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Each year I get to test out some of the latest and greatest software and hardware releases our industry has to offer. One of my favorites — and most challenging — is Maxon’s Cinema 4D. I say challenging because while I love Cinema 4D, I don’t use it every day. So, in order to test it thoroughly, I watched tutorials on Cineversity to brush up on what I forgot and what’s new. Even though I don’t use it every day, I do love it.
I’ve reviewed Cinema 4D Release 15 through R18. I started using the product when I was studying at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, which coincidentally is about 10 minutes from Maxon’s Newbury Park office.
Each version update has been packed full of remarkable additions and updates. From the grass generator in R15, addition of the Reflectance channel in R16, lens distortion tools in R17 to the multitude of updates in R18 — Cinema 4D keeps on cranking out the hits. I say multitude because there are a ton of updates packed into the latest Cinema 4D Release 18 update. You can check out a complete list of them as well as comparisons between Cinema 4D Studio, Visualize, Broadcast, Prime, BodyPaint 3D and Lite Release 18 versions on the Maxon site.
For this review, I’m going to touch on three of what I think are the most compelling updates in Release 18: the new Voronoi Fracture, Thin Film Shader and the Push Apart Effector. Yes, I know there are a bazillion other great updates to Cinema 4D R18 — such as Weight Painting, new Knife Tools, Inverse Ambient Occlusion, the ability to save cache files externally and many more — but I’m going to stick to the features that I think stand out.
Keep in mind that I am using Cinema 4D Studio R18 for this review, so if you don’t have Studio, some of the features might not be available in your version. For instance, I am going to touch on some of the MoGraph toolset updates, and those are only inside the Studio and Broadcast versions. Finally, while you should use a super powerful workstation to get the smoothest and most robust experience when using Cinema 4D R18, I am using a tablet that uses a quad core Intel i7 3.1GHz processor, 8GB of RAM and an Intel Iris graphics 6100 GPU. Definitely on the lower end of processing power for this app, but it works and I have to credit Maxon for making it work so well.
If, like me, you’ve never heard of the term Voronoi, check out the first paragraph of this Wiki page. A very simple way to imagine a Voronoi diagram is a bunch of cell-like polygons that are all connected (there’s a much more intricate and deeply mathematical definition, but I can barely understand it, and it’s really beyond the scope of this review). In Cinema 4D Studio R18, the Voronoi Fracture object allows us to easily, and I mean really easily, procedurally break apart objects like MoGraph text, or any other object, without the need for external third-party plug-ins such as Nitro4D’s Thrausi.
To apply Voronoi Fracture in as few steps as possible, you apply the Voronoi Fracture located in the MoGraph menu to your object, adjust parameters under the Sources menu (like distribution type or point amount) add effectors to cause dispersion, keyframe values and render. With a little practice you can explode your raytraced MoGraph text in no time. The best part is your object will not look fractured until animated, which in the past took some work so this is a great update.
Thin Film Shader
Things that are hard to recreate in a photorealistic way are transparent objects, such as glass bottles, windows and bubbles. In Cinema 4D R18, Maxon has added the new Thin Film Shader, which can add the film-like quality that you see on bubbles or soap. It’s an incredible addition to Cinema 4D, furthering the idea that Maxon is concentrating on adding features that improve efficiency for people like me who want to use Cinema 4D, but sometimes don’t because making a material like Thin Film will take a long time.
To apply the Thin Film to your object, find the Reflectance channel of your material that you want to add the Thin Film property to add a new Beckmann or GGX layer, lower the Specular Strength of this layer to zero, under Layer Color choose Texture > Effects > Thin Film. From there, if you want to see the Thin Film as a true layer of film you need to change your composite setting to Add on your layer; you should then see it properly. You can get some advanced tips from the great tutorials over at Cineversity and from Andy Needham (Twitter: @imcalledandy) on lynda.com. One tip I learned from Andy is to change the Index of Refraction to get some different looks, which can be found under the Shader properties.
Push Apart Effector
The new Push Apart Effector is a simple but super-powerful addition to Cinema 4D. The easiest way to describe the Push Apart Effector is to imagine a bunch of objects in an array or using a Cloner where all of your objects are touching — the Push Apart Effector helps to push them away from each other. To decrease the intersection of your clones, you can dial-in the specific radius of your objects (like a sphere) and then tell Cinema 4D R18 how many times you want it to look through the scene by specifying iterations. The more iterations the less chance your objects will intersect, but the more time it will take to compute.
