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Cinema 4D XL 6 is a watershed product for Maxon, as it finally puts the program right up there with any other pro animation package below £3,500. The program has been substantially rewritten and it shows: it has a different, yet familiar feel and it’s obvious that the developers have made a huge effort in the overhaul. The interface exists in a single window (at first) with each of the interface elements docked to each other. Version 5 had a customizable interface, but this new version is a great deal more flexible. You can drag an edge of a panel to resize it, and the rest of the interface responds to accommodate the change. Any window or palette can be torn off as a floating window and other palettes can be docked inside it. If you have two monitors, you could have two totally different setups if you want. Views on one, palettes on the other, or a modelling setup on one and an animation set up on the other. The only restriction we found is only one of each of the Manager windows can exist at once, though any number of duplicated buttons and views are allowed. Windows can be grouped as tabs, while palettes can be text only, icons or both. One of the coolest things is being able to create custom folded tool palettes for the ultimate in screen economy. It has to be said that this is the most flexible interface of any 3D tool we’ve seen. Maxon has really gone to town on the new modelling features – an area in which the previous version was considered weak. Maxon has implemented a hierarchical modelling pipeline that allows for a huge degree of interactivity. The hierarchy pipeline is live and non-linear, so if you edit a sub-object in the hierarchy, operations further up are affected and respond interactively. In many ways this is similar to a node-based approach in that information flows through connected items in the hierarchy. Very nice indeed. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, Maxon has, shall we say, been ‘inspired’ by the MetaNURBS of LightWave, regarded by many as the simplest and best subpatch modelling technology. This is a very good thing because XL 6 has most of the functionality found in LightWave 5.6’s MetaNURBS such as knife, bevel and smooth shift as well as their own additions such as extrude inner, matrix extrude and normal move, scale and rotate tools. The great thing is that XL 6’s HyperNURBS are animatable directly, there’s no need to convert them to polys before using bones. This has the added advantage of reducing tearing and ugly creases at joints and also speeds interaction. HyperNURBS have separate display and rendering resolutions, plus they can be viewed as meshes or isoparms thanks to XL’s new display options. In use they are a dream, as all tools operate interactively on them. You just click-&-drag on selected faces to bevel them. There is so much good stuff in Cinema 4D XL 6 and very few disappointments. All of the changes are for the better, making it fast, robust and easier to use than ever before. At first renders did seem on the soft side, though, but there’s neat Antialiasing Softness feature which by default is set to 100 per cent. Reducing this produced very crisp images. The lighting system in XL has been vastly improved. There are now linear and area lights, four types of fractal noise for smoky volumetric effects and area shadows (soft raytraced). There are loads of options available to fine tune your lighting setups for quality and speed. Shadows maps can now be up to 2,000-pixels square and can have a user-defined aspect ratio. Camera Mapping à la ElectricImage and Canoma is also now possible by using front projection maps that are then fixed to objects with UV coordinates. This simple but powerful technique can be used to create photorealistic 3D scenes using photos of real objects, techniques used heavily in films such as The Phantom Menace and The Matrix – and a welcome addition here. New stand-alone deformers such as twist, bend and bulge replace the animation sequence versions in XL 5, and work on all types of objects. Vertex weight maps and point/poly selection sets make the restriction of deformation effects (including bones) to specific areas on a model a simple process. Selection sets can also be used to restrict texture placement. There’s still more. XL 6 has expressions to allow the creation of automatic animations and inter-object links. You’d use an expression to keep the orientation of one object linked to another, or to increase the angle of rotation of a propeller over time without keyframing. The timeline has also been totally revamped and is a joy to work with. Layers let you control the visibility of an object in the timeline list so you can concentrate on just the task at hand, and multiple selections of keys and tracks are now supported at last. Point level animation has been introduced which when combined with selection sets, HyperNURBS and audio waveform display, makes XL 6 awesomely powerful for character work. A bit of a coup for Maxon is the new motion-sequencing feature. This allows you to group a complex set of animation sequences and distill them down to a single track. Multiple tracks can be overlaid to create layered animations, and more importantly the layers can be blended. Imagine a character running, then jumping. If both of these sets of keyframes are grouped separately and then overlapped they can be blended such that the run would seamlessly dissolve into a jump. Fully over-laid tracks can be blended to synthesize a new motion that is a combination of the two tracks. Currently only position, rotation and scale tracks can be grouped, so IK aided animations must be ‘baked’ before they can be blended. Cons include the lack of independent Fresnel effects for channels other than transparency, and the inability to paste shader settings between channels. There’s also no edge transparency/opacity or a translucency channel though the latter is minor point. The new features and price means that it butts heads directly with the new LightWave 6 and there are some very good reasons for buying either package. If you’re new to XL though it won’t disappoint, and if you already own XL 5 this upgrade will probably be the best thing you’ll ever buy.