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Home > June 2003 > Reviews
Cinema 4D Version 8

Sherman, set the Way-back Machine for the year 1982...
In the summer of 1982, I remember being excited about a new movie in the theatres, TRON. It was the first movie to make extensive use of CGI, Computer Graphics Imagery. Now, to most of the viewing public, this was little more than a gimmick, a way of luring people into a movie that was, admittedly, less than stellar. But the impact that this movie and subsequent movies such as The Last Starfighter, The Abyss, Terminator 2, and countless others have made on the landscape of special effects is immeasurable. Computer generated images over the years have become extremely fast and cost-effective to create. We see CGI images everywhere, from commercials to movies to music videos to television shows. Sometimes it's obvious; science fiction television shows of late like Andromeda, Stargate: SG1, and Babylon 5 are famous for their use of CGI instead of traditional miniatures for visual effects. But sometimes, we are seeing CGI without even knowing it. Did you know, for instance, that car commercials often use computer-generated vehicles instead of the actual thing?

You've come a long way, baby...
Enter Maxon, a small company with a big dream: to create a CGI package that is easy to use, can create professional-quality images, and is inexpensive enough for the amateur filmmaker to afford. Thus was born Cinema 4D. Over the years, it has grown and improved and become a package that is worthy of Hollywood's praise and, more importantly, implementation. Work done in Cinema 4D can be seen in movies such as Dare Devil and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In its latest form, version 8, it becomes clear that Maxon is now a major competitor in the field of professional CGI, without forgetting about their amateur customer base.

Gentlemen, start your rendering engines...
The core product, Cinema 4D version 8, is a remarkable program in and of itself. The images that the user is able to create with little or no knowledge of CGI creation are astounding. First off, the user interface, is extremely intuitive, and very quick to learn. Unlike most programs, the interface is identical whether you are using Cinema 4D on a Macintosh or a Windows machine, so it makes it easy for those who need to go between both worlds for their work. If you don't like how things are laid out, all of the control and viewing panes of Cinema 4D's interface are completely customizable. For example, create an interface that has the tools for texturing your objects, and then switch to another one which contains all of the layout tools easily accessible - all without ever closing your file or leaving the program. To be honest, I didn't open the manual once before jumping into Cinema's interface, and with ample tool tips for each and every element, I easily created my first object, a Hypernurbs couch, in a few minutes.

Yet, an interface is only as good as its underlying tools, and here is where Cinema 4D really shines. Aside from having a full-featured plug-in system, utilizing both C++ and an object-oriented language known as C.O.F.F.E.E., the base tools are robust and offer almost everything that the CGI artist could ask for.

Modeling is done in the same space as layout, which makes it very easy to model objects that have to coexist with other objects in the same space. It becomes very easy to make an apple that is has correct dimensions compared to the tree that it fell not far from. With just the click of a button, you've changed the modeling environment from the 3D perspective default to the more traditional multi-pane right/above/in-front-of CAD view.

When you're laying out your scene, Cinema 4D takes advantage of OpenGL rendering to give you a high-quality view of what you'll see in the finished product. These views can be very processor intensive, so unless you are equipped with the latest Mac hardware, you'll be best served to turn the detail setting down and use the quick-render option to see what your scene will look like when finished. Even the most complex of scene's take only a couple of minutes to quick-render on the fly. The work flow is so intuitive that, like a Photoshop user with a hand constantly on the "undo" keys, it becomes almost second nature.

Animation is one of version 8's strong points. With full support for bone structures, key-frame animation, and F-curves, it is possible to make complex character animations in Cinema 4D. In addition, version 8 sports a feature known as XPresso. This is a system that allows the user to assign complex properties to objects in the scene. Let's say that you have a ball bouncing around on a spring mattress. The ball reacts with the different springs, and as each spring bends, the others bend as a result. Traditionally, each spring would have to be separately animated to react with the ball and to each other as springs bent other springs. But, by using XPresso and assigning attributes to each of the springs, the ball, and the spring mattress system as a whole, the springs will react naturally to the bouncing ball with little or no help from the animator.

Rendering your creation is a breeze. The rendering engine is fully integrated with QuickTime, allowing for easy creation of full quality or compressed movies of your animations. It is also fully capable of rendering high-quality single frames, as well, for use as still frames, backgrounds, artwork, etc.

Plug me in...
To see just how powerful Cinema 4D can truly be, you need to add in some of the modules that Maxon provides either separately for between $295 and $595. Or, you can buy the whole ball of wax with the Studio Bundle for $2495. The modules include:

Advanced Render - This module allows for advanced features in 4D's standard rendering engine, including surface and volume caustics, realistic radiosity rendering, and enhanced depth-of-field rendering. Depth-of-field allows the user to simulate camera focus on close-up objects, blurring the objects in the background.

MOCCA - The MOCCA module is an advanced interface for 4D's built-in properties and XPresso system that allows for even easier character animation. It supports soft inverse kinematics, morphing from one character pose to another, and utilizing and cleaning up motion capture data.

Thinking Particles - Cinema 4D already includes an amazing particle generation system, and Thinking Particles adds to the control that you have over it. Particle generation is used for effects such as smoke, fire, water, dust- you name it. Thinking Particles again uses the built-in XPresso system to give the user full control over how particles react to one another and to their environment.

PyroCluster - Adding to the power of the Thinking Particles module, PyroCluster gives the user an intuitive system for creating billowing clouds of smoke, fiery explosions, or the pillow-soft clouds of the sky. Dynamics - This is, in my opinion, the crowning achievement of Maxon for Cinema 4D. Dynamics allows the user to assign real-world physics to objects in a scene. Using Dynamics, it is possible to do real-world simulations without ever manually animating a single thing. Imagine gelatin that wobbles and shakes just by moving the platform that it is sitting on, or a Mousetrap game that operates just by the animator setting the marble in motion. Need a rockslide? Set the physical attributes or your rock objects and the hill, and press play. The rocks react with the hill and each other realistically without ever animating a single rock. Dynamics has the potential to save the animator hours of work making things look and act real.

BodyPaint 3D - This module, also available as a stand-alone product that can interface with other 3rd party 3D software, gives the user an amazing amount of control over the texturing of his or her objects. In the world of 3D CGI, your scene is only as good as the textures that you use. With BodyPaint, texturing objects becomes very simple. It allows you to literally paint the objects in real-time 3D. No more guesswork in Photoshop before hand. Now you can do it all in real-time. And, from what I've used of it, it works remarkably well (my lack or artistic talents aside).

In conclusion, gentlemen...
All in all, Cinema 4D version 8 is by far the best balance between ease of use and power that I have seen in a 3D package. Over the years, I've tried new versions of competing packages such as Lightwave 3D and Maya. But, after getting frustrated, usually, by the learning curve, I keep on coming back to Cinema 4D for my creations. Its intuitive interface and powerful tools are still among the best available on the Macintosh. And, at $595 for the core system, it's hard to give a second glance to the competition. Download a demo of the core program and all of the modules at Maxon's website ( and see for yourself. I think that you will be as impressed as I am.



PRICE: $595 for the base program, $2495 for the full Studio Bundle

OS 9 or X, 128MB RAM, 400Mhz PPC


Intuitive interface, brilliant tools, excellent rendering quality, superb extendibility with available modules.


The full suite can be a bit price-prohibitive for the amateur animator.