NEWBURY PARK, CA - SFX designers frustrated with difficult to learn and expensive high end CG software are more frequently turning to applications like Maxon's Cinema 4D for their effects shots. Citing Cinema's speed, stability and ease of use Maxon's enthusiastic user base includes designers at Sony Imageworks, Belief, Imaginary Forces and Blind Visual Propaganda. The growing list of Cinema's high profile projects includes title sequences for feature films "Spider-Man" (Sony), "Daredevi"l (Fox) and "The Haunted Mansion "(Disney), television programs "Lucky" (FX), "Touching Evil" (USA) "The L Word" (Showtime), and "Interscope Presents â€˜The Next Episode"' (Showtime).
"Over the past ten years everyone became enamored with features that produce high end visual effects," says Paul Babb, president of Maxon USA. The list, he continues, includes tools for creating photorealistic characters and dressing them in moving cloth and fur, particle and fluid effects for generating real world elements like oceans, storms, fire, wind and snow, lighting effects like radiosity and sub surface scattering and advanced modeling techniques like sub division surfacing.
"Feature for feature, all 3D packages are pretty much the same," he says emphatically. "Each has its strengths and unique workflow. It's rare you can complete your task with just one 3D package. That would be like an artist depending on one paintbrush. This is an art form. It all comes down to the effect you are trying to create."
Babb recalls The Orphanage did a music video with Cher. "They had this CG staircase and they could not get that staircase to work. Someone said, â€˜Cinema 4D is rockin' with Boolean's, (modeling techniques that employ two objects that overlap) it handles Booleans extremely well.' So in that situation Cinema was the best way to go."
Orphanage (www.theorphanage.com) founder Stu Maschwitz recalls that Cher's Song for the Lonely was his music video directorial debut. "We had elaborate effects in the video," describes Maschwitz. "This was Cher's 9/11 tribute, showing New York City being built. As she's running up a set of stairs, the building is coming into existence. We had to have Boolean reveals, Booleans as part of the modeling process. We had a bake off of the 3D software. We tried Maya, Electric Image and LightWave. Then we tried Cinema 4D on a lark. Cinema was the only one that could do it and render it without funky artifacts and that was a tall order."
Imaginary Forces (www.imaginaryforces.com) designer Charles Khoury says that he learned Cinema 4D at Cranbrook Academy of Art. "What's cool about Cinema is that it's very much geared to graphic designers. It's accessible, easy to use, and it renders faster. It's not so dense. With Maya you have to go through a lot of manuals."
"When we did the title sequence for Spider-Man we had to go through a pitch phase against three other firms," remembers Khoury. The Imaginary Forces team, he says, was not given specific directions and came up with the original idea of a journey through the veins of Spider-Man and witnessing his change from a regular person to superhero. "The backbone of the concept was to have the title credits caught in the web like insects. We pitched it to director Sam Rami and he liked everything."
Two other feature projects Imaginary Forces did in Cinema was the title sequence for Daredevil and Haunted Mansion. For the tale about the blind lawyer with super powers director Mark Steven Johnson described an opening vision of braille being lifted from the city lights and morphing into letter forms. "The process started by developing different storyboard iterations, followed by animatics that were finally refined for the final output," recalls Khoury.
In Haunted Mansion , director Rob Menkoff provided certain props from the movie and Imaginary Forces modeled them in Cinema and choreographed them to work with the footage. "The idea behind the sequence was to establish the back-story of the movie as a prologue, and Rob Minkoff, responded very well to the classic structure that we presented "says Khoury.
Mike Godecke, founder, owner and executive creative director of Santa Monica-based design firm Belief (www.belief.com) says, "We've been toying with Cinema 4D on and off with for some time. Then last year we kicked ass on a lot of big projects. We beta test the latest technology for like six months and either it becomes part of our workflow or it goes and Cinema is definitely a keeper."
"We still use Maya for character animation, but for straight design stuff, Cinema 4D is the one to use," explains Godecke. "It's replaced Electric Image for our design type projects. It's fast and user friendly, all of our designers are learning to use it."
