C4D Cafe is pleased to bring you another in depth review of CINEMA 4D. This time it's the .5 upgrade to 9.5 that MAXON announced at Siggraph on 2 August 2005. Along with this, MAXON announced that BodyPaint had been upgraded to 2.5 and a Production House Bundle. We'll just focus on the upgrade to CINEMA 4D Release 9.5. In the latter stages of preparing the review, MAXON announced a minor upgrade to 9.521. Also announced in December was a new hair module. Once the Cafe Staff get their hands on a final release version, we'll review that as there has been enormous interest it.
The following are some of the more significant enhancements in 9.5. As usual there's far to many to go through individually. The review was carried out by the 3 Cafe staff: 3DKiwi / Nigel Doyle, 3DCrew / Crew Reynolds and jtClancy / Travis Clancy.
Full Screen Mode
One of my favourite new features in 9.5 is full screen mode. You can invoke full screen mode by pressing the button in the top right hand corner or by pressing the Ctrl + Tab keys. What's ever so clever is when you press Ctrl + tab wherever the mouse is hovering, that particular manager is maximized to fill the entire screen. Pressing the same 2 keys or the button restores C4D back to the layout you were working in before. So often when you're modelling or painting in BodyPaint you need as much space as possible and you don't need things like the object manager getting in your way. One thing that I would like to see is columns in the Object Manager. If you have lots of objects in your scene the Object Manager soon fills up and you end up having to scroll up and down. When you put the Object Manager into full screen mode, much of the space is empty and it would make sense to have it divided into columns.
Click here for Flash movie on Full Screen Mode 1min 46sec 1.8mb
C4D already has the browser and it's still there in 9.5 but greatly expanding upon this is the new Content Browser. It almost reminds me of one of the better photo / image managers where you can store and organize your digital photos, videos, wav files etc and have a search function to easily find things. Like a photo manager where you can set captions on photos the content browser allows you to annotate files and assign your own icons or thumbnails. The content browser is primarily for scene files, objects, materials, textures and presets like render settings or sky presets from the new sky manager. It's then just a simple matter to add the asset to your scene by double clicking, dragging into the workspace or by various right click options such as merge.
One thing that I wanted to do was add the pdf manuals to the content browser. Currently the C4D menu only gives you access to the C4D 9.0 and BP 2.0 pdf manuals. If you're running a Studio bundle in addition to these 2 manuals, there's manuals for each module and then there's the manual updates for 9.1, 9.5 and 9.52 making for lot of pdf files. However while you can open the pdf files from within the Content Browser from their actual location, once you add them to your own Catalogue folder they won't open. See the video where I go through opening pdf files.
The content browser displays recent activity like searches and recently added assets, be that an object or preset. Just like a photo manager when you click on the file name or small icon you get a bigger preview image in a preview window. Double clicking an image thumbnail loads the image in the picture viewer so that you can preview it full size. This is a great work flow enhancement. If you're like me with lots of textures saved from magazine CD's etc, I often fire up an image browser to find the right texture. No more now that I have the Content Browser. Along the top of window of the Asset browser are number of icons. One is the Desktop and clicking this gives you access to items / shortcuts on your desktop. The next one is the Home button which is configurable. I've changed this so that Home is the manuals folder. This gets around the problem described before and I'm able to double click on a manual pdf file and it will open. The next button is the Preset button and takes you to your presets where your scene files, sky presets and any other presets stored. What's very clever is things like render settings can be saved as a preset and appear in the Content Browser so that you can quickly apply them to your scene.
Any object and it setting can be easily added to the Content Browser. Although we could do this before by adding to the library it's much easier to use the Content Browser and is done either by dragging the object into the Content Browser or by a menu option. Likewise tags with their settings can be added to the Content Browser by dragging them in. e.g. change the phong tag setting to 20 degrees. Drag it into the content browser. To change a specific phong tag later on, just drag and drop the phong tag from the content browser on to the tag that you want to change. Along the bottom of the Content Browser is a slider that allows you resize the icons.
Catalogues - catalogues are links to files rather than the physical file itself except for presets which are physical files. Almost like an index. What you can do for example is create a manual catalogue of all of the pdf manuals. Double clicking these won't open them but by right clicking on them and using the "Open containing folder" command you are transported to the actual file on your hard disk where you can now double click and open the file from within the Content Browser. Files that the Content Browser supports can be opened or added to your scene from these Catalogues that you create. Once you have changed a shader's settings in the material manager you can add this shader with it's altered settings to the Content Browser from the drop down menu in the material manager. Similarly you can save render settings as a preset now from the Render settings menu.
There's a few other options and things that you can do with the Content Browser. As you may have guessed with this extra power comes extra complexity. Getting comfortable with the Content Browser takes a bit of time and experimentation. One suggestion I would make for the simplified browser is that the Home, Presets etc toolbar buttons that you get with the full browser be on the title bar. If you've drilled down a long way in folder / directory structure then it takes a lot of clicking to go to a higher level.
