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The next Element

Everyone’s favorite Andrew Kramer set the Internet on fire again by dropping a hint on Element 3D v2 and so without further ado, I’m poking your noses at it. I know that you are craving for some details, but dutifully I shall obey my vow of silence until the cat’s out of the bag. Suffice it to say that you’re gonna love some of the new stuff…

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Reflecting on Reflectance

As I wrote, the last few days I have been dabbling with the Reflectance stuff in Cinema 4D R16. I pulled one of my old files from my archives and tried to create some reasonably “real” materials.

Reflection before R16

Reflections as they looked before R16

As you see in the first picture, in my work i did not necessarily aim for ultra-realism. Since those machines inside consist of various blank metals, often the same kind of material for different components, you either end up with everything being indiscernible reflections only or a grey blob, depending on the individual material settings. Incidentally the same problem makes it so tough doing photographs or filming this stuff. Therefore finding a good balance has always been the challenge. Combined with other factors like not having suitable HDR environment maps at hand most of the time ultimately one had do employ a lot of tricks. Despite all that with Cinema 4D things still looked flat and not necessarily convincing. That, however, is now changed considerably.

Reflectance in R16

Reflectance in R16

If you look at the second image, things simply look more metal-y to begin with. Yepp, even with only a short time spent on this and my own limited texturing skills you can actually feel that it’s much more like how materials behave in terms of bouncing around light in the real world. The great thing is that this is all within the same system, so specular highlights show up in reflections as they would on natural materials and for the most part this more than anything else gives this feeling of realism. I can’t give you specific advice about the various models since I haven’t experimented nearly enough myself, but you’ll get the hang of it.

As a downside of course all this is a lot more computationally intensive than your old specular, even more so since you will need to use the Physical renderer to avoid antialiasing and sampling issues in certain situations (the materials work with the Standard renderer as well, though). This also reveals another flaw – if you want to call it that – For now this is an isolated solution to a specific problem and does not go hand in hand with other things. I for instance would just love if in order to make it truly physical we could control Diffusion and Transparency/ Absorption in a similar fashion. Inevitably you will have to fiddle with these parameters and your old existing materials will not translate too well. Most of the time you will want to reduce the diffusion or use much darker, more desaturated colors since the reflections and speculars will boost brightness notably.

It’s also obvious that this kinda plugged-on solution introduces a lot of redundancy with the user needing to make sure bump maps and so on are always synced, which without the program providing instances for textures and materials can be a major pain. Anyone who has ever created a reasonably complex material knows this. These problems can multiply exponentially since the number of layers is almost unlimited. So in summary, it is still not trivial to create good materials and as I said in my other posts, this is perhaps a bit too much and overdone. In fairness, though, some of this may resolve itself if and when they get around to also bring the other shading stuff to that level.

There are a few annoyances I noted as well. Let me just summarize them shortly:

  • The panel can be towering high, especially with the anisotropic and fabric shading and the extra texture slots twirled open. This is slightly stupid, because it makes little sense to e.g. change the anisotropic pattern far at the bottom and having to scroll up again to see the preview. They should have put more thought into this.
  • There are drawing glitches, which probably have to do with the panel being so long. When you numerically edit values for instance, some of the sliders/ scrubbers above and below will not refresh properly and break up. Only scrolling vertically will enforce a redraw.
  • The Layer Fresnel settings seem to have a bug. When choosing Conductor materials and a preset, the IOR and Absorption readouts are greyed out and don’t update. Only when you select Custom do they become available. Now this may be by design, but do I know what these values are for any of the metals? It’s inconsistent with the Dielectric materials and by all means should function the same, be it just that the user may need a baseline reference for tweaking his own values.
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Glittermania 3D!

Woohoo, as I’m playing around with the Reflectance stuff in Cinema 4D R16, this little gem popped up. I highly recommend giving it a whirl – it’s free, after all – even if the render times explode. This is great insofar it does not slap the ump-teenth noise in your face but really simulates the actual geometry. If you know my glittery stuff, you know how difficult it is to simulate. More on reflections and sparkles of all kinds some time later…

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R16 in da House

After sorting out the mess with the missing parcel and helping out a friend to work out some technical issues on an animation he is working on the last few days, I finally had a chance to play around with Cinema 4D R16 a bit. Naturally, I didn’t have much time to go to deep and and merely toyed with the more obvious features. As I wrote when they announced the new version I was skeptical and that opinion still stands.