"We just finished a whole graphics package with Cinema for CNN Entertainment Weekly. We did a DirecTV spot that's pretty cool, and two spots for Mervyn's." Other Belief projects using Cinema include NGC Geography of, Oh! Oxygen Movie, CNNi Business Traveler, MTV Movie House, Food Network Lunchbox, and Cartoon Network Samurai Jack.
Over at Sony Imageworks, senior lead matte painter Ivo Horvat is a happy man. Maxon programmers cooked up some custom tools in Cinema 4D that streamline the technique of camera mapping, creating animated matte paintings by projecting them on to 3D geometry.
For the last hundred years or so, Horvat says, matte paintings have been used to create, extend or alter environments in movies by creating giant detailed paintings, traditionally on large panes of glass, that were composited with live action footage.
Matte painters today use digital brushes in virtual space and their versatility is limitless. Years ago effects shots with matte paintings were "locked down" because true camera moves within them weren't possible. Today effects artists can simply build a 3D model of the environment, texture it, shade it, and render the shot with all of the latest lighting tools.
"That's a good solution," Horvat continues, "when the scene is used to generate many shots, but not when just a few are needed." So matte artists have evolved various two-and-a-half-D techniques where digital matte paintings are "projected" on to 3D geometry. "This technique allows for a totally 2D approach in its painting, but yet is completely three dimensional when finally rendered and integrated," says Horvat excitedly.
"It's changed my whole philosophy of production. Before I would test render moving shots out once or twice a week, now I routinely knock out seven or eight a day. This is so fast and easy to use I taught some of my artists who had no previous 3D experience how to use it in a couple of hours."
Blind Visual Propaganda
Santa Monica design house Blind Visual Propaganda (www.blind.com) got its intriguing name from founder Chris Do who operates from the design philosophy of "no preconceived notions."
Tom Koh, co-creative director, led the team that used Cinema 4D in their design pitches for the Showtime TV show Interscope Presents â€˜The Next Episode'.
"This was a whole image campaign and we worked from just a write up on the show and the show philosophy," says Koh. Blind competed against other design firms and used Cinema 4D to make four sets of storyboards and 12 different logo designs.
"For The Next Episode we created a show package that depicted the artistry behind the culture of Battle Rap. The idea behind the package was to bring the MC's/Artist's sketchbook to life. We generated these dimensional graphic lines that look like graffiti lines that carried the viewer through the world of the artists," says Koh, "and also built a turntable that resolves into the show package. They were really wowed by the logos. We got a good response from the director Moses Edinborough from our initial presentation."
Depending on how elaborate or in depth the project is, Blind will use Cinema, Maya or 3D Studio Max to finish the project. "Cinema seems to be the most user friendly. It allows us to work effectively and render out the 3D shots that we need in the shortest amount of time."
Koh explains, that it took three weeks of production with Cinema to roll out the :60 open, lower thirds, some bumpers, an animated bug, and end credits, and make them all feel consistent in one "design family."
Producer/director Jay Dubin (Beakman's World, Dinosaurs) (www. jaydubin.net) designed the opening title for the John Corbett FX channel drama Lucky as a favor for his producer friends Mark and Robb Cullen. It's a typical story, he says, they paid a lot of money for the opening and they weren't happy so he was glad to help them out. "I'm working on another one for them for a new show, but I can't talk about that one yet.
"I got into Cinema when the price difference between Cinema and Maya was huge," recalls Dubin. "Cinema does 90 percent of what Maya does in some areas and 110 percent of what Maya does in other areas. Rendering is much faster in Cinema and some of the workflow is a bit easier."
The paradigm, he says, is that there is a little box that sits under your desk and does amazing things. At the end of the day Apple, Maya, Cinema, they're all just tools. "Years ago you'd have to go into a room that looked like the bridge of [Star Trek's] Enterprise and pay $500 an hour to do what is primitive compared to what I can do today. It's great."