Mantra Design’s Christopher McCard used Maxon’s Cinema 4D
for this intro to MTV’s Video Music Awards. Photo credit: Maxon
A Multi-Part Series by Joe Herman
Part III: The Uber Designer
Dan Ochiva contributed to this report.
Part I gave a short background to CGI on the Mac, partly to give some background behind the popularity of Maxon’s Cinema 4D, (You can read Part 1 here.) Part II noted the popularity of Autodesk Maya among character animators and visual effects artists, while Adobe’s game-changing After Effects 2D compositing program became a standard. (You can read Part II here.)
In Part III, let’s look at some of the causes behind the rise in popularity of Cinema 4D, especially among motion graphics producers in New York.
With its many and growing legion of avid users, it’s not easy to miss that Maxon’s Cinema 4D is a highly capable program that contains high-end features well-suited to motion graphics and broadcast designers. While it prices in a similar range to Autodesk Maya—with discounts and upgrade prices that make it even more affordable–the ease with which you can get up to speed when learning Cinema 4D has been a major factor in making it the designer’s favorite 3D app in Gotham.
Surely, that is an important factor and would be reason enough to attract a large base of loyal and devoted users.
However, that doesn’t explain it all. For example, why has Cinema 4D enjoyed success and adoption by studios in New York in spite of such formidable competition from other top notch products including Autodesk 3ds Max, Lightwave, or Softimage — all highly capable and venerable 3D packages in their own right, each of which has it’s own advanced set of features?
I’m not suggesting that almost every design shop in the city uses Cinema 4D exclusively, or even that it is the most popular 3D software in New York today—I don’t have a survey on that. However, I base my opinions on my experience as a freelance motion graphics designer and compositor in New York City for many years working at a variety of studios and production companies. I’ve come to see the remarkable popularity of this software, a program that was relatively little known in the nineties, which seems to be growing with every release, something many of my friends and colleagues also attest too.
(We’d like to know what you think—you can add comments in the section below).
Making the Case
In the previous sections of this series, we have touched on the following points:
• Digital motion designers for the most part began by working with After Effects on the Macintosh sometime during the 1990s (when it was a Mac-only product).
• After Effects users were content to restrict themselves to 2D design and compositing and leave 3D animation to those who specialized in 3D (and vice versa). Neither camp was that interested in each other’s niche since mastering the different programs came only with intense effort.
• After Effects users who wished to do 3D themselves often turned to Specular’s Infini-D to fulfill their 3D requirements. But without a major company behind it, Infini-D eventually vanished from the marketplace, leaving a gaping hole for 3D on the Macintosh platform.
• That many advanced 3D software programs such as Autodesk’s Maya, 3ds max (formerly 3D Studio MAX), Softimage (now owned by Autodesk), and NewTek’s LightWave proliferated on the Windows platform, while few options for capable 3D animation software existed on the Macintosh. This reality resulted initially in a divide between 2D compositing and design (the Mac’s territory) and 3D animation (overwhelmingly based on Windows PCs).
Note: (In his well-researched article in Ars Technica, Dave Girard points out the reasons 3D lagged on the Mac. For example, he notes that until OS X came out, the Mac’s OS wasn’t stable enough nor did it offer the very necessary ability to multi-task. Read more here.)
• Although After Effects was eventually ported to the PC platform along with other graphics mainstays like Photoshop and Illustrator, by and large those in the design community (especially in New York) continued to use the Macintosh as their computing platform in spite of the fact that there was a wealth of high-end 3D software available on the PC platform.
Mac users enter a New Dimension
As we said goodbye to the 1990s, the boom-time of the passing decade was fading, the dot-com bubble had burst and “nine-eleven” was about to darken the palette of colors that would paint the dawn of the new millennium.
But for anyone concerned about advanced graphics, things were getting interesting. After Effects moved beyond flat layers by introducing a 3D camera, Photoshop added a history palette (key for those of us who change our minds), digital video was getting cheaper and easier to work with, and the Internet was connecting all of us in totally new ways.
After Effects’ 3D camera ushered in new possibilities for compositors . Among designers in New York, many After Effects users once content to stay in their 2D niches began casting their eyes longingly towards the world of 3D and imagined how nice it would be if they wouldn’t have to rely on outside 3D animators for every little piece of 3D animation they needed. Wouldn’t it be great if they could start doing some of it themselves? It would probably end up being a whole lot cheaper as well.
They were already developing a sense of working in 3D space due After Effects’ introduction of 3D compositing in version 5 (around 2001). This included the 3D camera, shadow-casting lights, and other features new to After Effects but common to all 3D programs. Although many of us applauded the new 3D capabilities in After Effects, it would be wrong to think of it as a full-featured 3D application. After Effects lacks the sophistication of fully dedicated 3D software such as the ability to model complex geometry and advanced rendering algorithms such as ray tracing. Many referred to the app as working in 2 ½ D space.
Nevertheless motion graphic artists soon began implementing After Effects’ new 3D capabilities, building complex projects with a marked 3D flavor. As a result of these artists becoming more comfortable and familiar working in a 3D environment, the notion of taking the leap into a full 3D production seemed a lot more fathomable than before.
As they looked around for real 3D software to use, they were faced with a question and a dilemma: Which program was good enough, and would it run on their collection of expensive Macintosh hardware? While some Macintosh users switched to Windows apps to take advantage of the rich offerings in 3D software, many design-type folks accustomed to the Mac’s straight forward ease found changing operating systems too daunting. Right or wrong, and well before the PC versus Mac ads hit the airwaves, many in the Apple community were fiercely loyal to the Macintosh.
Stay tuned for the upcoming final segment of our in-depth look at Maxon’s Cinema 4D and its growing popularity in the New York post community. We’ll also review the latest Version 12 of the software.