Maxon Cinema 4D 9.5 review

£425
Price when reviewed
Cinema 4D enjoys an enviable position as being one of the simplest high-end modellers, with its object-based handling and streamlined environment. Yet it retains tremendous core power and value.

Things can always be improved though, and this latest version sees a number of interface tweaks, including a new full-screen toggle for all managers and the ability to select and rename objects directly in the Object Manager. There’s also a new Incremental Save command, Picture Viewer to display previously rendered multipass files and pasted images, plus the Project, Round, Array and Clone commands allied to the Attribute Manager to ensure a smoother workflow.

The biggest usability advance is the reworking of the Content Browser. As well as catalogue management, this now offers on-the-fly browsing via a new folder-tree view to the left, with instantly resizable thumbnails of all supported file formats generated to the right. The Content Browser also keeps track of all files accessed during the current session and offers advanced keyword-based file searching. Best of all, Cinema 4D and the browser now support presets so that you can quickly save and reload scenes, objects, materials, shaders, tags, render settings and render-effect settings. The difference this makes to productivity is enormous.

In terms of new creative power, the biggest changes have been made to lighting. The entire system of applying lights has been reworked with a rationalisation of both toolbar icons and Attribute Manager properties, as well as the liberating ability for lights to cast shadows without adding illumination. The biggest change is to Cinema 4D’s area lights, which can now take any 2D shape or even 3D volume. Creating a disk-based area light is ideal for recreating the illumination from a desk lamp for example, whereas the Hemisphere option can be used to simulate natural outdoor lighting.

Cinema 4D’s reworked engine also becomes apparent when you render your scene, with area lights being processed up to four times more quickly and, in conjunction with enhanced area shadow handling, capable of producing near global-illumination quality results. Usability has also been improved with a new Global Brightness setting that’s much more convenient than manually updating every light. The biggest advance is the new support for 32-bit per channel output to the most popular HDR (high dynamic range) formats (Radiance and OpenEXR), as well as to TIFF and PSD, which ensures maximum quality and post-processing flexibility.

When creating materials, these same 32-bit/channel formats are also supported for import, thus enabling more realistic reflection handling. You can also now specify the gamma setting for 32-bit images and quickly set the exposure and black-and-white point for all imported bitmaps. And for Photoshop PSD files, you can choose to load individual layers, layer sets, layer masks or alpha channels so that you can handle all material maps via a single file. Cinema 4D 9.5 also adds an entirely new material-based capability with its support for Normal Mapping. This is best seen as a cross between bump-mapping and displacement, in which a RGB texture map is used to control the XYZ dimensions of a surface’s normals. What that means in practice is that a low-polygon object can quickly be given the appearance of high-polygon modelling – especially useful for computer game production.

Bringing together Cinema 4D 9.5’s advances in both rendering and material systems is the completely reworked Bake Texture capability. This converts complex materials built up from multiple channels and advanced procedural shaders into simple texture maps, so cutting rendering time dramatically, especially for animations. In the past, baking could only be done laboriously, one texture tag at a time, but now all of an object’s materials are baked together. There’s also far more control over the process, including the ability to set exactly which channels to include (these can also now be saved as layers in a single PSD file) and to preview the texture before baking.

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