Pictures Worth a Thousand Words: Cinema 4D XL

Cinema 4D is the Maxon Computer flagship 3D animation product used to create 3D images for animation, illustration, Web graphics, print, film, and broadcast television. The solid feature set of version 6.3 integrates modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering into a single application, facilitating the learning process because there is only one interface to learn. Cinema 4D supports both Macintosh (OS 9 and soon OS X) and Windows, but d'es need lots of RAM. Users can manage with 128MB of RAM, but I recommend at least 256.

Feature Review

C4D has a robust modeling tool set with more than enough primitive shapes to choose from, including a few that aren't normally found. All of the normal NURBS tools are present as well as extrude, lathe, loft, and sweep. Of special note is the Hyper NURBS tool which allows users to take a simple cube and create traditionally difficult organic shapes with relative ease. C4D's 2D tools are no slouch either. There is a wealth of 2D primitive shapes to choose from, and it too adds lots of non-traditional shapes. There are excellent spline tools as well, and C4D also imports EPS files from Illustrator or Freehand for 2D work.

C4D also includes the traditional camera and lighting tools needed to set up and light a scene. There are many different kinds of lights to choose from including spot, omni, tube, and parallel as well as the less common area and distant lights. Also present are excellent controls over things like volumetric lighting, light details, shadows, noise, glows, and lens effects.

The texturing system in C4D is also good. Color, transparency, reflection, bump, specular, glow, and displacement maps are present, and users can map textures onto objects in several different ways. The default UVW maps the texture to object coordinates or users can employ the flat, spherical, cubic, and the more unorthodox spatial or shrink-wrapping methods. Users can morph from one material to another, but while this method is effective, I'd like to see the ability to animate the material settings themselves, as this would be simpler and more intuitive. C4D also allows for multiple materials to be placed on an object, but there isn't a lot of control over the way materials are layered. Users can, however, replace that functionality through Photoshop, since C4D will directly import Photoshop files.

The particle system in C4D is first rate. Creating bubbles is as easy as linking a sphere with the right material settings to a particle emitter that enables manipulation of birth rate, visibility, start and stop emission, speed, lifetime, rotation, and scaling. Modifiers allow the addition of gravity or wind to a scene, and each modifier will change the particle flow accordingly. The system can't emit from surfaces, and there's no collision detection, but those features are usually found in plug-ins costing much more.

The animation system is also quite good. All the controls that an animator could want are there, including time and space curves and sequences that make setting up loops sinfully easy. A colored layering system helps keep track of the more complicated animations, and an innovative motion sequencing feature allows users to mix different animations to create altogether different motions. Take separate walk and jump motions and combine them to get one fluid motion. Bones and a well-balanced selection of deformation tools will help get most up and running when doing character animations as well.

Cinema 4D has one of the fastest ray tracers out there, and the rendering engine takes advantage of multiple processors, so those who have them will see an additional boost in speed. There is also a built-in cel renderer for those who like that look and feel. C4D supports motion blur, which is a must in the film and broadcast industries.

Conclusions

Cinema 4D can't compare with Alias Maya or Softimage for high-end features like soft bodies, advanced modeling, and cloth, and it offers limited control over multiple material layering. On the other hand, it renders very fast and has excellent modeling, particle, and animation features. At $500 for 50 licenses, the price for Cinema 4D XL is extremely competitive.

I've taught Strata Studio Pro, Electric Image, Maya and Cinema 4D. The latter's interface is easier to learn than most, while at the same time resembles Studio Max and Maya. C4D d'esn't use a hardware key and can run off a server for relatively painless installation and maintenance. Because Cinema 4D is a relatively new application, it isn't as prevalent as other programs like Studio Max. However, the instructor should consider that teaching the fundamentals of 3D might be more important than any particular application a student uses.

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