By Brady Betzel
It’s not every day that I need a full-fledged 3D application when editing in reality television, but when I do I call on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. The Cinema 4D Studio R16 release is chock full of features aimed at people like me who want to get in and get out of their 3D app without pulling out all of their hair.
I previously reviewed Cinema 4D Studio R15, and that is when I began to fall in love with just how easy it was becoming to build raytraced titles or grow grass with the click of my Wacom stylus. Now we are seeing the evolution from not just a standard 3D app but a motion graphics powerhouse that can be used to craft a powerful set of opening credits or seamlessly composite a beautiful flower vase using the new motion tracker all inside of Cinema 4D Studio R16.
I’ve grown up with Cinema 4D, so I may be a little partial to it, but luckily for me the great developers at Maxon have never let me down. Even if you are using Cinema 4D Lite R16 that is bundled with Adobe After Effects CC 2014, you can harness the power and depth that this package has to offer.
Apples to Oranges
First off let me address something that many of my Twitter followers and readers will ask: Why in the heck would I purchase Cinema 4D Studio Release 16 at a cost of $3,695 when Video CoPilot’s Element 3D v2 can do everything I need it to for $199.95? Element 3D is great, especially with its v2 release, and I will cover that in a later review. However, in the grand scheme of things it’s not an equal comparison.
Cinema 4D is a true 3D stand-alone application that will give you the most realistic reflections and raytracing you have seen. If you rarely do any modeling, or never really need truly realistic reflections and raytracing, then Element 3D will do the trick… but, if you want to have the most realistic light reflections possible — the ones that make your main title project stand out — then you want Cinema 4D. In the end Element 3D is tied to After Effects, which is traditionally not a true 3D application. Technically it’s 2.5D (a faked 3D world), which can limit your abilities in certain situations. The good news is if you do own After Effects CC 2014, you can use Cinema 4D Lite R16 and really see what the differences are.
In this section, I’ll be going over R16 updates such as the Reflectance Channel, built in 3D Motion Tracker, the Polygon Pen tool, and some of the object library updates. While I know the real Cinema 4D experts will laugh at the thought that I really love some of the new shiny bells and whistles, like the Advanced Cog Wheel Spline, these “shiny” updates really make Cinema 4D accessible to people like me who don’t necessarily have two months to build a gear-based animation that interlocks correctly, but still need it to look awesome!
The first update that stood out to me is the introduction of the Reflectance Channel. I really think this is the largest change to Cinema 4D R16, which has probably caused some headaches for Cinema 4D veterans, but I think this is a great feature that allows for some really amazing materials. The Reflectance Channel allows for 16 different reflection layers based off of BRDF, or bidirectional reflectance distribution function (Google it). Inside of the Reflectance channel you can layer your reflections and even customize them by using Layer Masks. The Layer Masks allow you to mask out a portion of your reflection; you can even do this with a gradient mask to gradually fade out a reflection OR cut a reflection in half with one color on the left — invert your color knots on the duplicated reflection Layer Mask gradient, change the Layer Color and have two reflections of different colors split in half perfectly.
You must see it to believe it. You can choose from reflections such as the newest type GGX to a pretty incredible one called Irawan, which is a woven cloth type that can produce amazing textures from fabrics like jeans or even silk. But don’t worry, Maxon kept in the legacy reflection types like Specular Blinn for those who don’t want to fully dive in to the new Reflectance Channel.
Don’t get me wrong, while I love the new Reflectance Channel and what it will do for anyone with time to create mind-blowing reflections with multiple levels of detail, it’s not easy to do. What I mean by that is, It’s not a three- or four-click process. It could take hours or days to dial in the exact look you want.
Built-in 3D Motion Tracker
A while ago I reviewed Imagineer System’s Mocha Pro 4.1, a planar tracking software that most motion graphics editors are familiar with. In addition to Mocha Pro, I am often forced to rely on Avid Media Composer’s point tracker, and occasionally the After Effects 3D Camera Tracker. One of the problems I had with Cinema 4D in the past is that it was just one of the tools in my tool box. It was often cumbersome and time consuming to have to jump in and out of After Effects, Cinema 4D — sometimes using CineWare — and maybe back into After Effects to export for my NLE, and then finally importing back into Avid Symphony. I am pretty proficient technically, but this process often zaps my energy (and time). Therefore, I tend to stick to as few programs as possible since my deadlines are usually hours not days. When I heard about the new 3D Motion Tracker in Cinema 4D Studio R16, I was excited and knew I needed to test it out.
To set up motion tracking you must first add a Motion Tracker to your scene — from the Motion Tracker menu — and load your footage. You can set the quality you want to watch your footage at under the Resampling option. In the 2D Tracking tab you can select how many tracks you want Cinema 4D to find and their spacing. Click Auto Track and you will be off and running.
Once complete there are many ways to find tracks that you like. Much like After Effects you can lasso errant tracks to get rid of them. You can even mask in/out parts of your scene, add manual tracks and set camera lens settings. When you are ready to reconstruct your 3D camera, click on Reconstruction, choose whether you want a full 3D reconstruction, Nodal Pan or Planar Track, and then finally hit Run 3D Solver. From there you can attach your models to tracking points.
