From humble beginnings, Cinema 4D has become an established and robust 3D animation package. But what about all those illustrators and Web designers that need the cool features of Maxon’s flagship product, Cinema 4D XL 7, but who don’t need its animation features – or its high price? Enter Cinema 4D Art 7, an upgrade that features all of the still-rendering goodies from XL 7.
Cinema 4D Art, introduced last year, was based on version 6 of Cinema 4D XL. Since then, Maxon has released version 7 of its flagship animation app for Mac OS X, boasting loads of exiting new features. Art users, though, didn’t get an upgrade – until now. Art 7 runs natively in OS X.
As a still 3D-rendering system, rendering quality is of utmost importance, so I was pleased to see Art 7 has all of the rendering features introduced in XL 7. That means global illumination (aka Radiosity), surface and volume caustics, and blurred reflection and transparency options, to name but a few. Global illumination is the most important for still rendering, because it offers another level of realism to renders, as well as introducing a whole new world of artistic possibilities.
Global illumination allows the renderer to take into account a scene’s indirect lighting – meaning the light bouncing between objects is used to add to the scene’s illumination. Take for example a scene comprising a cube with a hole in it, like a simple version of a window in a room. In a normal renderer, a shadow-casting light placed outside the room would illuminate only the parts of the room it could actually ‘see’ through the window. The rest of the room, such as the corners and the inside face of the window-wall, would remain totally black. We all know this doesn’t happen in reality, and global illumination fixes this discrepancy. The result is organic; it produces renders with beautifully natural shading, colour bleeding and shadows.
Of course, photorealism is not the raison d’être of 3D graphics programs, and, while Cinema 4D Art 7 offers a great feature-set for producing this style of image, there’s also massive scope for stylistic expression. The Smells Like Almonds shaders in Art 7 are impressive, for example. These stackable shaders (fractals, Fresnel shaders, utilities, and other goodies) allow complex materials to be constructed with relative ease. While the texturing system is fine for most jobs, Art is also compatible with Maxon’s BodyPaint plug-in – albeit at extra cost.
The modelling system is mostly unchanged from version 6. Sub-division Surfaces and pseudo-NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline) modelling are supported and remain as before. It’s an excellent system, one of the few that offer a live and relational modelling pipeline. XL 7 saw two new deformers introduced – ExplosionFX and PolyReduction. Both of these are present in Art 7, the former being useful for creating abstract illustration elements.
Rendering in Art 7 has been improved, thanks to an an all-new antialiasing approach. The renderer produces much better antialiased edges using the new Geometry mode. This renders object-edges at a phenomenal 16x oversampling for perfectly smooth, crisp edges, and with a minimal time penalty. However, the new scheme means that, to antialias colours, textures and hard shadows – as well as things like geometry in reflections, or from behind transparent objects – requires that you use the alternative Best antialiasing method. This uses a threshold value to determine where the oversampling takes place: a low threshold antialises only highest-contrast edges, while higher threshold-values add lower-contrast pixels to the pipeline, increasing rendering times.
One feature that makes Art a best-buy for illustrators working with 3D is the MultiPass output. MultiPass rendering produces a layered Photoshop (or BodyPaint .B4d) file containing a separate layer for each material and effect channel. For example, a render of a scene with volumetric lights and global illumination might contain Diffuse, Specular, Reflection, Radiosity, Atmosphere on separate layers. This offers a massive degree of control over the final image using only Photoshop, instead of tedious re-rendering of scenes. If a scene’s radiosity is too strong, you can simply reduce the opacity of the layer. Specular highlights too dim? No problem. Just duplicate the layer.
Cinema 4D Art 7 works great on OS X. However, there’s a problem with OpenGL, causing it to flicker and delay changing views – but Maxon is adamant that this is a problem with Apple’s implementation of OpenGL. Small points aside, Art 7 is a must-have upgrade for current Art users, and should be tried-out by anyone needing to produce quality still-frame 3D graphics.