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Cinema 4D 9.6 and MoGraph

Cinema 4D 9.6 and MoGraph

A CreativeCOW.net Cinema 4D 9.6 and MoGraph Overview
Cinema 4D 9.6 and MoGraph--an overview from CreativeCOW's Mylenium

Mylenium
Mylenium
http://www.mylenium.de
Germany

©Creativecow.net. All rights are reserved.
Article Focus

In this article, Mylenium is taking a long hard look at Cinema 4D and the new MoGraph module. When Maxon revealed it at NAB this year, everybody was excited and we are trying to find out, if it lives up to people's expectations.


I had used Cinema 4D in the past from versions 5.21 to 8 already, but then at the company I'm working we let go of it for internal reasons. With that faded knowledge at the back of my head and a few years of not using the program in between, I have wanted to add it to my arsenal again for quite some time now. I have constantly followed its development and regularly downloaded the demo versions. I always had a keen interest in organic structures based on iterative mathematics, so XFrog was one reason that made me keep an eye out and I surely will be buying it one day. In addition to that, Cinema 4D has one of the most complete and easy to use toolsets for creating painted or illustration-like scenes by means of Sketch & Toon. This is useful both for motion graphics as well as my other "serious" work with technical/ engineering visualization. If that wasn't enough, now we also have MoGraph and it gave me that one final nudge.

I have used Cinema 4D now again for 3 weeks and it feels just like old times. It so nicely complements my work and even though I won't use it for all of my jobs, I will surely spend a lot of time with it. On the other hand I still like my Lightwave and you couldn't convince me to use any other tool than modo for modeling at the moment no matter how hard you tried, so please bear with me if I'm constantly referring to those tools and will not explain every step along the way simply because I didn't do it in Cinema 4D.


9.6 - Cinema 4D grows up (a little more)

Before we move on to the good part, let's look at Cinema 4D 9.6. This release is mainly what other companies call a "maintenance release". It does not boast that many new exciting features, but polishes up stuff introduced with 9.5 and focuses on expanding the underlying technical processes (the program's core) to open it up for future development. MoGraph is one such module that already benefits from improvements made "under the hood".

 
Another welcome addition is the introduction of a "subdivided" mode for splines. In technical terms this will calculate more intermediate points per force and result in cleaner models if you e.g. use an Extrude NURBS object in combination with deformers. Unlike in the past, your cap faces won't get whacky and don't break up. This breathes new life into using deformers in areas where in the past you either didn't use them for mentioned reasons or only could use them with heavily subdivided polygonal geometry.

This release is one for us motion graphics and compositing heads, there can be no doubt about it. This is further emphasized by some added functionalities for this type of work. First and most importantly I want to mention the support for yet another compositing application - eyeon's Fusion 5. If you choose this option, Cinema 4D will write out a *.comp file for you to use. In the same category falls the new External Compositing tag. This allows you to easily mark any object as a placeholder for a 3D layer e.g. in After Effects. In the past you had to use lights as a workaround for this. Relevant for rendering are the next two items: the Compositing tag now contains an option to designate each object it is applied to as a matte object, making it easy to generate custom matte renders from one scene without needing to apply new materials for an RGB matte pass for instance. Lastly, it is now possible to output motion vectors to use with your compositing tool's favorite motionblur filter.


External Compositing tag
Comparison between the adaptive spline mode (left) and the new subdivided mode (right) in combination with a simple bend deformer    


What's in the box

MoGraph comes on a DVD, which is a first-timer for anything related to Cinema 4D. It does so mainly because of the included royalty-free music. On the disc you also find the installer for the 9.6 update as well as of course the installer for MoGraph. The documentation is contained as a PDF and a few additional demo scenes are provided. That's pretty much it.


Tools galore

  Cloner, Matrix, Instance

In order to be able to create what I usually refer to as "structured noise", you need of course lots and lots of elements that make up that noise. The Cloner, Matrix and Instance object cater for that all in their own way. While some people would say that these are at the heart of MoGraph, that cannot be further from the truth. Indeed those tools all work on their own, but are so much nicer in combination with Effectors. Let's look at them in a little more detail.

