation where you want your elements to be and what you want them to look like when they get there. You assign these nodes to a timeline that you set up for the animation. You can set up multiple timelines as well. Why would you want to do that? To animate each and every object in a single timeline. You can animate your product doing what it does as the scene shifts around it and while characters interact. You can have birds flying in the sky and animals in the background, all while your product shines. You can even assign sound files to the animation that start and stop when you want them to.
The Bottom Line
I've told you about this product's ease of use and powerful performance, but these features come with a price. Interestingly, the price isn't as big a deal as you might expect. Starting at $895 and topping at $3,495 (with modules for advanced rendering, motion graphics, character creation, hair and particles), you can get into the software for a reasonable price. Here's the thing I think I like the best: MAXON supplies free tech support! Free! No kidding! Who does that anymore? It's a great thing that I hope the developer offers forever.
CINEMA 4D in Action
I thought I would give a few examples how people are using CINEMA 4D. Almost any 3D animated logos you see on Fox, NFL or ESPN were made using it. It's used quite extensively for architecture in Europe and South America. Advertising firms for Bugatti and Peugeot are loyal customers. Hollywood uses it extensively. If you saw Open Season, Van Helsing, Superman Returns, Doom or any of the three Spider-Man movies, you've seen what you can do with CINEMA 4D and BodyPaint 3D.
I can't tell you how many times I've needed a tool like CINEMA 4D v10 to show someone how a mechanism worked. All it would've taken would have been to create a short animation of the mechanism going through its paces. I might have to talk my company into buying CINEMA 4D v10. For more information about the product or its available modules, visit the MAXON Web site at www.maxon.net. Highly Recommended.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.