Cinema 4D R9.5 full review

Unlike far too many commercial software developers, Maxon has an established reputation for providing value for money. Whereas other companies are often guilty of skimping on support and providing infrequent updates and bug fixes, the developers at Maxon seem determined to keep their flagship product, Cinema 4D, at the cutting edge.

An illustration of this attitude is provided by the latest update to the award-winning 3D package, available as a free download to registered users of the program. Boasting more than 50 small, as well as significant, enhancements to an already formidable piece of software, version 9.5 of Cinema 4D is an upgrade that many competitors would be tempted to charge serious money for.

Cinema 4D has been available on the Macintosh platform for close to a decade. In that time it has progressed from humble beginnings into a 3D powerhouse that allows users to create and animate 3D models to a quality that sets the standard for the genre. And version 9.5 once again raises the bar with the introduction of several major features that are destined to become invaluable components.

Chief among the new inclusions, and the one most users will be talking about, is the new Sky Manager plug-in. As the name suggests, this enables users to automatically generate realistic-looking volumetric and fully animated skies. Individual controls are provided for cloud type and illumination; you can also use the Cloud Wizard to generate a sky environment based on location and time of year. Volumetric clouds formations can even be painted. Although similar features have been available in other 3D packages for some type, the sky feature in Cinema 4D has been implemented with a style and simplicity that is a joy to use.

Another major addition to the program is the ability to generate complex objects using sub-polygon displacement. This uses an RGB rather than greyscale image to create objects that include modelling and illumination information. Any object or texture can be ‘baked’ to create a map that can be used to add complex detail to a simple model and significantly speed up rendering. This function is going to particularly appeal to game designers, who needs to generate simple polygon objects with detailed maps.

Speaking of rendering speeds, Maxon claim to have improved the program’s rendering engine by up to 300 per cent. While tests never quite managed to hit this peak, it has to be said that rendering times are impressive. A simple scene rendered in version 9 of the program, for example, took 3 minutes 30 seconds to complete; whereas that same scene rendered in the new version took only 2 minutes 40 seconds.

Also new to Cinema 4D is the inclusion of area lights that can be changed into any shape of your choosing. Simply nominate a polygon or spline object and it will become a fully fledged light in its own right. This can be made visible and is able to cast shadows and reflections in the render. This is one of many changes to the program’s lighting engine. Of particular significance are the new light icons, which now enable users to tell at a glance if a light is generating shadows.

For generating realistic dirt and shadow effects, there is now an ambient occlusion option that works like any other shader in Cinema 4D. This can be dropped into a channel in the Material Manager or even added globally through the render settings without the need to delete materials.

As well as these major enhancements to the program there are a number of smaller features that have been added as a direct response to user requests. These include a new borderless full screen mode accessible via a keyboard command; the ability to save projects incrementally so that earlier states are available in case of any mishaps; three new noises in the material editor (fire, electric and gaseous); a new shader, ‘ChanLum’, which can help to generate realistic-looking human skin; and for C.O.F.F.E.E aficionados, Cinema 4D 9.5 includes Scripts, small snippets of code that do not need plug-in IDs, so the user will not notice a difference between internal commands and C.O.F.F.E.E scripts.

Users of the Cinema 4D Studio Bundle will also notice some useful improvements to the BodyPaint module. As well as a number of minor bug fixes, users can now rename layers by double-clicking inside the manager, and there are new commands to enable and disable all selected materials for painting. There are also long-awaited enhancements to the bone tool – which can now be used without having to unfix bones and running the risk of destroying your rig if you forget to do this.

The development cycle at Maxonw is truly impressive, with improvements to the MOCCA, XPresso, Advanced Render and Clothilde modules, there is plenty here to keep even the most expert of Cinema 4D users busy. But perhaps even more important is the obvious amount of thought that has gone into this upgrade. The Cinema 4D interface, already among the most intuitive of the 3D giants, is even easier to use. With elegant tweaks in the way that objects, lights and materials are selected, as well as expanded support for drag & drop, the experience of operating in the third dimension has been greatly enhanced.

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