The Cloner will be the weapon of choice for you most of the times. As the name suggests, it will take any object (or several objects) dropped into it and arrange them in a variety of ways. Built in are simple modes like linear, radial or grid, but if you are serious, you will find that the object mode is unavoidable in many situations. This will allow you to arrange your clones along a spline or along the surface of another object and provide even more control. In addition to arranging your items, the Cloner will also modify them based on a series of parameters. The power does not end there, however. Due to Cinema 4D's parametric approach, you are able to drop a Cloner into a Cloner, creating clones of an already cloned structure. You can expand on that concept quite a bit, but of course at a certain point you will end up having so many clones, your system will have a hard time to keep up.

The Matrix object provides a similar functionality to the Cloner, but will be treated a bit differently. A minor disadvantage of the Cloner is, that Cinema treats its hierarchy as a compound object. This can lead to unwanted distortions of the clones if you for instance use deformer objects in combination with such a setup. As the name suggests, the Matrix object only provides a matrix in mathematical terms that can arrange the objects, but leaves their shape intact.

The last of the three is the Instance object. It will create a trail of animation states of an object. This sounds interesting at first, but unfortunately control is very limited so you may not find yourself using this tool too often.

Effectors

Effectors are your best friends in controlling all those hordes of clones and they also hook into some of the other tools. In part they can override settings made in the cloners but more often they simply further modify them based on other criteria. This can be anything from some simple randomness to controlling your clones based on sounds to giving them each unique shading properties. There are literally infinite combinations and it would be impossible to cover them all. Therefore you should stay tuned when I will be going thru them in detail in the videos. Let me just list them here briefly for completeness.

Random:   vary parameters randomly
Step:   create stair-stepping or blended variations
Spline:   constrain clones to spline shapes
Formula:   control clones based on mathematical formulas
Target:   aim clones at a target object
Inheritance:   mimic the behavior of a "master" object
Delay:   animate clones with a temporal falloff
Time:   automatically animate variations over time
Group:   synchronize multiple effectors without extra keyframes
Shader:   use textures and materials to control clones
Sound:   drive effects based on audio files
 

  Tracer

The Tracer object is a way to create fully animatable spline paths in large numbers by tracing objects or vertices. This eliminates the need to use PLA, which would be quite tedious to set up for more than just a few splines. Since all the animation is derived from other objects, it also facilitates things such as animating dangling hoses and ropes.


Text object

At first glance it may seem redundant for MoGraph to introduce its own text object in the light that Cinema 4D already has a parametric spline based text object, but this is of course for a reason. Most importantly it can react to effectors, which the old text object can't. This gives you the opportunity to affect each letter, word or entire lines of text in a fashion similar to After Effects' text animators. Secondly it also has built-in options for extrusions, caps and fillets, making it easy to create 3D text without having to create a hierarchy of objects.

Spline Wrap, Displace, Extrude and Fracture object

These three represent deformation objects to complement MoGraph. There have been similar tools around from third parties either for free or as part of commercial packages but until this point Cinema 4D hasn't had these functions natively. Because they are deformers, they can also affect Cloners and all other MoGraph tools as well as all other object types.

Spline Wrap deforms objects along a spline very much like a snake. This sounds dull and it certainly isn't that exciting, but it's rather useful and one can only wonder why it hasn't been part of the base package for a long time.

Another such tool that has long been missing in the arsenal is the Displace deformer. Apart from providing a very generic way to deform your objects using shaders and materials with full respect to their projection/ mapping modes, the great thing about having this tool is that you could e.g. have clones dancing on an animated surface since it fully supports animated textures of any kind.

Perhaps the most exotic tool of the entire pack is Extrude. It works similar to the classical Matrix Extrude, but remains fully editable. For even more control it can even be hooked up to splines as guides. This makes it an ideal choice to create various "doodles" for background elements such as neuron paths, furballs, random spikes and other such alien-looking stuff.

Lastly there is the Fracture object. It works similar to the Shatter, Explosion or Explosion FX deformers, but can be influenced by the effectors. It will also take care to maintain contiguous connected entities instead of randomly "chopping up" your objects into smaller chunks. Users of After Effects will know this behavior if your for instance use the Shatter effect in combination with a vector graphic that has continuously rasterize turned on.
 

  Shaders

MoGraph comes with 3 shaders, each tailored to a specific use. The simplest of them is the Color Shader. The main purpose of it is to give you access to the color variations you can define with Effectors and Cloners and use this info in every material channel and not only color.

