Nodes are a matter of much debate no matter what program. Some love them, some hate them, some don’t quite know what to do with them. undeniably, though, nodal systems in 3D programs as well as nodal compositing apps allow you a level of technical complexity that you can nigh on impossible achieve with conventional attribute editors or layer-based compositing. One of the most obvious strong points of such systems is the ability to re-use a node’s data over and over by simply connecting the same output to multiple other inputs. One such typical case is using the same texture on multiple material channels in a 3D program to be able to easily keep things aligned and in sync while manipulating only a base texture and letting it ripple through to other sports where it is used as well.
Now let’s cut to the chase. If there is anything Cinema 4D could need, it is a system like that. Anyone who ever had to create a sizable number of materials using textures on multiple channels knows the craziness associated with digging through endless levels of textures over and over again (for kicks, try to create a layer texture with 20 layers and all fancies like folders and layer masks, copy it to all channels and then decide to change something – not fun at all) and has the worn fingerprints to prove it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a more centralized system for such tasks? Exactly! There have been a few attempt’s like Blackstar’s Reference shader, but they still are pretty confusing because they don’t give you “the big picture”, as it were. Luckily there is a streak of hope on the horizon thanks to cmNodes and even better yet, it’s totally free.
There’s a few things you should keep in mind, however. First, most critically, it doesn’t introduce its own new material system. It more or less relies on what Cinema already has on offer and wraps it in a custom shader with a new interface. That means you get no geek stuff like conditional shading based on your own formulas, no super-duper “physical” materials and so on. Because it is built on the standard stuff, there are apparently a few limitations like previews not necessarily refreshing in realtime, making it sometimes difficult to judge the result. The most important thing that is a deal-breaker for me – yepp, you guessed it – is the crash happiness. You definitely should only work on a copy of your scene when you use this or you may end up ruining your work. It’s just too easy to make it freeze or go kaboom. So is it cool? Definitely. It’s a good step in the right direction and more than Maxon themselves have managed to pull together in that department. It’s just not production ready, so aside from experimenting with it you may want to wait a bit before there’s a more stable 1.5 version or something like that before fully committing to it.
Incidentally as I’m writing this I’m re-rendering a scene in the Lightwave 11.5 trial version to satisfy a client’s last-minute request for a pretty picture based on an old project from some years ago and I’m amazed how blazingly fast it feels both in the viewport as well as rendering of course. Render tests, anyone? ;-)