Nodally Shady Maxon

With my energy these days being focused elsewhere and the extreme summer heatwave across Europe drawing everyone’s attention on other priorities, anyway, this is kind of an “Oops, is it really that time of the year again already?” thing, but yes in the run-up to SIGGRAPH the annual updates to your favorite 3D programs are being announced.

Maxon are the first out of the gate with Cinema 4D R20. Last year people got all hyped up that this needs to be special just “because it’s an even anniversary” or something along those lines, and while this new release isn’t bad, what we got perhaps is not quite that. Call me a cynic if you must, but to me it still feels like they’re busy catching up to other tools, so many of the new tools feel like they should have been there ten years ago.

What stands out most notably is at long last a nodal material/ shader editor. I’m not giving away any secrets when I say that the traditional material editor long had begun to file like you scratched open an inflamed pimple on your butt, so this finally should solve some of those pesky problems like re-using textures in multiple slots. The irony here is of course that Cinema 4D forever has had XPresso forever and by ways of complicated workarounds with creative use of some nodes you could do some things already, which makes you want to scream “What took you so long, after all?”. It’s really that it always seemed obvious to everyone except Maxon themselves. Of course a nodal editor makes some simple tasks a little more convoluted and abstract, so depending on your experience level and daily requirements it can be a mixed bag. It’s the price you pay for flexibility and versatility.

One thing that almost makes me dance with joy are the new generalized Fields. Back in the day I always thought that MoGraph falloffs could be ten times more powerful if only they could be used on other things and now they finally made it happen. Again, there were of course all sorts of clever workarounds even then like settings your cloner objects to Thinking Particles group to pipe info back and forth, but to say it was often pain would be an understatement. Not only did it require sideways thinking and extra effort, but was then bogged down by TP‘s poor performance. Similar observations could be made for other techniques – it’s not that some things were entirely impossible, they were just not obvious to the average user, convoluted to set up and clunky in their use. Providing a unified infrastructure could improve this considerably.

However, and that’s still a stinker, let’s not forget that in particular those two new feature sets will still suffer from some features not being on the same level and thus impeding overall usefulness. Yes, I’m talking about that UV texture thing, dynamics and particle simulation. Maxon can brag about UV-based fields and texture operators all they want, but with Bodypaint not having been fully rebuilt there is still no easy and good way to do explicit UV work or live-paint those flow maps and whatever. similarly, without a revamped particle and simulation framework it’s probably fair to say that those dynamics in the demo videos still will require meticulous planning and out-of-the box thinking. Still a long way to go here.

The volumetric modeling tools and the CAD import strike me as a clear stab in modo‘s direction or for that matter similar volume tools in Houdini for instance. The demos look a bit too made up for my taste, though, and the workflow with the redundant object/ layer hierarchies could become pretty aggravating on more complicated setups. This seems like unnecessarily repeating the same mistakes from the past like on some other items. And of course again it would probably be a lot more fun to make those meshes splash with real dynamics.

While it’s a solid release, my overall impression still is, that somehow Maxon‘s priorities are backwards. Point in case: All those showy, motiongraphics-centric features make for some nice demo videos, but one can’t shake the feeling that either you are never really going to use them in your own work (for whatever reasons) or if you attempt to do so might get stuck due to a feature you may need not having been renovated yet, not being available at all or even its new incarnation lacking compared to programs from competitors. More than anything else this uneasy feeling is what probably would still have me using Modo for some of my work and Cinema for other tasks without ever being able to fully commit to either. It’s an imperfect world…

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