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At a Glance
  • Maxon Computer CINEMA 4D XL 7.3

Thanks to Apple's adoption of many technologies that professional 3-D artists have relied on for years--such as OpenGL for 3-D hardware acceleration, dual-processor workstations, and video cards (from Nvidia and ATI)--the Mac landscape is fertile with options for 3-D­production artists. We looked at Cinema 4D XL 7, which takes full advantage of the Mac's 3-D­ production enhancements and provides excellent rendering capabilities. The recent upgrade, version 7.3 (a free download for owners of version 7), improves the program's OS X compatibility and raises the bar on After Effects integration. Nonetheless, several interface anomalies can make working with Cinema 4D XL 7.3 counterintuitive.

All for One

All 3-D functionality is encapsulated in a single program, so Cinema 4D's workflow is much easier to manage than that of Electric Image's Universe and NewTek's LightWave 3D, which have separate applications for modeling and animating. In Cinema 4D, you can quickly experiment with models to see how they animate.

Rendering has always been the foundation of Cinema 4D, and in version 7.3, Maxon has added improved antialiasing, radiosity, global illumination, caustics, and a set of new 3-D shaders to the program's already impressive rendering tools. In addition, Cinema 4D's ray-tracing engine has been improved: even on complex scenes using volumetric lighting and refraction, Cinema 4D XL 7's renderer finishes scenes a dramatic four to five times faster than version 6's.

Modeling, animation, character setup, and texturing tools in Cinema 4D are solid. Cinema 4D provides a full set of polygon and NURBS modeling tools, including a surface-subdivision feature called Hyper NURBS. The interface for creating organic shapes with Hyper NURBS is well implemented, giving visual feedback about both the subdivided object and its construction cage. But the program is missing fine-tuning controls such as vertex influence and creasing.

Cinema 4D's practical texturing tools give you WYSIWYG control over texture maps but would benefit from the addition of an image-placement gizmo or UVW-coordinate editor like those found in Alias|Wavefront's Maya and LightWave 3D.

Decisions, Decisions

The Cinema 4D XL 7 CD installs the program for either OS 9 or OS X. With version 7.3, Maxon has implemented a full Aqua-compliant interface for the program's OS X iteration: you can choose between it and the default cross-platform interface familiar to longtime Cinema 4D users. This new interface is such an invigorating improvement on Cinema 4D's drab interface, it would be the better default interface for OS X.

Cinema 4D XL 7.3's workflow is both natural and easily manageable: tools are positioned conveniently, and keyboard shortcuts are accessible with your non-mousing hand. But there are some actions that would benefit from a more Mac-centric approach. For instance, the view-port navigation relies heavily on the right mouse button in the PC version of Cinema 4D, and the replacement in the Mac version is to hold down the 1 key while executing an action using your mouse. Using both hands this way, for such essential, common operations, can be inconvenient.

For production artists looking to splurge on a new dual-1GHz Power Mac G4, Cinema 4D's support for multiprocessor rendering in both OS 9 and OS X may justify the expense. In addition, Cinema 4D's full OpenGL-rendered view ports let you navigate scenes with large polygon counts smoothly and quickly, even with lower-end video cards such as the ATI Rage 128, which shipped with earlier Power Mac G4s. Although scene navigation is speedy, experienced 3-D users will find Cinema 4D's camera orbiting awkward--mouse tracking to the right orbits the view to the left, opposite from most other 3-D programs, including Maya.

After Effects Integration

Version 7.3 introduces direct support for Adobe After Effects 5.0 and later. With multipass rendering, each material attribute in a scene--such as specular highlights, shadows, and transparency--can be rendered separately; the workload is thus divided between the rendering engine and the compositing program. Each pass can then be layered using After Effects blend modes. That way, if you need to make a change, the entire scene doesn't have to be rendered again.

Cinema 4D XL 7.3 works seamlessly with After Effects. The program can save each pass as a separate file, and it can create an After Effects composition file, which contains the blend-mode setting for each pass. Cinema 4D also exports all light and camera information, including animation tracks supported in After Effects 5.5. This is an extremely useful and timesaving feature for incorporating 2-D elements using After Effects' 3-D layers--the 2-D elements take on the same lighting and perspective used to render the Cinema 4D scene.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Cinema 4D XL 7.3 is an extensive application for 3-D production, and it's upping the ante for 3-D on the Mac. Veteran 3-D artists looking for modeling, animation, and rendering tools in a single package will appreciate Cinema 4D's workflow. Novice 3-D­software users may find Cinema 4D's expansive collection of tools daunting, but the manuals and tutorials are well written and well organized, easing the otherwise-difficult learning process.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Extensive array of 3-D production tools
    • Very fast rendering engine
    • Seamless After Effects integration


    • Some quirky navigation and interface conventions
    • Awkward to use with a one-button mouse
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