Thin Film Render
If you are an Adobe After Effects user, don’t forget that you automatically get a free version of Cinema 4D bundled with After Effects — Cinema 4D Lite. Even though you have to have After Effects open to use the Cinema 4D Lite, it is still a great way to dip your toes into the 3D world, and maybe even bring your projects back into After Effects to do some compositing.
Cinema 4D Studio R18’s pricing breaks down like this: Commercial Pricing/Annual License Pricing/Upgrade R17 to R18 pricing — Cinema 4D Studio Release 18: $3,695/$650 /$995; Cinema 4D Visualize Release 18: $2,295/$500/$795; Cinema 4D Broadcast Release 18: $1,695/$400 /$795; Cinema 4D Prime Release 18: $995/$250/$395.
Another interesting option is Maxon’s short-term licensing in three- or six-month chunks for the Studio version ($600/$1,100) and 75 percent of the fees you pay for a short-term license can be applied to your purchase of a full license later. Keep in mind, when using such a powerful and robust software like Cinema 4D you are making an investment that will payoff with concentrated effort in learning the software. With a few hours of training from some of the top trainers — like Tim Clapham on www.hellolux.com, Greyscalegorilla.com and Motionworks.com — you will be off and running in 3D land.
For everyday Cinema 4D creations and inspiration, check out @beeple_crap on Instagram. He produces amazing work all the time.
In this review, I tested some of the new updates to Cinema 4D Studio R18 with sample projects from Andy Needham’s Lynda.com class Cinema 4D R18: New Features and Joren Kandel’s awesome website, which offers tons of free content to play with while learning the new tools.
I love Maxon’s continual development of Cinema 4D in Release 18. I specifically love that while they are adding new features, like Weight Painting and Update Knife Tools, they are also helping to improve efficiency for people like me who love to work in Cinema 4D but sometimes skip it because of the steep learning curve and technical know-how you need in order to operate it. You should not fear though, I cannot emphasize how much you can learn at Cineversity, Lynda.com, and on YouTube from an expert like Sean Frangella. Whether you are new to the world of Cinema 4D, mildly experienced like me, or an expert you can always learn something new.
Something I love about Maxon’s licensing for education is that if you go to a qualified school, you can get a free Cinema 4D license. Instructors can get access to Cineversity to use the tutorials in their curriculum as well as project files to use. It’s an amazing resource.
MAXON pre-announced Release 16 on August 5 2014. Actual shipping date was on 1 September 2014.
The major new enhancements in Release 16 are:
Team Render Server - Net Render Replacement
Motion Tracker Complete video tracking system. Incorporate 3D elements into video footage.
New Reflectance Material channel Reflection and specular channels merged.
Polygon Pen modelling tool
Other enhancements UV Peeler, Annotation tag, Interaction Tag, Enhanced Cogwheel spline and Falloff function for some Deformers.
As usual there are other enhancements. Here is the full list of enhancements taken from the Release 16 "What's New" documentation.
• The base grid’s display can be toggled separately from the Workplane.
• The global grid spacing can be displayed as a HUD.
• MAXON would like your help
• New process priority option in the Preferences menu.
• Several new Timeline options.
• New Alembic export options.
• New FBX import and export options.
• The Boole object creates a hidden Edge Selection tag
• Several new options for the Symmetry object.
• The generation of specular highlights can be disabled for Area lights.
• The Tweak mode can now be turned on and off.
• The Solo mode hides disabled options in the Viewport.
• Mesh Checking displays faulty geometry.
• The object Bake function can now bake all object parameters.
• The Friction object now also affects the rotational movement of Rigid Bodies.
• Expanded Multi-Pass settings for reflections and specular highlights.
• Improved script field for Script Manager.
• New Protection tag option for preventing inadvertent duplication.
• Several new Texture Manager commands.
• The shading models have been moved from the Illumination channel to the Color channel.
• Displacement Mode for the Brick shader.
• Simplified use of keyframe buttons.
• Several modifications made to the Hair renderer.
