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Review: Maxon’s Cinema 4D R17

By Brady Betzel

Over the years, I have seen Maxon take Cinema 4D from something that only lived on the periphery of my workflow to an active tool alongside apps such as Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere and Avid’s Media Composer/Symphony.

What I have seen happenis the simplification of workflow and capabilities within Cinema 4D’s releases. This brings us to the latest Cinema 4D release: Cinema 4D R17. This release not only builds on the previous R16 release, like improved Motion Tracking and Shaders, but Maxon continues to add new functionality with things like the Take System, Color Chooser or the Variation Shader.

Variation Shader

Because I work in television, I previously thought that I only needed Cinema 4D when creating titles — I couldn’t quite get that gravitas that I was looking for in apps like Media Composer’s Title Tool, After Effects or even Photoshop (i.e. raytracing or great reflections and ambient occlusion that Cinema 4D always conveyed to me). These days I am searching out tutorials and examples of new concepts and getting close to committing to designing one thing a day, much like @beeple or @gsg3d’s daily renders.

Doing a daily render is a great way to get really good at a tool like Cinema 4D. It feels like Maxon is shaping a tool that, much like After Effects, is becoming usable to almost anyone that can get their hands on it — which is a lot of people, especially if you subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud with After Effects, because Cinema 4D Lite/Cineware is included.

Since I am no EJ Hassenfratz (@eyedesyn), I won’t be covering the minute details of Cinema 4D R17, but I do want to write about a few of my favorite updates in hopes that you’ll get excited and jump into the sculpting, modeling or compositing world inside of Cinema 4D R17.

The Take System
If you’ve ever had to render out multiple versions of the same scene, you will want to pay attention to the new Take System in Cinema 4D R17. Typically, you build many projects with duplicated scenes to create different versions of the same scene. Maybe you are modeling a kitchen and want to create five different animations, each with their own materials for the cabinet faces as well as unique camera moves. Thanks to Cinema 4D R17’s Take System you can create different takes within the same project saving tons of time and file size.

Take System

Under the Objects tab you will see a new Takes tab. From there you will generate new takes, enable Auto Take (much like auto keyframing, it saves each unique take’s actions) and perform other take specific functions like overrides. The Take System uses a hierarchical structure that allows for child takes to take the properties of its parents. At the top is the main take, and any changes made there affect all of its children underneath.

Say you want your kitchen to have the same floor but different cabinet face materials. You would first create your scene as you want it to look in the overall sense, then in the Take menu you would add takes for each version you want, name it appropriately for easy navigation later, enable Auto Take, change any attributes to that specific take, save and render!

In the Render Settings under Save > File… you can choose from the drop-down menu how you want your takes named upon export. There are a bunch of presets in there that will get you started. Technically, Maxon refers to this update as Variable Path and File Names, or “Tokens.”

This is a gigantic addition to Cinema 4D’s powerful toolset that should breathe a sigh of relief into anyone who has had to export multiple versions of the same scene. Now instead of multiple projects you can save all of your versions in one place.

Pen and Spline Tools
One of the hardest things to wrap my head around when I was diving into the world of 3D was how someone actually draws in 3D space. What the hell is a Z-Axis anyways? I barely know x and y! Well, after Googling what a Z-Axis is, you will also understand that technically, with a modern-day computing set-up, you can’t literally draw in 3D space without some special hardware.

pen tool

However, in Cinema 4D you can draw on one plane (i.e., Front View), then place that shape inside of a Lathe and bam! — you have drawn in 3D space complete with x,y and z dimensions. So while that is a super-basic example, the new Pen Tool and Spline Tool options allow for someone with little to no 3D experience to jump into Cinema 4D R17 and immediately get modeling.

For an example, if you grab the Pen tool and draw some sort of geometry and then want to cut a hole in it, you can now grab a new circle, place it where you want it to intersect the beautiful object you just drew, highlight the object you want to use as the object that will do the cutting (if you use the Spline Subtract), then hold Control on Windows and Command Mac and click on the object you want to cut from. Then go into the Pen/Spline menu and click Spline Subtract, Spline Union, Spline And, Spline Or or Spline Intersect. You now have a new permanent way to alter your geometry in a much more efficient way. Try it yourself; it’s a lot easier than reading about it.

I used this to create some — I’ll call them unique — shapes and was able to make intersection cuts easily and painlessly.

