Things are about to get a much-needed shake-up in the low-to-mid-range 3D market, thanks to Maxon. The new version of 3D-animation system Cinema 4D, dubbed R8 and without the usual XL suffix, is being offered at less than half the price of the previous version.
It sounds like a desperate effort to boost sales, as other high-profile 3D companies have done recently. However, Cinema 4D R8 is a huge release for Maxon, so rather than keep the program in a single package, the company is offering different modular configurations at various prices. The entry-level Cinema 4D R8 Core has almost all of the features of version 7, plus several improvements, all for the paltry sum of £459. This is almost the same package that was in competition with Maya and Lightwave, and cost well over a grand.
To the Core
What you don?t get in R8 Core, however, is Radiosity and Caustics, and the three-node NET rendering licence. The Advanced Render module for R8 costs an extra £329. For this, you get Radiosity and Caustics back, plus a new depth-of-field system and new Highlight and Glow effects. These produce sparkly highlights on shiny objects or diffuse glows. The glow parameters are vast, so you can produce anything from pseudo-fur to electric-plasma and fog. Depth of field improves greatly on the previous system, especially for high-resolution stills, but it?s still not perfect.
R8 Core has many improvements that affect workflow ? whether doing simple Web graphics or high-end animations and effects. These include a new Attribute Manager ? a non-modal panel that displays parameters associated with any selection. Select a Light and all the Light?s parameters ? including shadow casting, colour and wireframe colour ? are accessible. What?s more, changes are updated in real-time in the Editor. In fact, almost all panels are non-modal, including Render Preferences and General Preferences. They can be docked to the interface and left open.
The other improvement is multiple-object selection. At last, more than one object at a time can be selected in the Editor view or Object manager, and moved, scaled and rotated together. Unfortunately, although you can move, rotate and scale the group using the tools and dragging in the view, you can also use the Coordinates section displayed in the Attributes Manager. This affects the objects on their own axis system, rather than on the centre of the group. However, it works only with absolute values, so if the objects have different x-position values, say, moving the x-position value in the Attribute Manager will cause all objects to snap to the same x position ? not always what you want. A Relative editing mode is needed.
Xpresso is a new expression system that uses a graphical user interface and blocks called Nodes to build complex (or simple) relationships between objects. The Nodes can be objects or special utilities that modify the data in some way. They have ports that can be connected together via wires that are dragged between them. It?s a powerful system, and even non-techies can produce incredible results with the minimal of brain-work. Others have tried to make expressions in 3D easier, but until now no-one has succeeded.
The other models on offer are Thinking Particles, which together with the Xpresso interface provides high-end particle effects; PyroCluster for volumetrics; Dynamics; BodyPaint; and NET Render. Last but not least is Mocca, which addresses Cinema?s weakest area: character animation.
One of Mocca?s main features is Soft IK. This system reduces the rigid nature of joint hierarchies ? typical of other IK (Inverse Kynetics) systems ? making characters appear more floppy and natural in their movements. Though still animating a goal object to drive an IK chain, the bones are less tightly bound to each other and have inbuilt dynamics that take into account gravity etc, so secondary animation effects occur automatically. Other tools in Mocca include Cappuccino, which records parameters in real-time as you move the mouse, and helps with the resulting dense data Keyframe Reduction. There?s also a great pose-mixing and morphing system, and utility tools such as Bone mirroring, weight painting and Up Vector constraints ? which make character rigging easier.
Modelling has also been improved, with the introduction of Edge selection and manipulation. HyperNURBS now feature point and edge weighting, and there are two new deformers on offer ? Spline and Spline Rail ? that let you use spline curves to deform objects. Rendering is even faster than before, but it?s the OpenGL performance that takes the breath away. In many cases overall speed is five times that of version 7, which was no slouch either.
Cinema 4D R8 is a fantastic upgrade with a price that makes it the 3D program of choice in the low- to mid-range market. At the high-end, it can compete with Lightwave and Maya in many areas, especially with the new animation and character tools. For 3D first-timers, or perhaps those who want to upgrade to something more serious, Cinema 4D R8 is a no-brainer that offers a clear upgrade path all the way to the high-end.
PyroCluster 2: £229;
Thinking Particles: £269;
Advanced Render: £329;
NET Render 3CL: £199;
NET Render UCL: £269;
BodyPaint 3D: £479.