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Software Review: CINEMA 4D R14

Key rendering, modeling and camera enhancements along with new sculpting tools make this a robust and worthy upgrade.

Animator and Character TD Bret Bays put the new Maxon CINEMA 4D Release 14, released this past September, through its paces.  Below is his review.

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When you first begin working with Maxon's CINEMA 4D Release 14, you will notice that your viewport is giving off a lot more highlights. This is because there is a new object outline that helps you know what your mouse is over, and to know what you will select. This new outline gives a white outline around the object with a slightly opaque fill to match. Once you've clicked on the object, instead of the old bounding box and selected wireframe, you will now see an orange outline. This gives a sleeker look and feel to R14. You have the ability to customize the size of the outlines for both the selected outline, and the highlight outline, and you also have the ability to change the color as well. If this new feature is a little too distracting for you, or maybe you miss the bounding box and wireframe, you can disable the highlighting from the Filter list and switch back to the old method.

The selected object is outlined in orange, while a white outline tells you what object your mouse is over.

Sticking with the idea of selecting objects in the viewport, there have been some changes made to the Live Selection tool's behavior. In past versions, if you were in a component mode (i.e. points, edges, or polygons), you could click and drag to paint a selection. However, in any other mode, this was not the case. This always seemed like an inconsistency to me, one that now has been remedied. In R14, clicking and dragging in object or model modes will behave like a brush, allowing you to quickly and easily click and drag to select multiple objects. In addition to this new feature, a similar feature exists for when you are in the Move, Scale, or Rotate tools. When in one of those tools, you can right click and drag to use Raycast Selection, which allows you to easily paint a selection (which was never possible before in those tools) and then return to your previous tool. Selecting objects to manipulate has never been this easy.

Commander makes finding using commands quick and easy.

Another seemingly small, but extremely handy new feature is called Commander. Commander allows you to quickly and easily search for a command. Because creating objects and/or tags are technically commands, this means creating objects and tags are a lot easier. To use it, simply press SHIFT+C in the program and a text field will pop up. Then just type the name of your command, and it will show up. This means finding a command without going through menus is even easier. Now you don't need to go into the Command Manager and do a search.  Finding the command is right at your mouse pointer.

Having delayed it long enough, it's time to begin talking about Sculpting in CINEMA 4D. While the sculpting is not on par with dedicated sculpting programs in terms of poly count, it is on par with them in terms of polish and usability. MAXON has done a great job taking something like Sculpting and making it straight forward and intuitive for either people new to sculpting, or people coming from other sculpting apps. Sculpting is handled through a Sculpt Tag, though you cannot create this tag yourself from the usual right-click menus. To get started, take any mesh, and choose Sculpt>Subdivide. This command is different from the normal subdivide which will divide a poly face into 4 faces. This command will prepare your object to be sculptable. Upon choosing Subdivide, you will see a purple sculpt tag applied to your object, and its display in the viewport may look like the phong shading has gone awry. After clicking on Subdivide a few more times you will see your object becoming smoother and smoother as more and more faces are available to sculpt.

Sculpting objects and characters is now possible in R14. Image and sculpt courtesy of Patrick Goski.

The sculpting system includes a Sculpt Layers Manager very similar in theory to layers in Photoshop. This is a very powerful system that allows you to store tests or ideas in layers, and be able to easily choose how much influence a layer can have. When you make a layer, it gets locked to the specific Subdivision level you are on, and can only be edited when you are on this level. This means you could create a layer on level 3 to help rough in some shapes for your sculpt, a layer on level 5 to get more refined detail, and a layer on level 8 for the final details. Then at any point you can return to one of those levels, and either add more to the layer, or lower its strength values to remove some of your sculpt back to the base layer. This offers the ability to really test and explore in an almost non-destructive way.