• Numerous modifications made to the Sketch and Toon renderer.
• Sketch and Toon modifiers now use Python instead of C.O.F.F.E.E.
• Some Deformation objects and objects can be modified using the Sculpt brushes.
• Sculpt brushes now offer spline snapping.
• The raise direction can be defined even more precisely for the Pull, Repeat and Grab brushes.
• All brushes can use shaders for their Stamp and Stencil functions.
• New options for the Stencil function.
• Modifiers can be used to integrate "foreign" brush effects into most brushes.
• The Sculpt feature’s Mask brush can created masks from materials.
• The Sculpt Select brush can also select elements symmetrically
• New Sculpt function that reverses Catmull-Clark subdivision.
• New Sculpt preference settings.
• New Ping command for the Team Render computer.
• Several new Team Render settings in the Preferences menu.
• New command for ArchiCad 18 users.
• New executable command line file.
• Expanded functionality for the Save Project with Assets function.
• Scripts can optionally be displayed with line breaks.
• The Content Browser offers a wide range of new content.
Release 16 only comes in a 64 bit version. If you have a 32 bit Operating System you will need to upgrade your Operating System and or your computer if it doesn't support a 64 bit OS. Plugins that work with R15 should still work with R16.
What do you get?
Release 16 Studio Edition Box Contents
The Release 16 box contains an installation guide and installation DVD. Note that in America, MAXON USA had a download option where people could download the update. The installation DVD has the Quickstart manual and installation guide in pdf format. The DVD has 6.2gb of data on it.
When you run the DVD the installer asks whether you want to install R16, Team Render Server, Team Render Client or Languages, Help and Content Libraries.
In my opinion MAXON needs to do away with shipping a box and disc and have things all done by download. With some of the applications that I have bought online and downloaded there is an option to pay a bit more and get a disc. This is what I think MAXON should do. By 1 September the program on the disc was out of date and there was an update out already. Plus, as I've shown in the image above, Release 16 no longer comes with a printed Quickstart manual and no cardboard sheet of hotkeys so there is nothing in the box that you can't get by downloading. Sure 6.2gb is a hefty download but nothing out of the ordinary in these days of fast broadband. I purchased a 5gb modelling tutorial the same day I wrote this section of the review and thought nothing of downloading files totalling this amount. I want to be starting the tutorial today, not waiting 1-2 weeks for the DVD to arrive from overseas. The same applies to software. I expect to be using what I have paid for the same day that I purchased it online.
In the past our reviews have had a lot of text and images, supplemented by videos. This time around I'm going to try and keep the amount of text to a minimum and have a lot more videos. I reckon it's much more interesting to see Cinema 4D in action rather than reading about it. When I made the Cafe's Release 16 presentation videos for the launch I made them for both the launch presentation and this review. I have supplemented my videos with a number of videos mainly from Cineversity as they've done a great job at demonstrating and explaining the new enhancements.
Team Render Server
One of the leading enhancements in Release 15 was Team Render. At the time it was touted as a replacement for the aging Net Render. As time has proven this wasn't in fact the case. For hobbyists and those with a couple of computers, Team Render works just fine but for those in studios and or with a large number of render clients a more robust and full featured net rendering system is required. Fast forward to 2014 and we now have Team Render Server, the true replacement for Net Render.
Team Render Server is a stand alone console application that you run from one of the computers on your network. Typically this computer is not used as a render client but it can be. Below is an image of the console application up and running on my desktop computer. I'm also running the Client application on both my desktop and laptop computers. Getting up and running is really easy.
Team Render Server Application
From here you can launch the more friendly Browser based interface for managing your render jobs although you can manage render jobs directly from the Console application. One copy of the Server application needs to be running.
You can sign in from any computer on the network or even the Internet and manage your jobs via a Web Browser. The image below shows the Team Render Server Browser interface. I've set up a couple of jobs, one has finished and the second is part way through. These are still images but rendering animations is just the same. I'm signed in as an admin so I've got full permissions to do everything. You can set up regular users who have limited permissions.
Team Render Server Browser Interface
I've recorded a 15 minute video of me playing around with Team Render Server. You can download the original high resolution video if head over to the Vimeo page where it's hosted.
