For more advanced particle-based effects, you need another of Maxon’s optional modules called Thinking Particles (£229), which, like PyroCluster, extends Cinema 4D’s built-in particle management. Thinking Particles introduces the ability to emit particles from any plane, surface or volume and, more importantly, to make these particles interact with one another and with their environment. This is achieved using XPresso, Cinema 4D’s node-based scripting language, which means you can have complete control over effects that would appear completely uncontrollable, such as exploding volcanoes and whirling tornados. Setting up such cinematic effects is still far from being child’s play, but the end results can be jaw-dropping.
As with Thinking Particles, the great strength of the Dynamics module (£229) is the intelligence it adds to Cinema 4D’s animation capabilities. However, while Thinking Particles is aimed at the spectacular, Dynamics concentrates instead on the mundane. This module lets you set up interactions between all the objects in your scene, based on the laws of physics. Such interactions are everywhere around us, but when you try to simulate the effect of factors like gravity, friction and different types of elastic collision (metal through to rubber), recreating them with any realism becomes a nightmare. The Dynamics module makes this quite straightforward: first of all, you add a Solver object to your scene, then you set up the relevant Gravity, Drag and Wind effectors as sub objects, then drag onto them the objects they’re going to affect. Next, you describe each object’s intrinsic properties by adding Rigid, Soft Body or Spring-based tags, and setting parameters like overall mass and the level of elasticity and collision detection. Click on Play and your physically realistic interactions will appear in the viewport in as close to real-time as the CPU can handle.
Of course, actually rendering your finished animation is nothing like as speedy, which is where the next module comes in: the Net Render module at £229 spreads the processing task across multiple networked computers. It’s simple to set up, based on a single server with multiple clients, although you have to ensure the server has a fixed IP address. You can control and monitor jobs via your web browser; the system is intelligent enough to dynamically add and remove clients depending on availability, and can handle assorted CPUs without being confined to the speed of the slowest. Net Render can even be used to render a single complex image, although it’s a slightly awkward process that involves creating a nine- or 24-frame animation and then manually stitching all the sub-results together in a bitmap editor. More impressive is the unlimited nature of the latest version, which allows you to run it on any number of CPUs – don’t throw out your old PCs, keep them to create your own render farm!
Thinking Particles, Dynamics and Net Render all help when animating scenes, but by far the most difficult 3D task is animating believable characters to populate them. That’s where the Mocca module (£295) comes into its own, providing all the tools necessary to set up advanced bone-based character rigging. It’s based on Inverse Kinematics, which means you can drag a character’s hand onscreen and the arm will follow just as it would in real life. In the recent upgrade to Mocca 3, Maxon now offers a next-generation rigging system based on joints with built-in flexing defaults, automatic weighting and binding, plus new constraints that make things faster and more flexible. You can also pin muscles to your rig to realistically deform your figure’s skin surface when the joints flex.