I also like the Spline Smooth tools. You’ve drawn your spline but want to add some flare —click on the Spline Smooth tools and under the options check off exactly what you want to do to your spline with your brush (think of Spline Smooth like the Liquify tool in Photoshop where you can bulge, flatten or even spiral your work). Under the options you can choose Smooth, Flatten, Random, Pull, Spiral, Inflate and Project. The Spiral function is a great way to give some unique wave-like looks to your geometry

Color Chooser
Another update to Cinema 4D R17 that I really love is the updated Color Chooser. While in theory it’s a small update, it’s a huge update for me. I really like to use different color harmonies when doing anything related to color and color correction. In Cinema 4D R17 you can choose from RGB, HSV or Kelvin color modes. In RGB there are presets to help guide you in making harmonious color choices with presets for Monochromatic, Analogous, Complementary, Tetrad, Semi-ComplemenColor Choosertary and Equiangular color choices. If you don’t have much experience in color theory it might be a good time to run to your local library and find a book; it will really help you make conscious and appropriate color choices when you need to.

Besides the updated color theory based layouts, you can import your own image and create a custom color swatch that can be saved. In addition, a personal favorite is the Color Mixer. You can choose two colors and use a slider to find a mix of the two colors you chose. A lot of great experimentation can happen here.

Lens Distortion
When compositing objects, text or whatever you can think of into a scene it can get frustrating when dealing with footage that has extreme lens curvature. In Cinema 4D R17 you can easily create a Lens Profile that can then be applied as either a shader or a post effect to your final render.

To do this you need to build a Lens Profile by going to the Tools menu and clicking Lens Distortion, then load the image you want to use as reference. From there you need to tell Cinema 4D R17 what it should consider a straight line — like a sidewalk, which in theory should be horizontally straight, or a light pole, which should be vertically straight

Lens Distortion

To do this you need to click Add N-Point Line and line it up against your “straight” object, you can add multiple points as necessary to create changes in line angle, choose a lens distortion model that you think should be close to your lens type (3D Standard Classic is a good one to start with), click Auto Solve and then save your profile to apply when you render your scene. To load the profile on render find your Render Settings > Effects > Lens Distortion and load it from there.

Book Generator
I love that Maxon includes some shiny bells and whistles to their updates. Whether it is a staircase from R16 or Grow Grass, etc, I always love updates that make me say, “Wow that’s cool.” Whether or not I use it a lot is another story.

In Cinema 4D R17, the Book Generator is the “wow” factor for me. Obviously it has a very niche use but it’s still really cool. In your content browser just search for Book Generator and throw it on your scene. To make the books land on a shelf you need to first create the shelves, make them editable, then click “Add Selection as One Group” or “Add Selection as Separate Groups” if you want to control them individually. Afterwards under the Book Generator object you can click on the Selection, which are the actual books. Under User Data you can customize things like overall book size, type of books or magazine, randomness, textures and bookends, and even make the books lean on each other if they are spaced out.

book generator

It’s pretty sweet once you understand how it works. If you want different pre-made textures for your magazines or books you can search for “book” in the Content Browser. They have many different kinds of textures including one for the inside pages.

Summing Up
I detailed just a few great updates to Maxon’s Cinema 4D R17, but there are tons more. The awesome ability to import SketchUp files directly into Cinema 4D R17 is very handy and keyframe handling updates and the possibilities from the Variation Shader make Cinema 4D R17 full of endless possibilities.

If you aren’t ready to drop the $3,695 on the Cinema 4D R17 Studio edition, $2,295 on the Visualize edition, $1,695 on the Broadcast edition or $995 on the Prime edition, make sure you check out the version that comes with Adobe After Effects CC (Cineware/Cinema 4D Light). While it won’t be as robust as the other versions, it will give you a taste of what is possible and may even spark your imagination to try something new like modeling! Check out the different versions here: http://www.maxon.net/products/general-information/general-information/product-comparison.html.

Keep in mind that if you are new to the world of 3D modeling or Cinema 4D and want to find some great learning resources you should check out Sean Frangella on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/seanfrangella @seanfrangellawww.greyscalegorilla.com/blog, Cineversity: and www.motionworks.net @motionworks. Cineversity even used my alma mater, California Lutheran University in their tutorials!

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 bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.

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