Maxon Cinema 4D 11 full review

A few years ago 3D on the Mac wasn’t looking too great. There were few 3D apps of note and Apple's hardware couldn't really cope with the demands of 3D production. That's all changed now, of course, and Apple's 8-core Mac Pros are great machines for doing 3D graphics. Even better is the wide choice of 3D applications available for OS X. Even PC stalwarts like Houdini and Rhino are headed Mac-wards.

Cinema 4D is one of the programs that has really helped the Mac's resurgence in 3D of the years. It's worth noting that Maxon maintains complete parity between the Mac and PC versions of its software, with both versions developed in tandem and released at the same time (unlike some). This is one of the reasons Cinema 4D has become one of the industry-standard 3D programs for OS X; the other being that it's very, very good. As the 3D industry has matured and development of 3D software has progressed there is a lot less to choose between the main all-purpose 3D animation packages. All of them work well and offer roughly the same feature set, so choosing the right 3D package is much less of a gamble than it used to be. That said, Cinema 4D has always offered a level of integration and seamlessness that can sometimes be lacking in other apps. It’s also historically been very robust and stable, and this latest release continues that legacy.

The clever bit

Though version 11 has many new and exciting features, which we'll get to, there is one that really stands out for professional 3D artists and that’s 64-bit support. Running on Leopard, Cinema 4D 11 can access all the available RAM that you can stuff into an Octo-Mac, 32GB of it if necessary (minus the operating system RAM requirements, of course). This is because Cinema 4D is now a fully cocoa-native app and one of the few apps available that can full take advantage of Apple's 64-bit operating system. This allows you to render hugely complicated scenes in a single pass and we must say that it works well without a hint of drama.

Speaking of rendering, version 11 includes a major overhaul of the Advanced Render module. AR3 as it is called has a completely new GI rendering system that is both more accurate and easier to use than the old version. Even more interesting is built-in support for Renderman via the new CineMan module. In the prefs you can choose to use an alternate Renderman render such as Air, Photoreal Renderman or 3Delight.

3Delight is free to use non-commercially and it works perfectly, rendering its results directly in the viewport, such is the seamless integration. AR3 is also much faster thanks to significant optimisation. Speed varies depending on the scene but is borne out in tests. The Render Options has also had a make-over. It may confuse you at first but the logic, which allows for better control of presets, makes sense. Other features include a vastly improved Physical Sky system and volumetric clouds, though Pyrocluster hasn't been updated.

New and improved

For animators Cinema 4D 11 now offers true Non Linear Animation. It's been a long time coming but the new system, which includes motion clips, animation layers and blending, makes animating complex characters a doddle. There's also a new Onion Skinning feature that shows the position of an object in previous and future frames, which helps to visualise the effects of animation changes.

Cinema's custom user data display is a neat feature. It lets you take just the handful of parameters for an object that you need to adjust and store them together in a custom-user data tab on any other object. You can relink them using the Driver/Driven commands to put the controls you need for multiple object (say all the scene lights) at your fingertips. Cinema's material system remains largely unchanged except for improved previews (such as soft shadows and GI and new objects) and improved transparency, which now includes a useful absorption setting. Reflection previews also benefit from using an HDRI image instead of the LDR one of old. What we'd really like to see though is shader/texture instancing rather than just copy/pasting as you can in 3DS Max, which would improve material workflow no end.

The BodyPaint 4 module now supports the .abr brush preset format used by Photoshop, which expands the palette of brushes available for 3D painting. The interface has also been rejigged and makes a bit more sense and the program features new Blur, Sharpen and Colourize tools. Some other nice improvements are an integrated online updater, a license server for managing distributed licenses in organizations, COLLADA support, a Doodle tool for rotoscope-like drawing in the editor, a Script Manager and an improved Help system.

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