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April 2014
Issue: January 1, 2014

Review: Maxon Cinema 4D Studio Release 15

By: Trevor M. Carlee
MANUFACTURER: Maxon

PRODUCT: Cinema 4D Studio Release 15

PRICE: $3,695

WEBSITE: www.maxon.net
· Team Render
· Camera Crane
· improved bevel and slide tools

I’ve been working with visual effects for a little more than a decade and am always looking for ways to extend my pallet. I started out with After Effects 5.0 back in 2001. It was pretty bare bones but so much more capable than most other programs at the time.

I started out using After Effects for personal use, but as the years passed, I started to take on more and more projects that required VFX or graphics. Eventually, there came a time where I needed to branch out into the (booming radio voice) “Third Dimension!”

I was able to “fake 3D” for a while in After Effects with plug-ins like Shatter, where you can essentially make a layer not shatter and just use the extrude tool. Obviously it was very finicky and not nearly as polished as what an actual 3D modeling/animating program would provide. Anyway, I eventually started turning to 3D programs to create simple 3D elements that I would animate around. I had some friends with Maya for a while and then I discovered Blender (a free 3D animation program). Then the game changed when Adobe included Cineware and Cinema 4D Lite with their latest cloud-based subscription of After Effects. Now was the time to make the jump.



I didn’t want to just figure out what the light version of Cinema 4D was capable of. I wanted to attack 3D modeling/animation full force. So I dove into Cinema 4D and never looked back.

I started with Cinema 4D Studio Release 15, and while I am a huge fan of Blender and what they’re doing, this software is everything I could ever need and want from a 3D program. After quickly running through some tutorials on Lynda.com, I was easily able to navigate through the program. Then came the new features.

TYPOGRAPHY

Until now I had been using Video Copilot’s Element 3D plug-in in After Effects to create really great looking 3D text. However, it does have its limitations, such as a lack of raytracing. I’ve never gone out of After Effects to create 3D text because I like having control of the style of the text constantly throughout the animation process. Well, in Cinema 4D, there is now the ability to adjust kerning, tracking, scale (both horizontal and vertical — or both) and baseline shift for individual characters. You can do this by adjusting the numerical properties for each setting or, if you click the “Show 3D GUI” checkbox, you can get your hands dirty with the actual letters in the viewer. This is my preference.

This feature alone adds so much value to this software as most of the visual effects required of me involve 3D text. I can now easily and confidently step into Cinema 4D, design my text, animate it and import it into After Effects through Cineware. It’s super easy. The only downside is that you can’t directly animate the individual properties, but hopefully that will be added in a future update.

While I’ll still use Element 3D for quick mockups and those “Make an amazing 3D animation of all of these words in the next hour” requests, Cinema 4D is where I’ll be spending my time when I want it to look truly unique and perfect.

RENDERING

One of the truly great new features is Team Render. While I am only a one-man shop, I do have a number of computers hanging about, and to be able to pull render power from all of my available machines for one project is really great. It even works across a network of Macs and PCs. The software also comes with the ability to only install the Team Render Client on other machines so you don’t need a bunch of computers up and running with a full version of Cinema 4D to do this.

Additionally, I was very pleased to see the option to limit the number of render threads to be used during Team Render in case I needed to use one of my machines while rendering out a big project.



Team Render uses Bonjour to discover the machines around you that are available. However, if you’d prefer not to use Bonjour, you can manually enter IP addresses and ports for each machine you want to add. I personally loved the ease of using the Bonjour method as all of my machines (except the PC) just showed up instantly in the Team Render settings. For my PC, I just had to enter the IP and Port, and it was permanently a part of my group.

Also, Ambient Occlusion renders faster in this new version with single frames as it now shares samples with the Irradiance Cache. Something else that’s really great is the fact that there’s now a cache for Ambient Occlusion so your future renders are much faster.

MODEL TOOLS

The new and improved bevel and slide tools really stand out. Being able to have complete control over the bevel points, edges and polygons in the 3D GUI was a very welcome addition. You can also click the “limit” checkbox to prevent overlapping geometry (something I’ve always struggled with) to make for some beautiful modeling.

SCULPTING

I haven’t really gotten my hands dirty with sculpting in a 3D program yet, but I could see myself getting into it with the new additions Maxon has added to this release. You can sculpt on very low poly models if needed. I think I’m going to get more into sculpting now that it seems more rounded. It could be great for creating little imperfections in my scenes.

A FEW OTHER THINGS

There’s a new Camera Crane option in the Camera menu that places an entire camera crane rig into your scene. You can control the angle and length of the base, arm, head and camera. The crane is positioned on a tripod that you can animate or position. You can also animate the base along a spline to act as a dolly. Being able to have a custom crane with a smooth “track” for a dolly system kind of blew my mind.

Some might ask, “Why would I need a crane when I can do the same animations with a regular camera?” My answer: Time. You can quickly draw a Bezier Spline, link the base of the crane to it and set the target of your camera to whatever you want it to focus on. Then you just animate the position and adjust accordingly. It’s super fast and matches the motion of an actual crane and dolly.



Another new feature that might just be a little unsung hero is the Texture Manager. You can view a full list of all of your textures with the ability to sort and filter. The best part about this new feature is the ability to relink missing textures quickly. You can just highlight the missing textures, select “relink” from the menu and navigate to where the textures are stored. Done. It’s that easy and super fast.

And last but certainly not least is the new Grass Grower. You can put grass on anything and fully customize it to your liking. From color to length to density, it’s incredibly easy and fast to add and make changes. You simply click “Grow Grass” and boom… instant grassification. Maxon’s Cineversity Website even has an “Instant Grassification” tutorial.

I’ve spent countless days using the CC Hair plug-in in After Effects to create grass for my visual effects, but no more. With Cineware and Grow Grass, I can now quickly make believable grass in a matter of seconds and bring it into my After Effects project. It’s odd how many times I’ve actually had to make grass. Really.

IN THE END

I’m definitely adding this stellar software to my toolbox. It has the refinement I’ve needed in my 3D animations and all of these new features make it even easier and more efficient to work with.

If you’ve never touched a 3D program, I’d highly suggest downloading the demo version of Cinema 4D and seeing what it’s all about. You won’t be able to keep the money in your wallet.



Trevor M. Carlee is a Post Producer based in Los Angeles. He can be reached via email at: tmcarlee@gmail.com.