9.52 Content Browser enhancements. In the recent 9.52 minor upgrade, MAXON announced the following enhancement for the Content Browser. The Search function now selects the active directory as its path, user-defined presets are organized into subgroups, and the management and use of user-defined libraries has been made easier. With the search function when you want to begin a new search you first select the new folder / directory and to make it the active folder then click on the magnifying glass again. Also announced were some free collections of useful scenes, XPresso setups, shaders and lighting setups that can be downloaded here and integrated directly into the Content Browser. These goodies look really useful.
Also mentioned in the 9.52 update was that scripts, audio files and layouts are now recognized by the browser. This just helps make it even more useful. Note: you could open audio files before but like pdf files only from their actual location. Now with audio files you can add them to a catalogue and they can be opened from there to preview them before adding them to your scene. With layouts I actually prefer selecting them from the viewport layout button rather than the content browser. For the content browser to make it work better with layouts you really need to take a screen grab of each layout and then set each layout's preview icon to a thumbnail of each layout. Ideally the program should do this for you automatically rather than having to do it manually.
Perhaps the most useful enhancement with the 9.52 upgrade was that in a standard layout you now have the content browser replacing the old browser in the same panel of managers as the Object Manager. I since found working with the Content Browser in its simplified mode from here seems to be a good way to work. Want to add a material to an object, just drag and drop it on. Need a sky, right click and merge it with your current scene (double clicking opens a new scene). Strangely dragging a sky preset into the viewport doesn't work and you need to double click it to add it in or right click as described before. Similarly adding the 9.521 3 point light preset can be achieved by dragging it into the viewport however the stage light setups which include objects as well as lights needs a double click or right click to add. Slightly confusing and inconsistent in my opinion where some things can be dragged in and some can't.
Click here for Flash movie on the Content Browser 6min 12sec 11.7mb
Work flow & Miscellaneous
Like the full screen mode another really useful thing is renaming objects directly in the Object Manager. Rather than getting a pop up window you edit names where they are. You can quickly move up and down the objects by using the cursor keys so renaming multiple objects is much quicker now. One little quirk that I think is a result of the full screen mode option where you can press the Ctrl and tab keys (PC) to get full screen mode of wherever the mouse is hovering, is when you highlight say the name of something or a data parameter to change. If you move the mouse too far from the field you are editing and over another window the parameter that you want to change loses focus and you need to highlight it again and keep the mouse pointer nearby. I found myself constantly having to reselect data to change it as I often drag from right to left to highlight data and by the time I've stopped moving the mouse, the pointer is outside of the manager. Strangely I haven't seen this raised as an issue in any forums. However MAXON has provided a new preferences option for Mouse delay. By unchecking this option the manager that I had clicked in and selected the parameter remains selected. Once I had disabled the delay option the problem mentioned stopped. An alternative would have been to increase the delay time. There are also several other new options.
You can now create a blank new material by double clicking an empty area in the material manager. Double clicking a material tag bring the materials settings in the attribute manager. A single click brings up the tags settings like normal.
A new option in the file menu is Incremental save. If this is enabled, each time the scene is saved an incremented number is added to the end of the file name, thus giving you a history of saved scenes.
Whilst writing this review MAXON announced a minor upgrade to 9.52. This appears to be mainly a bug fix which is very welcome. However as usual MAXON manages to pack in a few new goodies. Mocca and the Dynamics module commands now have their own menus.
A new option for the camera is Near Clipping. If enabled this option creates a virtual plane in front of the camera. Objects that lie in front of the plane will be clipped and it can be used to create simple cut away images of your models or what is quite fun is to animate the clipping plane distance like in this little animation.
Lighting in 9.5 has received a lot of attention. To start with lights now have their own icon so it's more apparent looking at the icon in the Object Manager what type of light it is. MAXON has also taken the opportunity to rename the lights so for example "Distant" light now becomes "Infinite". Here's the new icons for lights. Cleverly, now when you enable shadows the icon for the light in the Object Manager changes.
New lighting icons
There's also been a little bit of reorganizing of the light parameters. Light intensity is now on the general tab rather than the details tab. It was slightly confusing before as there was a brightness setting on the general tab in addition to the intensity setting. Lowering either reduced light output. There's now only the one setting.
One of the major highlights in 9.5 is that Area lights have been supercharged. Area lights now render much quicker than earlier versions and area shadows are also much more realistic. Area lights can now be given shape. e.g. an object can be dragged into the object field on the area light and the object will now emit light. Splines can also be used. This means than Neon lights can be easily created rather than the old method off arranging lights around a spline. For example to make a cube be a light source, make it editable and then create a light. Change the light source to Area and then on the details tab drag in the cube. To make the cube light visible just enable the "show in render option". Here's a text spline in a SweepNurbs object (made editable) with the "Show in render" option enabled. The text is the only light source in the scene and rendering is very fast.
