Cinema 4D is the natural 3D suite for designers and illustrators, who are used to Adobe’s Creative Suite tools. Indeed, its interface has much in common with Adobe’s UI. Here Swedish 3D artist Jean Pichot takes you through creating your first 3D scene in a way that’s tailored towards the Cinema 4D newcomer, who is already familiar with Photoshop or Illustrator.
Jean provides step-by-step instructions on how to use Cinema 4D’s interface, but still leaves you lots of scope to play with the look and settings of the graphic elements – so you’ll learn through experimenting and create an end product that’s your own.
This tutorial’s artwork is based on a series of abstract design explorations that are focused on some simple shapes. Jean shows you how to create a simple base – two spheres side by side in Cinema 4D – then use a deformer to blow it apart. You’ll then learn how to apply materials and lighting, set up a camera and adjust rendering settings for the perfect results.
Next month, Jean will show you how to push the render even further by adding further dynamic geometric shapes in After Effects, plus add some slick typography. Part of the workflow you’ll learn this month involves arranging your elements in the right way to make working on them in tools such as Photoshop easier – and to make going back to tweak elements in Cinema 4D simpler.
Time to complete
Cinema 4D R12 or later
Files for this tutorial are downloadable from
Open Cinema 4D and create a sphere object by either going to the menu
Create > Object > Sphere, or using the Add Object drop-down and selecting Sphere. Rename it ‘Main Sphere’ and increase its Segments to 60, with Render Perfect checked. Position it in the centre.
Add a second Sphere, name it ‘Small Sphere’, and make it smaller in size by changing the Radius in its Object panel, or pressing T and click-dragging in the window to decrease its size – I’m using 38cm.
Leave the rest as it is, with Render Perfect selected, and place it next to the larger sphere, so it touches the edge. In my case, along the Z axis.
Select the ‘Main Sphere’ and – with Shift pressed – select from the menu
Create > Deformer > Explosion FX (or use the Add Deformer Object icon pull-down menu). This will add the Explosion FX deformer to your Main Sphere and you’ll see an immediate reaction in your scene. Move the deformer Z-axis handle to see how this affects the Main Sphere.
Play with the deformer’s settings in the Object, Explosion, Cluster, Gravity and Rotation panels to come up with something you like, and position it where it visually works for you.
You can turn off the deformer’s visibility in the viewport by clicking on its top small circle icon next to the checkmark; click a couple more times to bring it back if you need to. My settings and position for this scene are shown here.
Let’s add materials to make this more interesting. Double-click in the Materials area (or select
Create > New Material from its menu). You can leave the colour to its default values, but activate Transparency.
Change the Refraction to 1.1, and apply this to the Main Sphere by either dragging the material onto its name in the Objects Panel list, or onto the sphere itself in the viewport.
Create a second material. Set the colour to black and activate Reflection. Set the reflection Brightness amount to something low – I went for 3 – and using the Texture pull-down arrow, select Fresnel and lower the Mix Strength to 35%. Apply this one to the Small Sphere.
While our modelling and basic texturing is complete, before we can render our spheres we need to add a background, a camera and adjust our render settings – and then light the scene.
Add a Background Object (
Create > Environment > Background), or use the Environment pull-down in the icon row (next to the Camera). Create a new material for this background. In the Color settings pane, click on the Texture pull-down arrow and select Gradient. Click on the Gradient name or preview icon, and switch it to 2D Circular. Swap the position of colours by dragging the nodes under the Gradient bar to create a vignette. Apply this to the Background Object.
Add a Camera (
Create > Camera > Camera, or using the Camera Object pull-down). Leave the settings as they are, and activate it by clicking the square target icon next to its name in the Objects Panel. Its view will be set to whatever your view was before. Frame the scene, so you’re looking at a side view of both spheres. Pressing the 1 and 2 keys, while dragging, pan and zoom respectively. See the screenshot for my position settings. above
To help frame the shot and before lighting the scene, let’s add a few settings. Open the Render Settings dialog (
Render > Edit Render Settings; or click on the right-most clapboard and gears icon), and set the Output to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (HDTV 16:9 Film Aspect, Square Pixels).
In Anti-Aliasing, set it to Best. In Options, uncheck Default Light. Close the Render Settings dialog.
Cmd/Ctrl + R to render the view; it should already look better than before with a minimal and flat, silhouette quality. Although the materials have reflective properties, we’ll need to add more objects for reflections to become visible. For this, we’ll use a light box setup.
Add a Disc object from the Add Objects pull-down (or
Create > Object > Disc). Deactivate your camera view by clicking on its small activation icon – this will allow you to move around the scene without affecting your shot.
Move the Disc upwards on its Y axis, so it’s positioned above the spheres, and increase its size by dragging the orange square handle outwards, or by editing the Disc’s properties in the
Attributes Panel > Object > Inner and Outer Radius. See the screenshot for the settings that I used. above
Next, you need to create a new material, activate Luminance, and apply it to the Disc.
Reactivate your Camera view and turn off the Disc’s viewport visibility (click the top small circle icon for the object). With the Disc selected, add a Compositing Tag from the Objects Pane (or
Tags > Cinema 4D Tags > Compositing). In the Tags panel, uncheck Seen by Camera, so it won’t show up in your render.
Cmd/Ctrl + R to take a look at the reflection highlights.
Duplicate the Background material by
Cmd/Ctrl and dragging a copy, and change its white gradient colour to a darker one. Drag the new material over the previous Background one in the Objects list.
As you’ll see when rendering this, simply modifying the background produces a different look altogether – but you’re not stuck with this background if you don’t want it. We’ll be rendering our scene with an alpha channel, so you’ll also be able to modify or take out the background when we bring in into After Effects.
Select both Spheres and add Compositing tags to them as we did for the Disc (
Objects menu, Tags > Cinema 4D Tags > Compositing). In the Object Buffer tab of the Compositing tag attributes, check Enable Buffer 1 for the Main Sphere and Buffer 2 for the Small Sphere. This will help give us more design options later. Next, add External Compositing tags to both spheres ( Objects > Tags > Cinema 4D Tags > External Compositing).
Add two Null Objects (
Create > Objects > Null, or via the Add Objects icon pull-down menu). Leave one located at the centre of Main Sphere (its default position), and move the other in-between both spheres (switch to Top View with F2 to see better, then back to the original view with F1).
Name one ‘Centre’ and the other ‘Collision’. With both selected, add External Compositing tags to these as well. This can be useful for determining locations when adding objects in 3D space within After Effects.
Now we’re ready to render.
Open the Render Settings panel (
Render > Edit Render Settings), or click the rightmost render icon. From the Effect pull-down at the bottom of the settings list, select Ambient Occlusion. Enable Multi-Pass, and from the Multi-Pass pull-down underneath (next to Effect), add an Ambient Occlusion pass, a Reflection pass, and two Object Buffers – set them to 1 and 2 respectively.
Enable Save, name both the Regular and Multi-Pass images (
, for instance) by clicking the dotted buttons next to each field, and set destinations for both (placing them both within the same folder is a good idea). Set Depth to 16 bit, enable Alpha Channel, then toggle open the Compositing panel and check Save and Include 3D Data, target After Effects. Sphere_Dark
Shift + R to start your render, or click the middle render icon. If it’s taking a while, go make a cup of tea. You’ve earned it.