Things are about to get a much needed shake-up in the low-to-midrange 3-D market, thanks to Maxon. The new version of the company’s 3-D-animation system, Cinema 4D, dubbed R8 and without the usual XL suffix, is being offered for less than half the price of the previous version (Reviews, June 2002).
The price decrease may sound like a desperate attempt to boost sales, as other high-profile 3-D-software companies have made 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 the features of version 7, plus several improvements, for the paltry sum of $595. This is almost the same package that was in competition with Maya and LightWave and cost more than $1,500.
To the Core
What you don’t get in R8 Core that was available in the previous version is radiosity and caustics, and the three-node NET rendering license. The Advanced Render module for R8 costs an extra $495. For this, you get radiosity and caustics back, as well as a new depth-of-field system and new highlight and glow effects. These produce sparkly highlights on shiny objects or diffused glows. The glow parameters are vast, so you can produce anything from pseudo-fur to electric plasma and fog. This depth-of-field system is a great improvement on the previous version’s, especially for high-resolution stills, but it’s still not perfect.
R8 Core has many improvements that affect workflow, whether you’re doing simple Web graphics or high-end animations and effects. For example, a new Attributes Manager is a nonmodal panel that displays parameters associated with any selection. Select a light, and all the light’s parameters — including shadow casting, color, and wire-frame color — become accessible. What’s more, your changes are updated in the Editor in real time. In fact, almost all panels are nonmodal, including Render Preferences and General Preferences. They can be docked to the interface and left open.
Another 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. 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 center of the group. However, it works only with absolute values, so if the objects have different x-position values, for example, moving the x-position value in the Attributes 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. 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 nontechies can produce incredible results with a minimum of brain work. Others have tried to make expressions in 3-D easier, but no one has succeeded until now.
The other modules available are Thinking Particles, which, together with the XPresso interface, provide high-end particle effects; PyroCluster, for volumetrics; Dynamics; BodyPaint 3D; and NET Render. Last but not least is MOCCA (MOtion Capturing and Character Anima-tion), 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 Kinetics) systems — making characters appear floppier and more natural in their movements. Though still animating a goal object to drive an IK chain, the bones are less tightly bound to one another and have built-in dynamics that take gravity and other natural laws into account,
so secondary animation effects occur automatically. Another tool in MOCCA is Cappucino, 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.
Modeling has also been improved, with the introduction of edge selection and manipulation. HyperNURBS now feature point and edge weighting, and two new deformers — Spline and Spline Rail — let you use spline curves to deform objects. Rendering is even faster than before, but it’s the OpenGL performance that will take your breath away. In many cases, overall speed is five times that of version 7, which was no slouch.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Cinema 4D R8 is a fantastic upgrade with a price that makes it the 3-D program of choice in the low-to-midrange market. However, it can compete with LightWave and Maya in many areas, especially with the new animation and character tools. For 3-D novices, or people 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.