• Price When Reviewed: Standard £390.64; XL £1,105.53; Studio £1,658.72 - all ex VAT

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The idea behind the latest release of Cinema 4D is that its pricing should grow to reflect the user’s needs, providing a basic package to which plug-ins or modules can be added to take it up to whatever level of sophistication you need and can afford. The result, Maxon hopes, is a package that will appeal to those who have never touched a 3D package before, providing a quick and easy way into 3D design at the lower end, but which will still compete with Alias|Wavefront Maya, NewTek LightWave, and Discreet 3DS Max at the upper end. It’s a tall order. The advantage of this modular system is that even at the most basic level, you ought to get fully developed professional tools. Indeed, the standard Cinema 4D package offers solid basic design tools. NURBS are well served. The creation of objects is hierarchical, so users can add, modify, alter, and animate almost any property non-destructively. It’s a fine system, and the Object Manager gives instant and intuitive control over everything, so users get to understand quickly how even complex models are built. New in version 8 is the Attributes Manager. This simple tabbed window replaces the dozens of dialogs and controls that plague some other 3D packages. The Manager simply provides all the controls for the object you’ve selected, and lets you work with them all in one place. The timeline has also been updated. It now features draggable keyframes, and function graphs for any animation. Users can also load sound into the timeline, so animations can be synchronized to a soundtrack. If you’d rather automate animations than keyframe them, Cinema 4D has another trick up its sleeve: a Houdini-style procedural animation system. Xpresso is a node-based way of linking objects and animated functions together (see the Walkthrough below). It allows you to quickly set up automatic animations and relationships in a way that the mainstream packages allow only through scripting, or some other complex system. This is a powerful feature, and other manufacturers should take note. Multi-pass animation is handled better than in almost any other package. Users can render the effects of each light to a different layer, or separate layers based on any number of other factors. Those layers can then be re-assembled as an Adobe Photoshop, or After Effects file for easy compositing. On top of the basic system, users can add modules for specific tools: Mocca, Advanced Render, Network rendering, Thinking Particles, Pyrocluster, Dynamic, and BodyPaint 3D. Mocca offers advanced IK controls for £228.94. There’s a decent IK system built into the main package, but Mocca takes it further. It introduces mouse-motion capture – users can record the motion of the mouse (or any other device that can be controlled through Cinema 4D), and apply the results to any animated function. Mocca also adds soft IK. Once users have constrained bones so that they only move in the correct ways, soft IK allows them to be given motion beyond those limits, but makes them progressively stiffer as the skeleton tries to bend. For example, toes might bend only through a few degrees, but will bend further if pressure is applied – if they’re being walked on, for example). The resistance set up by forcing the bones moves other bones, and creates a more realistic skeleton. A welcome result of this system is that secondary animation becomes automatic – wobbling and swinging motions happen by default if a user sets up a skeleton correctly. The £280 Advanced Render module adds radiosity and caustics to the renderer for more realistic images. You can’t bake radiosity into textures, as you might want to do if you were designing the sets for a video game, but there’s an extremely accurate depth-of-field tool (which even takes the shape of the camera lens into consideration, creating blurred highlights), and the caustics are volumetric. Network rendering does exactly what it says on the tin. You can buy one licence for an unlimited number of rendering machines for £280, or buy packs of three (£169.36) or ten licences (£220.42). Thinking Particles costs £228.94. There are particles on the standard package with basic functionality: they can be deflected, made out of any geometry (including metaballs for liquid simulations), and affected by gravity. Thinking Particles provides the user with much more control. The module uses the Xpresso interface, so users can plug any aspect of a particle into any function or calculation. Emitted particles can be sorted into groups by a range of criteria, and affected based on them. For example, it’s possible to create a system that generates a flow of particles out of a tap based on handle rotation. Pyrocluster, a great simulator for smoke and fire, is the cheapest of the modules at £194.89. However, it isn’t quite up to the standard of LightWave’s volumetrics, and is rather slow at rendering. It does feature a preview window, though, and a much faster post-effect rendering option for quick results. The £280 Dynamics plug-in is pretty standard, offering soft- and hard-body dynamics, including cloth, and various other tools. Unfortunately, Cinema 4D’s dynamics tool isn’t compatible with Havok, so you can’t export it for Shockwave work. The BodyPaint 3D module, at £407.66, isn’t any cheaper than the standalone version, though it is more integrated into the host application. It’s one of the best 3D painting tools around, featuring a range of natural and not-so-natural brushes with which to paint the bump, secular, image, opacity or any other kind of texture on your object. What makes this module a real winner, however, is the ability to paint directly onto a rendered version of an object in real time. You can paint bump maps and see their result, or paint opacity – rubbing through the object so that objects behind become visible. All prices in this review exclude VAT.