I will not argue some of the merits of many of the small enhancements to some tools and features – having falloffs on most deformers doesn’t hurt and makes things more consistent, having extraneous points auto-killed in the Symmetry object may avoid messy weld seams and being able to combine Hair and Sketch & Toon directly may open up some possibilities to design new graphical, abstract looks, but somehow it still feels like stuff that they should have done five years ago at least. They will be useful in everyday production, but the changes seem too insignificant for a major version and one can’t shake the feeling that some of this could have been part of one of their bugfix releases.

The Reflectance material stuff is interesting, but feels a bit overdone, which ultimately will make this a bitch to master, especially since the differences really often only show up in a test render. On a whole, though, it’s nice to see that Maxon actually did their homework and we are moving to physically-based/ -plausible shading. Let’s hope they’ll keep following that path and work on better sub-surface scattering and transparencies as well. In the modelling department of course the pen tool is noteworthy. It’s actually better than I thought, though I have yet to put it to test on mending botched high poly count stuff like CAD imports. On a similar note, while last year’s renewed Bevel tool didn’t get me excited because the spoiled little brat that I am I had enjoyed all this stuff for quite a while in modo already for like 7 years, having it as a deformer is quite handy. I like to keep my stuff procedural and this might be useful for creating some parametric gears or pimping my Les Blocs.

Speaking of gears, the new cogwheel spline gets a big fail mark. Seriously, I haven’t come across any such ridiculous gears actually being used in any of the machines I worked on the last 15 years. Maybe this can be used to create fancy motion graphics porn, but for “serious” engineering stuff it’s not of much use. I feel similarly about some of the stuff shown in the promo trailer like the parametric window generator. Once you actually get to see it you realize that it’s merely some XPresso and MoGraph and not even particularly elaborate or sophisticated. It just doesn’t look real and I’d never actually use it and I’m sure when you get into ISO and DIN or whatever building codes, you realize even more how limited it is. The same is true for other stuff like the animatable diagrams and so on…

Did I actually mention that the promo trailer, while making these things look exciting by only giving brief glimpses, caused much laughing? Some called it the worst piece of motion graphics they had seen in a while and I’m inclined to agree. Seems like the company that claims leadership in that market couldn’t actually find a reasonably talented intern to do it. ’nuff said! ;-)

Of course all of this is preliminary and totally biased and only longer-term testing can reveal the truth. I’ll have to try to pimp one of my CAD scenes with the Reflectance stuff and most definitely I will need to give the motion tracker a whirl. It will also be interesting to see whether or not people will actually get into using Team Render after running for the hills and reverting back to R14 and Net Render when R15 proved less than reliable…

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Going Fusion…

What an awful day… I had this gut feeling that I better not get up already in the morning and the rainy weather made me even more miserable. But despite that I still took off to some really shitty job interview after which I already was ready to blow up someone’s house and then things got really weird. Remember when I wrote that I’d still be waiting for my Cinema 4D R16 package yesterday? Guess what – that package was resting peacefully in a shelf at the post office since Monday and I didn’t know! That irresponsible DHL/ Deutsche Post delivery guy hadn’t left a drop note and I only found out all this after exchanging mails with the sender.

I usually try to keep calm in such situations because there’s no damage in a 20 Euro Amazon package bouncing back and being re-send, but this was my frakking 600 Euro Cinema upgrade that wouldn’t be easy to replace if it wen’t missing – financially and for all the trouble with the serial number. You can imagine that, with me already being teed off, I really went fusion and barked at the shop assistant less than gently. Let’s just hope she won’t show me out of the door next time I need some stamps… Oh my!