In order to sculpt you need to have some good tools to make the process easier. R14 ships with a lot of brushes, and a lot of settings for those brushes to help make your sculpt come to life. Clicking and dragging will paint, SHIFT+drag will smooth, and CTRL+drag will do the inverse of your current brush. All of the brushes share most of the same settings. There are settings to control the radius of the brush, the pressure, spacing, symmetry painting, and more. On account of this, there are options to link some of these settings to all the brushes, so you do not have to deal with them on each and every brush. The most useful of all of these has to be the Link Symmetry option. This allows you to simply set your symmetry once, and not have to worry about it anymore.

Radial symmetry options make painting details along a radius a breeze.

Speaking of symmetry options, Release 14 has a unique set of symmetry options. It of course has the ability to specify a plane to mirror across using either local or global coordinates.  But, it also has radial symmetry. What radial symmetry does is work around your object. This allows you to set a number of strokes that will go around the object and paint. A good example is if you were sculpting a spaceship, and the ship is supposed to have 5 lights evenly spaced around the body of the ship. Rather than trying to do that manually, you could enable radial symmetry with 5 strokes, and just paint one light. The other four would be drawn automatically for you.

In Release 14 there are a ton of enhancements regarding your camera. There are new tools to aid in your camera composition, your camera animation, and for matching your camera to a photo. When you create a new camera, there is a new Composition Tab. In this tab lies a series of options to overlay your camera to help make sure your composition is the strongest it can be. You have options for a grid, crosshair, Golden Spiral, and several others. Each option gives you control over color, orientation and more. This is surely going to be a major asset to designers and layout artists as they compose their shots.

New camera composition lines make it easy to compose your shots with grids, golden spirals, and more.

For animating, there are two new tags, called Motion Camera Tags, to put on your camera that make this process easier. The first one is the Camera Morph tag. What this does is let you create a morph blend between 2 or more cameras. This morph can then be animated to create your camera move. There are settings to control the interpolation between the cameras, as well as the ability to control the tilt in the camera by defining a stabilize object, or an up vector to make sure that your camera's Y axis is pointing exactly where you want it. One of the best things about this though, is how the workflow is set up to make this extremely easy. You can simply lay out your cameras, and once they are all set, select them all and choose Create>Camera Morph. It will automatically create a camera set up properly to morph between the selected cameras. If you have two cameras created, it will do a Simple Morph between them. Three or more cameras will automatically switch to Multi Morph. While this may seem minor, this makes it so you can focus on your camera placement rather than the technical aspect of setting up the tag and all the settings.

The second Motion Camera Tag type is called the Motion Camera tag. This tag is pretty intense with the sheer number of settings available. The purpose of this tag is to help simulate a cameraman. You will notice that when you add this tag there's a crude stick figure man that appears to be holding the camera. It’s like your own boom or crane camera in the program. You also have control over the animation the camera has, and so much more. You give the tag a spline path and you can animate movement along the path.  It’s like the align to spline tag, but you can add some natural elements like a handheld camera so as each step is taken the camera may have a slight movement added. You can dissolve between two spline paths as well to create complex animations. Those extra movements for things like footsteps, head rotation, camera motion, etc. can all be finely tuned to whatever you want. There are a plethora of settings for each of these things and more.

Now, as if those were not enough enhancements to cameras, there's also a new Camera Calibrator tag. What this tag allows you to do is match your camera's settings to that of an image. This makes it easy to add CG elements into your scene and have them match your back plate properly. The process of doing this is really easy as well. You simply add the tag, choose your image, and then you define your axes using either lines or grids. Then you can create background objects and camera mapping tags to begin building your CG elements into your scene. Never has there been such a substantial upgrade for working with cameras as there has been with Release 14.

Using lines and grids to help calibrate your camera to the image.

The next major upgraded feature of R14 is the new work plane and snapping algorithm. The work plane allows you to define a new origin as you are modeling. By modifying the work plane, you are essentially changing the world orientation of the axes of objects. You may be asking, well what good is this? It's good for a variety of reasons. Firstly, if you align the workplace to the current object axis or your component selection, then when you create a new object it will already be aligned to the work plane. This makes it easy to move your object along another object when modeling. By aligning the work plane in such a way it's easy to configure objects onto other objects. The other cool thing is you can do the opposite.  You can choose to align the selected object to the work plane. There are many options for changing, manipulating, and resetting the work plane, so using it is a breeze.