Next on the list is the Multishader. Unlike the Color Shader it will not just vary single material channels but rather entire materials. So if you drop for instance three different materials into the Multishader and assign it to an effector, you can have different textures on each clone without creating different clone items first. This is especially practical if you are in an experimental stage and haven't decided on your final look.

The last shader is the Beat Shader - as its name it creates cyclic "beats" as they often appear throughout a piece of music or on blinking displays à la "Star Trek".

Spline Mask

This particular tool doesn't really fit in a category with the others and its name is also somewhat misleading. It doesn't really mask anything but is a means of creating booleans with splines. Not only eliminates this the need to prepare your vector graphics in external programs such as Illustrator but since each spline element remains separate, you can interactively edit them in Cinema 4D and even animate them.

XPresso Nodes

To make things complete, MoGraph brings along its own nodes for accessing its internal data structures, so if you are one of those XPresso geniuses, you can create your own crazy setups based on using this data.

As you can see, the addition to functionality MoGraph brings to Cinema 4D is quite comprehensive and impressive. This is even more true since it adds in areas that do not only benefit motion graphics artists, but can facilitate many other common tasks. The Tracer, Displace and Spline Wrap are good examples for this and may be worth the investment alone in situations where you cannot use other tools to get your results. It is also already integrated partly with other modules such as Thinking Particles that will give you even more options.


MoGraph is not Jenna is not DiTools

Comparison between different tools:

DiTools (top), JENNA (middle) and MoGraph (bottom). All of the setups clone a sphere at the corner points of a cube.
  There's an ongoing debate about what motivated Maxon to make MoGraph and how it fits in the market, respectively the toolset of the artist. While I can't provide deeper insights in this, mainly due to the fact that I have only used the demo versions of those tools, let me still give you my views.

Cinema 4D has been very "motiongraphicky" for quite some time. There are several reasons for this, be it the simplicity to create 3D text and logos (because the spline tools "just work"), its ease in creating large numbers of objects or flexible deformers. Even the fast renderer could be counted into that. This tendency became even more obvious, when the multipass system and After Effects composition export were introduced. So following this development, MoGraph seems to be the next logical step.

Then there is the other side. DiTools and JENNA are both toolsets that provide many functions similar to MoGraph. However, both also have some problems that can't be swept under the rug. As you may know, JENNA is no longer available. Since all development has ceased, you could not buy it as much as you wanted to. If you were lucky and have it, there is no guarantee that it will work with future versions of Cinema 4D. As for DiTools - well, its biggest problem is the lack of some decent documentation. Even after studying it quite thoroughly, I couldn't make sense of some features. In addition to that, development seems to be rather sporadic, as the developer seems to be focusing on PhyTools now.

So knowing all the above, would it not be logical for Maxon to provide a tool such as MoGraph is? I think yes. It gives a certain amount of safety for the future since it's unlikely that the company producing the main program will possibly dump one of its modules. As an side, you really know who to contact if you have a problem or want to request a feature. Lastly, Maxon's documentation has always been among the better ones in the industry, which of course helps a lot. Still, where there is light, there is always shadow. In this case not much, but I think it is worth mentioning some of the small hurdles you may come across.


Things that I missed and things I didn't like

At the risk of contradicting myself, MoGraph lacks in its documentation. I think it has to do with its depth and while the manual tells you the technical fundamentals and in that regard is well done and nicely illustrated, it misses out on giving you pointers at their practical application in everyday work. I really feel that some sort of tutorial guide is needed, ideally as a training DVD.

Also missing is some decent example scenes. The few sample scenes provided not only do not do MoGraph justice, but have not been put together very thoughtfully. I was really disappointed and upset to get a warning about missing plugins simply because I don't have Advanced Render or save paths try to write to non-existing directories as well as scenes auto-playing when being opened from the content browser. This is not "professional" from a commercial product. My general impression is that this aspect has been rushed and those annoyances could have been avoided, along with providing more quality content such as the Station 75's step-by-step scenes complete with After Effects projects.

Since Maxon sells this as a big feature, let's take a look at the music or more precisely lend an ear to it. Most of the pieces are of the electronic kind. From House to more aggressive Techno tones you can find everything. However, being a long-time Techno/ Electronica addict myself, I have to say I couldn't get much out of it. There is no depth and finesse and it all sounds rather uninspired like the many CD collections with "royalty free, film quality music" as we all have used them every now and then when we had no other option. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad thing if you just want to play around and don't have any specific needs and on top of that you get the loops of the pieces to mix your own tracks, but I don't think it would have been necessary as in a production situation I would go looking elsewhere to find more suitable stuff.