Hopefully you watched the video. As you can see, Team Render Server is easy to set up and use. I should mention that I only tested Team Render Server on my home network and only with my desktop and laptop computers. I am aware that users with significantly more render clients have suffered from a range of issues. By the time you read this review some of the bugs that surfaced after the launch should have been resolved thus hopefully making it a fitting and solid replacement for the old Net Render. Time will tell. I never used the old Net Render as it couldn't render still images. If you're a hobbyist like me then you probably won't need to use Team Render Server. Using Team Render from within Cinema 4D is pretty much all you need. No doubt when Release 17 comes out we should probably see a few minor enhancements as we have seen in Release 16 with a few tweaks for the standard Team Render.
I am very pleased to see the modelling enhancements started in Release 15 continued in Release 16. There is still plenty left to fix up but what MAXON have done is top notch.
Polygon Pen Tool
The old Create Polygon tool has been done away with and replaced with the Polygon Pen tool. The new tool is pretty much a Swiss Army knife modelling tool in that it does a bit of everything. As part of the Cafe's Release 16 launch I recorded a 55 minute tutorial on using the tool. If you head over to the Vimeo site where the video is hosted you can download the high quality video rather than watching the low quality streaming version.
This is a superb tool and the developer has done a great job with it. There's room for a few improvements like support for tablets for pressure sensitivity so that you can define the size of polygons as you draw in polygon mode.
In Release 15 we got the awesome new Bevel tool. Now in Release 16 we get the same tool but as a deformer. This allows for non destructive bevels and you can easily change your bevel settings. The deformer pretty much has the same settings as the Bevel tool but has a couple of settings where you define how the bevel is defined. The image below shows a comparison with the Bevel deformer enabled and disabled.
Bevel Deformer Comparison
Here's an 18 minute video of me playing around with the Bevel Deformer. This is a streaming video only and is the same video from the Cafe's Release 16 Highlights video.
The Symmetry object has received a couple of handy enhancements. A couple of the enhancements essentially do what the free "Symmetry Clamp" does meaning you don't need to use this plugin anymore. The enhancements are:
Clamp points on axis - Points that are on the mirror plane or within a defined distance can't accidentally moved away from the mirror / symmetry plane
Delete Polygons on Axis - If you do an extrude for example, you won't get coplanar polygons being generated
Flipping - This can be manual or automatic. In automatic mode if you rotate your view the mirrored geometry will flip over to the other side
The Cogwheel spline object has been significantly enhanced. You can now create technically accurate cogwheels using a range of very technical sounding parameters. If you find all this confusing there's a Legacy mode with the old settings. I had a lot of fun playing with the new Cogwheel but struggled a bit with the settings as changing one parameter often changed another. One thing noticeably absent is an option to chamfer the teeth. I would have expected this. The work around is to make the spline editable and then manually chamfer the teeth. The following 6 minute video shows me playing around with the Cogwheel spline.
Tweak mode can be toggled on and off now. Recall that in Release 14 and 15 Tweak mode was on all of the time. There's a new mouse icon on the left hand toolbar to toggle tweaking on and off essentially giving us back what we had prior to Release 14. If you're going to be doing much tweaking then I suggest using the new Polygon pen tool as you can tweak points, edges or polygons without manually having to change into the relevant mode. The following short video explains how it works.
A new HUD element displays the grid spacing. This is something Modo has and is very useful. The following short video shows this in action.
Most standard deformers now offer the same flexible falloff system you've come to enjoy in MoGraph effectors, including the option to animate falloff. You can work completely non-destructively, on any object, without the need to restrict deformers via vertex maps. The following short video produced by MAXON best demonstrates the new deformer functionality.
So, some really great enhancements. I just hope MAXON keeps going with the modelling enhancements as there's tools like the Knife and Extrude tool that are years behind the equivalent tools in other 3D apps. We still don't have proper symmetry modelling and I'm not sure what the issue here is as this is what I would call basic functionality. There's several plugins that offer proper symmetry modelling so it's definitely possible to do.
New Reflectance Channel
Release 16 has a new Reflectance channel. This replaces the previous Reflection and Specular channels. Here's a short overview video byCineversity that quickly demonstrates the new Reflectance channel.
