Cinema 4D XL6 is the latest 3D-animation package from Maxon. This new version of the acclaimed 3D rendering package is much better than the last version, and is not just a simple upgrade.
Behind the un-Mac-like, but well crafted, interface lies a 3D program of unmistakable power and flexibility. This is shown by the new hierarchical modelling "pipeline". The new modelling tools and functions offer a non-linear environment that can create and modify models with greater freedom than before.
In most 3D programs, a modelling operation is performed as a command on a selected object. To create a tube, for instance, you would select a circular curve then choose an Extrude command from a menu. This may or may not lose the original curve, but you'd almost certainly lose any link between the curve and the extruded surface.
Maxon's approach is to implement
the modelling tools as objects rather than commands. To use the same extrude as an example, in XL 6 the circle curve is placed in, or rather grouped in, an Extrude object. The Extrude contains no geometry, and does not display in the 3D view - save for a set of axes - but exists as an icon in the Object Manager window. As soon as the circle is dragged onto the Extrude icon the operation is performed, and the surface then appears. If you edit the shape of the curve the extruded surface also changes.
This linkage is what gives XL its non-linear modelling functionality. Further modelling can be done on the surface, such as adding a deformer object. You can still edit the circle curve and any changes travel through the hierarchy - the extrusion and the deformation receive the changed information and the resulting object reflects this change.
Double clicking an object accesses its parameters, such as interpolation method for splines, or capping and bevelling options for the Extrude, Lathe, Loft and Sweep objects.
Many of these parameters can be animated using a Parameter sequence in the Timeline. You can smoothly animate value fields, such
as the rotation of a lathe or the length
of an extrusion.
XL6 supports Polygons and NURBS, though the NURBS are non-standard and have no editable control verticies (CV) - the 3D version of a bézier curves. XL also supports subdivision surfaces in the form of HyperNURBS objects. Placing any object into a HyperNURBS object creates a smoothly subdivided surface, using
the original object's geometry as a
control cage. Though you can use any hierarchical object as the source for a HyperNURBS cage, it's really best to stick with simple polygon objects. The beauty of HyperNURBS is that smooth, high-resolution organic surfaces can be created using simple polygonal cages.
The polygon editing tool-set has been improved, and many of the new tools are directly applicable to HyperNURBS modelling - such as the Knife and Bevel. There's also a very useful Untriangulate tool - superb for converting imported-triangulated meshes into quads.
The tool-set ranges from high-level sculpting tools, such as Magnet tool, to the functions found in the Structure menu and Structure manager itself - you can edit the point and poly data directly.
As mentioned, the interface is not Mac-like. It runs within a main window, at first at least, because it's totally customizable. The main menu bar commands are also within this window, rather than on the Menu Bar, which wastes space but keeps the interface consistent across platforms. Many of the data-display windows can be grouped into Tabs, which is a useful way of organizing things.
The Timeline has been re-jigged to be much more user friendly. It supports the selection and manipulation of multiple keys and sequences, and also has layers and colour coding so you can organize the display in complex scenes without having to scroll through hundreds of objects. Function curves fine tune keyframe interpolation, but the tangent handles were a bit fiddly to use. I was also surprised to find that independent motion channels still aren't supported. When I spoke to Maxon about this, they said no one had requested it. But says the company, it intends to include this in a future release. It listens to its customers.
What Cinema XL does have, though, is Motion Sequencing. In XL 6 any Rotation, Translation or Scale sequences can be grouped into a single Motion sequence. A single skeleton hierarchy,
for example, can have multiple Motion Sequences controlling it. And, these can be blended together to create a composite motion. What's more, these Motion tracks can be applied to different objects at different times - allowing you to animate crowds of characters, all with different combinations of animation, by simply drag-&-dropping Motion sequences on to them. Libraries of animations can also be stored and retrieved allowing you to reuse your animation data.
There are loads of other features, such as weight mapping for bones and deformers, Symmetry, UV mapping and improved lighting - including Area lights and shadows. If you tend towards character animation there's nothing to compete with XL at the price.