Now to the technical side of things. With JENNA and DiTools around for inspiration, I was surprised to not see some of their more useful features implemented in MoGraph. Of particular noteworthiness are JENNAS data tag and NICKL or some of DiTools' crazy but useful deformers. I also find that some of the functions in those two tools are implemented more straightforward and more in keeping with Cinema's general paradigms. For instance in MoGraph you too often have to drag objects to link fields instead of simply placing them inside a hierarchy as you do in the other two tools. This is of course only a minor problem, but I think there could have been some more elegant solutions in some places.

A problem that has not been solved to my satisfaction and causes a lot of frustration is the shading and texturing part. It involves a lot of hit & miss, especially since it is in many cases not entirely clear how MoGraph assigns colors based on the clone's ID. I'll easily admit that some problems may be entirely due to my lack of experience in Cinema 4D, but it certainly feels quirky.


What could have been there, too...

Now it's time for wishful thinking. Yes, some features that I would like to see.

Easy and simple to use shaders! That wasn't hard to guess, was it? I feel that there could have been just that one notch more and things would have been perfect - a shader that allows tweaking multiple shading properties without having to assign a MoGraph Color Shader to each channel and another one that would allow random playback of image sequences, without destroying the simplicity of setup, would have been a good point to start. The current "To Layer" function in the Multishader kinda works, but is very uncomfortable to use for this type of setup.

Another matter that needs attention is a little more coherence in general behaviors. All effectors for instance need to work with every tool. Even the cloners do not accept all parameters from some effectors, making setups often more complicated than need be. Other tools such as the Tracer can't use effectors at all. This is not very logical and somewhat inconsequently implemented.

Maxon should also take the time to expand on the deformation part. One of my main gripes here is that, while the Spline Wrap deformer is super in many situations, it cannot be combined with cloners and effectors, limiting its usefulness unnecessarily. Similar limitations apply to other deformation tools, mainly because they often have no idea how a cloner is going to be placed, rotated or scaled. This is of course a problem of Cinema's inner workings that may need changing, but it would be great if it could happen.

Lastly, there must be a way to deal with many, many objects more efficiently. Rendering scenes with hundreds of clones can be terribly slow as can be handling the scene files themselves. Some decent instancing would greatly advance the workflow. I was unable to render some of my more crazy setups because they contained so many clones, it took forever to even calculate shadows from a single light source. This doesn't even begin to cover how including Hyper NURBS objects and other effects that create even more polygons can kill your renderer.


Concluding thoughts

Minor problems and complaints aside, MoGraph is nonetheless a fantastic and powerful tool. It's one in line with the recently released Hair module and if Maxon keeps development up at this pace, we can expect great things and many more cool surprises in the future. Where others hesitate or fucus on other audiences, Maxon knows how to keep its users happy and excited. The goal of all efforts with MoGraph must now be to polish it a bit more and overcome some of its limitations, and I'm sure the developers will be working hard to achieve that. With that in mind, I can only recommend MoGraph to any aspiring motion graphics artist and compositor. If you ever have thought about getting serious with 3D for this type of stuff, now may be a good time to make the move. While certainly most of what MoGraph does can be achieved with other tools as well, it never has been so easy and indeed in many situations it's plain fun - I'm still fascinated and time just flies when playing with all those cloners, effectors and other tools. Therefore I'm awarding MoGraph 5 COWs.

COW RATING: 5 Cows


I would personally like to thank everyone who helped me to get up to speed with Cinema 4D and MoGraph and thus made it possible to write this article. This goes out to the people from Maxon as well as users from many great Cinema 4D communities on the web.

So that's all or what?

No, of course not. Now that I've gotten my feet wet again in Cinema 4D, over the next weeks I will be providing several articles covering many aspects of MoGraph and other parts of Cinema 4D and you will be pleased to hear that I will be doing them as videos so you can relax and lean back instead of having to hug your screen just to read some text. Until then stay tuned and keep an eye out for them.


Feel free to comment or ask questions in the Cinema 4D forum at Creativecow.net.


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