When jumping into the Motion Tracker tool I thought that I would be able to load up any footage and go, unfortunately not every codec is supported. I wasn’t able to load any QuickTime-based files encoded using the H.264 codec. My contacts at Maxon told me that not being able to load my H.264 QuickTimes was a codec issue on my end. I use a lot of H.264 QuickTimes in reality television so that is what I tested, and it didn’t work. In order for Cinema 4D Studio R16 to recognize the footage I had to load image sequences, which I made using Adobe CC 2014 Media Encoder. Once I encoded the image sequence I could import quickly, track my footage and get a decent track. I wouldn’t say it beats any of the independent tracking software solutions, but it’s nice to have it inside of the Cinema 4D ecosphere.
Polygon Pen Tool
For modelers, the new Polygon Pen Tool may be the reason why you upgrade to Cinema 4D Prime R16 or above (in my case Studio). I am definitely not a modeler but when I used the Polygon Pen Tool I was blown away at what I had just realized was now possible. I could literally paint geometry directly on to a model in 3D space very quickly and easily. This is another tool that you have to see to believe, but it really made modeling seem accessible to me.
Advanced Cog Wheel Spline
So before you start thinking, “Brady, I thought you were better than being sucked into products that give its user’s ‘Shiny Toy’ upgrades?” I have to say, “I’m not.” I love it when I see a feature that will drastically shorten the amount of work time I need to spend on a project while also improving what my end product will be. This time it’s the Advanced Cog Wheel Spline. In a matter of minutes (not weeks) you can have a fully interacting Cog Wheel system that has beautiful metallic properties.
If you get a client that wants an intricate system of gears connecting and interacting but wants the ability to change the amount of spokes, notches or even saw blades easily — this will save your butt. It might only come in handy a handful of times but I’m sure you can include the cost of the upgrade into your project estimate.
Cinema 4D R16’s presets library has been reorganized and updated with some pretty awesome presets. You get all of the preset content that Maxon includes in the differing versions of Cinema 4D R16 including the Advanced Cog Wheel Spline system. From the Visualize version you get some great product models that can be adjusted down to the finest details and even something called Fold My Design. Yes, it’s another shiny toy feature but it is really cool and really easy to use. You can design a product’s packaging and even animate it quickly. I occasionally do side work in addition to my day job, and saying “no” isn’t in my vocabulary (although asking for proper compensation is). If a client needs a product model and packaging, I can do a rough mock-up using the preset Fold My Design. Then if the client approves it, it can be sent off to a proper modeler to add materials and sweet bevels.
Once I get a 3D printer I could export my design in STL format to be printed on my future Makerbot (@makerbot) Replicator 3D printer (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). The Cinema 4D Studio R16 library even has extensive presets for architects like windows, doors and staircases that can be used with the new House Builder preset included in the Visualize version.
If you are intimidated by the idea of jumping into Cinema 4D for the first time, my advice would to be to sign up for Cineversity and watch all the tutorials you can. Also, bookmark Grey Scale Gorilla and watch all of those tutorials. Or maybe head over to Motionworks and purchase Tim Clapham’s (@helloluxx) “Learn Cinema 4D in One Day” tutorials. Finally, visit Mograph Candy, where Dan Conrad has some great tutorials to get you up to speed in no time. Dan has this advice for new artists looking to get their feet wet: “I know a hang-up for a lot of motion graphics artists who open Cinema 4D for the first time is figuring out where everything is. With multiple windows and several ‘File’ menus to navigate, it can be a bit daunting at first glance. My advice would be to find a tutorial about navigating around Cinema 4D before anything else.” Follow him @mographcandy.
One feature that I am kind of shocked hasn’t been addressed by Maxon in Cinema 4D Studio is the internal ability to harness GPU rendering. If you have some extra cash after purchasing Cinema 4D R16 Studio you can buy Octance or VRay rendering engine alternatives, which are both supported by Cinema 4D R16 and allow for improved rendering speed among other perks.
Octance can use Nvidia’s CUDA technology to dramatically speed up renders. Without buying something like Octane, and if you have an Nvidia Quadro K6000 installed for your Adobe CC products, you aren’t able to take advantage of that powerful, and very high-end, card.
But that said, internal rendering in Cinema 4D R16 Studio is faster than it has ever been, and in the end I love it! I love the new presets and especially the new Reflectance Channel. If you have one job that requires cogs and gears, the R16 upgrade is a must for you… it will pay for itself. If you are a modeler and want to change they way you model, the Polygon Pen tool might be your muse.
There are plenty of other features I didn’t get to in this review that might make you want to upgrade to R16, such the new comment functions, an interaction tag, easier keyframing, the bevel deformer, symmetry object enhancements, the unsubdivide feature, improvements to the Team Render Server that are now web-based or the improved BI render engine that speeds up your render time.
As I always say, time is money and you can save a ton of time in Cinema 4D R16 Studio.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously he was editing The Real World at Bunim Murray Productions. You can email Brady at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.