Maxon Cinema 4D 11 review

Price when reviewed

We first recommended Cinema 4D seven years ago, back in version 8, for its combination of professional power and ease of use. Since then each .5 release – five in all – has seen the program consolidate its position by reworking and reinventing core functionality.

The same is true of version 11, and the first key focus is texturing. Here there are numerous improvements to Cinema 4D’s material system: a new pixel shader for creating mosaic effects, new controls over absorption and exit reflections to produce more realistic glass, improved noise control to remove flicker and the ability to define entirely new custom channels. In addition, new OpenGL-based MIP mapping and anti-aliasing lead to enhanced onscreen texture quality.

The texturing capability that sets Cinema 4D apart from other modellers is its inclusion of the BodyPaint 3D module – available as a full-price (£746 inc VAT) standalone application for users of 3ds max, LightWave 3D, Maya and XSI. As its name suggests, the great strength of BodyPaint is that it lets you paint directly onto the surface of your objects, targetting any material channel – colour, alpha and so on. Here, the new release adds dedicated Blur, Sharpen and Colourise tools, improved handling of brushes including support for Photoshop’s ABR brush format, improved Wacom Art Pen support and re-organized and simplified handling of presets.

This power is impressive enough, but Cinema 4D 11 takes advanced texture handling to a completely new level with its support for matte painting. Traditionally a matte is a photo-realistic painted background for a film set and Cinema 4D 11 brings the same idea to the digital desktop. Essentially you add a camera and then, using the new Projection Man palette, you can select objects and render their current view out to TIFF or PSD format for painting in BodyPaint or, more likely, Photoshop. The resulting textures are then applied as object materials, complete with generated masks. By then creating additional cameras and camera mappings you can patch the matte so that you can move seamlessly through your painted scene. The beauty is that, while the results can look astonishingly complex, both geometry and texturing are actually kept as simple as possible. Maxon was specifically commissioned by Sony to develop Projection Man for use in films such as Polar Express and Beowulf and now this power is made available to everyone.

Cinema 4D’s second great focus is animation. Previous releases have added functionality at the expense of complexity, but version 11 sees an attempt to restore usability. For example, you can now view your soundtrack’s waveform in the timeline, which helps greatly when it comes to synchronising. You can also switch on onion-skinning to see a ghosted version of an object’s surrounding animation on the current frame. And using the new Doodle tool you can draw onscreen to quickly explore animation ideas and collaborate with others.

Most importantly, Cinema 4D 11 introduces an entirely new approach to animation. Create a traditional keyframe animation and select the new Add Motion Clip command and the original animation becomes a Motion Source, referenced by a Motion Clip that is associated with the object itself via a new Motion System tag in the Object Manager.

The advantages that this brings are enormous. To begin with, you can build up a library of clips that can easily be looped and repositioned on the timeline, much as you’d handle clips in a video editor. Using Cinema 4D 11’s new Pivot object you can also animate the movie clip itself – to quickly change the direction of a character’s walk cycle, for example. Most powerful of all, you can create stacked animations, where you make the basic animation on one layer and then non-destructively refine the animation using overlaid layers. You can then control, even animate, the “opacity” of each layer to control its influence over the final animation.


Software subcategoryGraphics/design software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes
Operating system Linux supported?no

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