Elsewhere a matter of much debate is today’s announcement of Blackmagic Design (BMD) taking over eyeon and their Fusion nodal compositing tool. Good? Bad? The thing is that Fusion (or Fu in short) actually is pretty sophisticated in several areas, it’s just that very few people know about it. And why is that? Yepp, they never understood how to market it to the masses and the company behind it always was tight-assed about it. There was a time when you had to almost beg them on their knees to even get a demo because they considered you unworthy of using their product.

Given that the price was the same as for Nuke, that unapproachability no doubt has done more damage than good. In an odd way this merger has this tone of someone scrambling for emergency because all their customers ran off to the competition. Well, whatever, we’ll have to see. Here’s hoping that BMD might give us an affordable tool and at the same time this will finally make The Foundry come around to at least consider reducing the price for Nuke a bit to stay competitive….

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The Not-News

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Yepp, it’s one of those times where my illness is keeping me on my toes a lot with three appointments per week and then on the other days there’s other stuff to attend to. Not that there would be much to report, anyway.

I’m still waiting for my Cinema 4D R16 upgrade package to arrive so I can’t even give you the slightest hint about how good or bad it actually it is (too lazy to download the demo on my slow Internet connection).Inevitably, Cineware has been upgraded to be R16 compatibe in the latest After Effects CC update as well, but beyond high-DPI display support with a slightly overhauled interface and some under-the-hood stuff like CoDec support there is nothing more there. This must be the lamest update in history and doesn’t even remotely make me wanna wet my pants diapers.

On a similar note. E-on have released another mini-update to The Plant Factory. It’s significant not so much for the technical aspects (again), but they have rewritten the licensing agreement once more and now at least allow to freely distribute converted files as static meshes. Feeling the pressure from all those free XFrog, Laubwerk and other plant sets we have seen lately? Almost makes me want to get a license, I just need to find someone to pay for it… ;-)

There’s a (Plot) Hole in the Desert

For the last three weeks or so I’ve been kinda binge-watching Breaking Bad again, which, like so many other people, in my view is the only cool way to watch the series. I haven’t touched it in pretty much exactly a whole year after my run last year and while I remembered most of the story, I had completely forgotten some of the  details and misremembered others.

Getting the story straight and discovering new tiny bits and pieces with every re-watch is actually fun and one of those things I enjoy a lot even with series like Babylon 5 or the various Star Trek ones and I’ve been watching many of those for the last 20 years multiple times a year! I already look forward to starting my first full watch-through of The Next Generation which I haven’t touched yet aside from the short peek at the sample episodes back then. Shall be interesting to recognize new visual details that you couldn’t make out in the old mushy VHS quality version.

Speaking of leaving things untouched this time around I also watched the second half of the 5th season of Breaking Bad for the first time because it only came out in January here in these parts. I only read the synopses that floated the Internet at the time and in a way I wish I hadn’t. No, not so much that I’d already knew the storyline, but more like being disappointed. The fanboys gave it such a massive build-up, it simply left me with a feeling that there would be something missing when I actually got to see it.

Don’t get me wrong, the series is still in its own way brilliant and the quality excellent and I hope they can snatch another few Emmys this evening, but if only… My biggest grief is that just like with so many other series a lot of things feel rushed and forced as if they really were bent on tying up ever knot. In particular I found it more than just a bit unbelievable how Hank suddenly realizes that Walt is at the center of it all after being completely ignorant of it (despite many clues right in front of his eyes). That seemed too sharp a turn and then from there things just go downhill a bit too quickly and the characters lose their feeling of reality because some actions seem irrational.

Personally I prefer the lighter mood of the earlier seasons, anyway. There are, however, some really funny moments in all that grimness. That incidental comment about “three hours of something called Babylon 5″ with Walt sitting in the back of a car was just pure gold for insiders. My neighbors must have thought I’m completely whack-o when I burst into a loud laugh at 2 in the morning.

Character wise Jesse still is kinda annoying and Skyler is a bitch, but I also found many of Walt‘s rationalizations and lies getting quite on my nerves. It’s too bad they’re killing of Hank all too quickly like they did with Mike. Those were actually people you could root for and they would have deserved a better ending…

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