The new snapping algorithm makes snapping a breeze. You can access the snap settings by either clicking the magnet icon on the left, or by trying out the new Modeling Mode for the Attribute Manager. The two are linked, so whichever you prefer you can use. When you click and drag you get a nice HUD element that tells you the object that you are snapping on, and what type of snap that would be, e.g. vertex, edge, axis snap, etc. In addition to these enhancements, there is a new object type called guides. Guides are very similar to the lines you could find in the camera calibration tool. They are essentially either a line, or a plane. Their purpose is to provide you with something to snap along. When setting up guides, you can use snapping on them as well. This means you can very quickly and very easily snap a guide so that it is aligned along the edge of an object. You can then have the guide be an infinite line, which can then be used to snap other objects to so that you know your objects relation to that particular edge orientation. This is a huge boost for technical modeling.

In addition to those large brand new features, there are tons of smaller enhancements throughout the application. For instance, the XPresso window got a facelift. A darker scheme, rounded corners, and smooth wires make it a lot easier on the eyes. The smoother wires especially make following connections much easier. While that is a purely cosmetic change, it is not the only change for XPresso. For instance, now you can easily create in and out ports on nodes by dragging parameters from the Attribute Manager directly onto the node. This means you no longer need to sift through various menus and hunt for the correct parameter. Simply grab it from the AM and drag it into the XPresso window. This is huge for adding User Data quickly and easily. The new Performance view that allows you to see what part of your XPresso is causing a bottleneck in terms of a nodes execution time, or the number of times a node is called. There are also a couple new nodes pertaining to animation as well as dynamics.

XPresso’s new look, including a nicer, dark, scheme, rounded corners, and smooth aliased connection lines.

Speaking of dynamics, there are some new enhancements there as well. These new changes include aerodynamics properties, plastic deformations for soft body dynamics, and breakable connectors. The aerodynamics settings can be enabled for certain force objects (e.g. Wind, Gravity, etc.) that will be combined with the lift and drag attributes of dynamic objects to create even more realistic simulations. This can even be combined with soft body dynamics to create realistic simulations of sheets of paper, feathers, or leaves falling from the sky. You can also use these properties to simulate wind turbines and propellers as well.

Soft body dynamics can now retain its deformations with new settings for stretch and bending limits. This allows you to simulate things like a rock falling and denting a soda can. The dent can now stay put but still seem stiff. This opens the door to a lot of simulation possibilities of objects crashing into other objects. The elastic limits have also been expanded to the spring objects as well. This allows you to specify a limit that will make it so the spring will not try to bounce back to its original position. In addition to this limit, there is also a breaking point for both springs and fixed connectors. When an object reaches this limit, it will no longer be connected to the spring or the connector and fall if applicable. This makes possible things like chains breaking or objects breaking off of the objects they are connected to. With some of the new Dynamics XPresso nodes, you can make it so any connector can be broken as well, not just fixed types.  

In Release 13, MAXON gave its users an extremely powerful tool for character TD’s and those who don’t do much in the way of rigging. The Character Object made it easy for people to rig characters, while the Component Tag made it so character TD’s could easily build their own templates to make it extremely easy to reuse. In R14, there are a few changes to make these tools even better, and easier. In terms of the Character Object, there were a lot of changes and fixes to the templates of R13 to make them more stable. In addition to those updates, the mocap template now includes templates to easily retarget from Daz and Poser. The Advanced Biped also got a few new components including new finger and thumb types, eyes, and a separated jaw. There is also a brand new Advanced Quadruped template that provides users with a very powerful quadruped that has more features than the basic quadruped template.

One configuration of the new advanced quadruped rig.

