Cinema 4D R15 review - Create stunning 3D graphics
CG artist and art director Jean Pichot gives us a (very) in-depth review at the latest version of the popular 3D suite.
The first time I used Cinema 4D was after taking on a project that required 3D – and spending the weekend before production learning as much as I could about the software. Surprisingly, I was able to mock out designs and concepts within a few days – and by the end of the following week, was working on rounds of animation towards a final delivery the following week.
Far from needing to learn everything about it before starting, it allowed me to figure out enough to get to where I needed within a specific area of design, and the ability to get results fairly quickly even with very little knowledge of how everything worked.
That led to more projects involving 3D elements, and with each one, my knowledge expanded as my requirements were pushed. New challenges in a particular spot meant having to find solutions and forced me to learn new tools or better ways of doing things in order to achieve faster (and better looking) results.
That's the beauty of Cinema 4D — you don't need to know everything about it to get interesting results quickly, and in some instances, there aren't that many steps from original concept to final output. Some of us have carved out entire careers just focusing on glossy, solid-coloured shapes with Fresnel reflections set in monochromatic environments, a lot of which looks amazing despite (or maybe thanks to) its visual simplicity.
Others are able to tap into the infinite possibilities of the MoGraph module and – paired with animation, global Illumination or ambient occlusion – create a wide array of jaw-dropping, inspiring artwork that is as alive, full of character, and visually captivating — all of this with just a few elements in a scene. And that's just scratching the surface, because Cinema 4D allows a user to do much more — including rigging and character animation, physical simulations, physical camera renderings, particle simulations, and dive into more complex animations using various scripting and expression setups. Plus it plays well with other software.
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In this release, Maxon's focused on the output side of things, and that's what I'll spend the most time on here. Along with updates to some modelling, sculpting, and type tools, as well as a couple new tools, they've added powerful options and flexibility to their rendering capabilities — in some cases completely overhauling previous setups.
I’m using the full-spec Studio version of Cinema 4D, so some things I cover here might not be relevant to other versions.
Faster, better rendering in Cinema 4D R15
The newly designed Global Illumination and Ambient Occlusion tabs help speed up the process of achieving clean, well-lit scenes — something that we all spend a large amount of time adjusting while creating — and Net Render has been scrapped in favor of the much more flexible (and customisable) Team Render, which — besides functioning as a standard render farm — allows you to tweak as you work locally instead of pausing to send to a farm, adding as many extra processors as you have available in your studio.
As with most of the updates in this round, Team Render comes with highly customisable options, allowing you to tailor fit it to your needs, and even splits single image renders to multiple machines.
The first thing you’ll notice when you launch R15 is that not much has changed. It looks very much the same as what you’re used to seeing when the software loads – barring a newly designed splash screen. This is a good thing.
I like the layout of C4D, and being a Modo user as well (for modelling), I tend to prefer the former – although yes, Modo is visually beautiful to work in (more on that later). They’ve updated the icons for Retina displays, and it’s noticeable if you’ve got one of those.
A couple of other tweaks are the name changes for HyperNURBs, now called Subdivision Surface. Most of the other changes though are located within tabs, and it’s easy to miss them if you’re not paying attention, such as in the type tools, where the updated kerning possibilities are hidden under a twirl-down menu or a click to activate it in the viewer.
The same goes for the Deform tools — there’s a Fit To Parent check box that automates the process of having to resize and position bounding boxes. Even the updates to ambient occlusion are tucked within a separate tab, next to the one you’re used to working with. I’ll go over those in detail, but I’ll start with the one I’ll probably be using the most — Global Illumination, and work my way through what I consider to be most significant.
Global Illumination (GI)
Besides a newly developed Irradiance Cache algorithm, Maxon’s redesigned the way you approach and work with GI, making it more powerful, flexible, and allowing you to better customise settings in order to get cleaner results quicker.
Irradiance Caching has been updated and renders faster with more details, especially in shadow areas, where in the previous version you’d need to check a box to add those kinds of details. It's also more stable. Just in case you prefer the old method (or were to open an older file), you can still use it in what Maxon calls Legacy Mode.
Some comparison tests can be misleading, but after messing with scenes and matching details settings, the newer version does render quicker. That’s only half the story: the updated version has been written to also work with the new Team Render and offers much more in terms of workflow and speed.
Also benefitting from the updated Irradiance Cache is Light Mapping, which can greatly increase the quality of an image by allowing you to greatly increase light bounces without the long renders usually associated with bounces over four. In most cases, I had it up to 50 (and you can push it all the way up to 128), and the results were surprisingly fast and noticeably better (as in the shot above). The new algorithm seems closer to what you’d expect from QMC – cleaner, less flicker – but with faster calculations.
They’ve also added Primary and Secondary Modes, where you can, for instance, select Irradiance Cache as primary, and QMC or Light Mapping (or a number of others) as secondary. Personally, I prefer IC and LM, with increased bounces, but the benefit to this system is it makes it relatively easy to experiment with settings and compare results – whereas in the previous version I tended to use the same setup in most cases, since there was less to work with and didn’t seem as intuitive as it is now.
Just to make things even easier, Maxon has included presets — these are useful in seeing how setups work and can also be customized once selected, giving you optional starting points. Included are various interior, exterior, object visualization, and progressive render settings, of which Interior High Diffuse Depth seemed to be a good starting point in my tests.
Using Light Mapping along with an illumination object – with Illumination set to GI Area Light in the Illumination section of its Material – produces some pretty amazing results that are especially noticeable the more you increase bounces. This doesn’t really affect your render time, and it’s impressive to see what you’re able to get out of relatively small illumination sources: not just in terms of lighting, but also shadows, colour bounces, reflections, and overall image quality.