New Area light using an object to define the shape
Advanced Render Module 2
Radiosity is now referred to as Global Illumination (or GI for short) and has been souped up and renders with Global Illumination enabled are noticeably quicker. A new option in the render settings is "Show Illumination in prepass". This is disabled by default and appears to speed up the prepass slightly by not having to show the calculated extra light. As an example the following Mime DOF scene from the features folder rendered in 2 minutes 37 seconds in Release 9.0 on my PC compared to 1 minute 48 seconds in Release 9.521, a decrease in time of 49 seconds or 16%. The speed increase varies depending on the type of lighting used with big increases where area lights had been used before and rendered in versions prior to Release 9.5.
Global Illumination / Radiosity scenes render quicker now
Ambient Occlusion now replaces the dirt shader found in earlier versions. Old saved scenes that include the dirt shader will still display the dirt shader settings but the dirt shader cannot be found in the materials anymore.
So what is Ambient Occlusion? In Layman's terms it's a lighting and shadow algorithm that can simulate the soft shadows that you get with Radiosity / Global Illumination. Ambient occlusion can be added to your projects in 2 ways. Either as a channel shader usually in the diffusion channel just as you would have done with the dirt shader and the settings are similar. The other method is via the render settings and applied to the whole scene. One thing to be careful of with Ambient Occlusion is using the default settings. In most cases that I experienced the render time was actually higher than using a full Global Illumination render. The quality setting greatly affects the render time.
I wasn't expecting any major enhancements in Mocca 2 but MAXON has managed to squeeze in a few tweaks and enhancements. However the few that there are, are quite useful. Thankfully the Bone Mirror parent option bug that appeared in Release 9.0 has finally been fixed. However the bone mirror tool still won't mirror all Claude Bonet maps if the character is made up of multiple meshes. (The Release 8 Mime character for example with separate feet).
The bone tool has been tidied up. No longer when using the bone tool and then going to the move or rotate tool to reposition it, does the bone or bones jump back to creation position. This used to be quite a pain and the work around was to constantly fix your bones or use temporary modifier keys like the 4 and 6 keys while still in bone tool mode. Now you can happily move backwards and forwards between the bone tool and other tools without the bones jumping around. Thank you MAXON!! A new option to add a new child null bone is useful as well. One minor thing with the add child null bone command is that after creating one and then adding a child bone the size of the child bone is 200m when normally the default size for a bone is 100. Not a major deal but a slight inconsistency from creating a bone at the default 100m. Another one is the previously named "Add / update null bone" has been replaced by the "Add null bone" command. The previous command would create a null bone at wherever you were in the bone hierarchy whereas the replacement command creates the null outside of the hierarchy and at the position of the first bone in the chain. I contacted MAXON Support about this. First up, let me say that MAXON Support is best support I've ever come across from a software company. I've used their on-line support form quite a few times where I had questions. Not only did I get a response to my on-line question within a few hours, they also provided a Coffee script that I was able to use in the new Script Manager (or from the plugin menu or you can even add a tool bar button) to create a new command that replicated the old add / update null command. So 10/10 for support. Seems from the reply that I received that this command will revert back to the way it used to work in an upcoming version.
The bone tool panel in the attributes manager now includes commands to fix and reset the bones which is very handy and saves having to right click all the time as before but as mentioned there's no longer the need to be constantly fixing your bones.
Tidied up Bone Tool Commands
FBX file support has been upgraded to version 6. There are now options when you export in this format to export to either version 5 or 6. I had no problem exporting a character and rig from 9.5 into Motion Builder 7 PLE and was able to apply some motion captured movement to the rig very easily. The only requirement is that your bone hierarchy conforms to the Motion Builder naming convention and setup. But alas, since I only have the PLE version I wasn't able to bring the animated rig back into CINEMA 4D.
Many people are now asking for enhancements to character animation in CINEMA 4D and in the recent poll at the Cafe of what people wanted to see in Release 10 an overwhelming majority wanted enhancements to the character animation capabilities. That's not to say you can't do character animation or the tools are really that bad. It's just that some other well known 3D applications do it a lot better and more easily. Some of the Character animation deficiencies are filled by a number of plugins. Rigging hands for example is an awful lot easier with Cactus Dan's CD IK plugins than doing it manually with Mocca 2. Judging by the newly announced Hair module which at first glance looks to be outstanding, MAXON sees Character animation as forming part of the future direction of CINEMA 4D. I'll even say that again. The new hair module looks to be outstanding. If you haven't checked out the demonstration videos or even downloaded the new studio demo, head over to MAXON's site now and check them out as soon as you have finished reading the review