The component tag received a lot of updates as well. The biggest one is the ability to bring in materials with components. This opens the door to utilizing this system for more than just character rigs, but also for presets. Controllers are now able to have their position and scale frozen, making it easier to zero out your rig and return to the bind pose. There’s also the ability to create multiple bone inserts now that can be used to insert into multiple chains at once, or as separate options. There was also a rebuilt UI for Insertion rules that makes managing multiple rules easier, as well as the ability to specify which layers get brought in when the rig is built.

As far as rendering and shading goes, Release 14 has three new shaders. They replaced the old, frankly poor wood shader with one that gives great realistic results. A new weathering shader allows you to quickly and easily dirty up your materials, and make it look like they've maybe spent too much time outside or in the rain. The third shader is a really handy one called Normalizer. What it allows you to do is convert any image into a normal map. This means if you want a normal map from an existing image, it can be done in no time. Simply load the Normalizer into the Normal channel and then choose an image. Then you simply need to adjust your strength and choose your Filter type. It has three different filter types: Condensed, Sobel 2x, and Sobel 4x. Condensed mode is a smoother faster filter, while the Sobel types allow you to see the fine gritty details better. One last little enhancement concerning materials and shaders, is that no longer is there a Specular and a Specular Color channel. The two have been combined into one, which will make it much easier and clearer since all your settings relating to Specularity are in one place.

In terms of rendering, Global Illumination has a new Sampling tab. In addition to some of the newer settings, it also contains the sampling settings that had previously been located in a materials Illumination channel. Now all the sampling options are grouped together, to make it easy to adjust them at once. In addition to this, new options have been created that help give the end user much more fine control over the sampling used. These new sampling methods work both with QMC as well as Irradiance Cache GI methods. For when you are using IR method or combination IR+QMC methods, there is an option for Discrete Area and Sky samplings called Force Per-Pixel. This option is useful for getting rid of the splotches you can find when you have extremely bright, but very small area light sources. The other major update is the inclusion of Radiosity maps. These maps are most useful for QMC renders. They offer the advantage of speeding up the GI calculations, as well as being able to save and reuse the maps. They require more memory, however, and it is recommended that you do not do single sided walls, as using Radiosity maps on them can let light slip through, so add some thickness to those walls.

Release 14 includes a variety of features that make the program play well with others. The first is the addition of both Alembic IO import and export. In order to be able to use both you need to make sure you update your R14 to 14.025. Alembic is a format that resembles that of a point cache.  This makes it easy to transfer animations or scenes from one program to another. This means sending a scene from Maya to CINEMA 4D for Lighting, or a character animation from CINEMA 4D to Houdini to run fluid simulations is now very easy.

Another great addition is a new Nuke export. Much like how MAXON has built an incredible connection to Adobe After Effects, they now have an exchange plugin to send to Nuke for those who prefer using Nuke to After Effects. When using the export to Nuke, you get an option to save an FBX file. This is so 3D elements such as lights and cameras can be exported. You’ll notice when you switch to Nuke, the 3D Data checkbox is grayed out, so you must save a FBX file if you want your lights and cameras in your Nuke file. Another big enhancement for compositing is the new Position Pass. Position passes have a color corresponding to each object in the scene based on its place in the 3D scene. This can be utilized for relighting scenes without the need to re-render. 

An example of a position pass set to Object space for use with Nuke or other compositing packages.

The last big enhancement is a crazy new Photoshop exchange. Once you install the Photoshop exchange plugin, you will have the ability to import .c4d files directly into a 3D layer. The Plugin works for Photoshop CS5 and CS6 extended. Once imported, you can move, scale, and rotate the objects directly in Photoshop. In addition to this, you can also paint directly onto your objects. This allows for a lot of flexibility inside of Photoshop, and all of this is without the hassle of going into other file formats.

CINEMA 4D R14 is a very robust update, enhancing a lot of key areas like rendering, modeling, and working with other programs, but then they brought in a lot of new features like sculpting, and all of the camera enhancements. If you are looking to do any sort of modeling or animation, Release 14 is an excellent upgrade for you.

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Bret Bays is an Animator and Character TD who has done extensive animation and character rigging with CINEMA 4D over the past 8 years.

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