So what happens if you load a scene saved with a prior version of Cinema 4D? Don't panic, Release 16 has legacy layer settings and the old Reflection and Specular settings are converted to these. The rendered result should be exactly as it was with the older version of Cinema 4D. The image below is a comparison of the same material loaded in both Release 15 and 16. Settings for reflection are shown. Specular settings are fairly similar.
R16 has Legacy modes so that materials created with older versions are supported.
You can see that "Blurriness" is now called "Roughness". This and other parameter names bring Cinema 4D into line with how a few other 3D applications name similar parameters.
Learning the new Reflectance channel
The new Reflectance channel is rather complex and if you're like me I was overwhelmed by all of the options. Fortunately there are some free resources that help you get the hang of it. Below is an excellent tutorial. If you head over to the Vimeo site you'll be able to download the video. I suggest watching this one first before watching the Cineversity series videos as it's a bit more beginner friendly.
Also well worth watching is a series of videos by Cineversity. The following is the first video in the series of 15 videos explaining the Reflectance channel. The first video is a bit of an overview and first time around you won't be able to remember everything. Keep watching the videos as things are explained in much more depth and a bit slower in the following videos.
In addition to the tutorial videos the material presets in the Content Browser have been updated to take advantage of the new Reflectance channel. Loading and examining these materials is a good way to learn the new Reflectance channel.
The new Reflectance channel is capable of producing awesome looking materials especially metals and fabrics. It is however quite complex and learning it will take some time, something I'm still doing even after watching the videos. For a beginner it's probably overwhelming compared to the old Reflection and Specular channels. That probably explains why when you create a new material it's created using the legacy Specular layer. Cinema 4D now needs an in house material node system where apart from creating cool looking materials you can have Reflectance channels linked so that you can have a master material and changes to the material settings are propagated to the linked material channels. That said, there are copy and paste buttons that allow you copy and paste one layer from one material to the Reflectance channel of another material. This works quite well with simple materials but it becomes a bit tedious if you have a complex Reflectance channel with multiple layers as you can only copy and paste one layer at a time. I would like the option to select all layers and copy and paste them all in one go.
Here's a render of a watch (from the Content Browser Studio render examples) where most of the materials are using the new Reflectance channel.
One of the leading enhancements in Release 16 (Studio Edition only) is the inclusion of a Motion Tracker. What this allows you to do is combine 3D objects with video footage. The system calculates the original recording camera (position, orientation, focal length) based on the video. The Motion Tracking system uses a few things like planar constraints, position constraints and vector constraints that work much the same as they do in the excellent Camera Calibration system that we received in Release 14 (Camera Calibrator reviewed here). The following video is an example put out by MAXON.
Below is a short overview video by Cineversity about the new Motion Tracker.
Next up, a longer video by Cineversity where Beta Tester Josh Johnson shows how the first part of the video at the top of this page was motion tracked (The Motion Tracking part starts at 3:43 and runs until 25.34). I had thought about recording my own video but Josh does a really good job of explaining things plus in the middle of the video he spends a few minutes showing how to use Projection Man to paint out part of the video footage.
If you watched the videos you'll see that Motion Tracking is fairly straight forward to use. I've done a couple of simple examples recording outside my house and adding cubes etc to the scene. One thing, I don't ever recall reading a single request for a Motion Tracking system in the forums. I guess there must have been some requests over the years but I can't recall any. I certainly recall people talking about Motion Tracking in the forums. I'm sure however many people will find the new inbuilt Motion Tracking system very useful.
As usual MAXON has included a number of minor enhancements with Release 16. Here are some of the more notable ones.
MAXON would like your help
One reason Cinema 4D is so stable is the excellent crash reporting system built in that optionally sends crash reports off to MAXON. The new user participation system goes a step further by sending anonymous information and statistics about your system, what commands you've used, preferences and what plugins you've got. Review the data that will be sent to MAXON whenever you wish. You can opt-out and delete all data at any time. Provide a peek into your preferences while maintaining complete privacy in order to help make Cinema 4D even better. You can check the information being sent to MAXON via the Preferences. Should you wish to opt out, you can also do that from the Preferences.
Annotation Tag / Annotation Tool
A new Annotation tag replaces the old "WWW" tag. You can now add useful labels to your objects in the viewport. You can include clickable hyperlinks on the label that if clicked will fire up your browser and take you to the link. One enhancement that I would like to see is the ability to add annotations to XPresso. Sure we've got the "Remark" node but the annotation object is a lot better. The following is a short video of me playing around with Annotations.
This tag can be used to create elaborate, interactive control mechanisms. This tag primarily defines what happens when you click on an object in the Viewport (with no object having been previously selected) and click+drag, and then release. This is one very powerful tag and it's hard to describe. It's best demonstrated in a video. Here's a 12 minute video of me playing around with it.
So a really powerful tag but one that needs some time and effort into learning. I've seen much more elaborate control mechanisms created by other people than what I managed to cobble together in the video.
UV Peeler & UV Editing Enhancements
After what seems an eternity, Release 16 includes some BodyPaint / UV Editing enhancements. We now have a new UV Peeler tool for UV unwrapping pipe type objects. The tool is similar to the UV Peeler tool in Modo but with a few more options. Not listed in the Release 16 "What's New" list are a range of bug fixes bug fixes and workflow enhancements. The following short video from Cineversity gives a short overview of some of the enhancements.
It's great to see BodyPaint / UV Editing getting some attention but this is only a start. A lot more is required as UV Editing in Cinema 4D is a long way behind where the competition is at currently.
Base Grid Display
In the Viewport Filter menu there is a new "Base Grid"option. If the Workplane does not lie on the default XZ plane, 2 grids will be visible in the Viewport which can be disconcerting. This option can be used to toggle the display of the default grid. The split image below demonstrates this.
Base Grid visibility can be toggled on and off
New Keyframing Dots
Keyframing dots have been given a makeover in Release 16. Apart from looking a bit different you no longer have to press Ctrl / CMD down when left mouse button clicking on them to record a keyframe. For those that prefer having to use this modifier key there's a legacy option in the preferences that puts things back to how they were in Release 15 including how the dots look. The following is a short video where I demonstrate the new functionality.
The Brick Shader has a new Displacement option. This allows for much more realistic bricks surfaces to be created. Here's a 4 minute video of me playing around with the new options.
Release 16 sees more sculpting enhancements that started when sculpting was introduced in Release 14. The following short video byCineversity briefly demonstrates the new enhancements.
New Material and Content Library
Completely re-organized and optimized for Release 16, the preset library contains custom made solutions with specific target groups in mind. Architects will appreciate new house and stair generators, as well as modular doors and windows. Product and advertising designers can take advantage of a powerful tool to animate the folding of die-cut packaging, as well as modular bottles, tubes and boxes. Motion designers enjoy high-quality models made for MoGraph, preset title animations and interactive chart templates. The following short video produced byCineversity gives an overview of the enhancements.
Okay some very handy stuff and most of the materials have been enhanced to take advantage of the new Reflectance channel. I still think that after the optimization that the Content Browser structure could be a lot better. If you're like me and running the Studio edition then you get materials in the Prime, Broadcast and Visualize libraries. Wouldn't it make more sense to have all materials grouped under an intuitive sounding title, something like "Materials" maybe? That's how Modo does it and is much more user friendly and easier to find what you're looking for.
The Release 16 update has something for everyone. The new Team Render Server is the true replacement for the old Net Render and by the time you read this some of the bugs that sneaked past testing should have been resolved. There's a few things like the Web interface that need some fine tuning so I'm hopeful Release 17 will see some further enhancements and in response to user feedback. The modelling enhancements are great as they were in Release 15 and I'm hopeful things don't stop where they are as there's still plenty left that needs fixing up.
The new Reflectance channel enhancements are welcome but it's quite complex and getting the hang of it will take some time. I encourage people to watch as many Reflectance channel tutorials as you can. The new Motion Tracking system works really well and being integrated directly inside of Cinema 4D makes for an excellent workflow not to mention saves having to learn a separate application.
Totally unexpected were BodyPaint / UV Editing enhancements. I'd almost given up on BodyPaint so it's great to see it getting some love after many years of neglect. What we got in Release 16 is just a start however as the UV Editing tools are a long way behind the likes of Modo.
So verdict, when you add up all of the enhancement both large and small, Release 16 comes out as a pretty solid update. It is well worth upgrading to. At the time of writing this review in October and November 2014, user feedback had generally been very positive.