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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… ;-)

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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…

SIGGRAPH *d’oh*

Is it just me or was this year’s SIGGRAPH boring as in being really dull? Okay, I admit that most of the news would not be relevant to me in terms of actually using the programs, but even in the geek sense I didn’t exactly get a hard-on this time. It seems that all news this years fall into one or the other of the following categories:

  • Companies that are desperately trying to catch up and fix their broken toys like what Maxon does/ needs to do with Cinema 4D.
  • Product enhancements focusing on performance improvements via GPU and other optimizations like The Foundry in Nuke 9.
  • Interoperability stuff with exchanging and supporting more file formats like e.g. in Clarisse iFX.
  • Companies trying to take over the world by providing their renderers and simulation tools like Octane, VRay or Krakatoa even for your iPhone.
  • A whole slew of “production pipeline” tech that you may never get your hands on or will not be geek enough to actually use them like Weta‘s Manuka renderer or Fabric Engine.
  • Companies buying other companies by the bucket.

While none of these are actually bad and surely solve specific problems that people may have, it leaves me surprisingly untouched and emotionally empty. The real excitement is gone and I don’t know if this is a bad thing. In fact the only news that got me a bit giddy was that the ZBrush people released yet another update for free with some interesting enhancements like the hard surface brushes. That’s just crazy. Makes me want to get a license one of those days even more (despite the awful interface). ;-)

Because I’m nappy!

During my scribbling evening sessions on my bed, the other day I ended up drawing a number of ideas for a teddy bear and don’t you know it – somewhere there lived a little nappy bear inside my roller pen!

Nappy Bear

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Cinesoon!

After we had a bit of fun speculating on when the next release of Cinema 4D will hit, we are now considerably closer to the truth. While I was away for a job interview in Berlin, Maxon jumped the gun and released some preliminary info.

As always, it’s a somewhat mixed bag and final judgement needs to be reserved for when we can actually use it, but once more I’m decidedly undecided. It still seems the program is moving forward at snail pace and many features feel like they sat in a meeting and decided “Let’s just copy that from program X!”.

The most obvious of these copycat features is of course the poly pen. I really can’t help but smirk at how they barely disguised it as being a riff on many retopology tools in other programs. Not that it’s a bad thing with sculpting tools in place and all that, but it’s still more of a mee-too than a genuine innovation.

The second thing is the 3D tracker. That’s gonna pee on the parade for many other tools of this kind, but it’s not unwelcome and a consequent extension of what they introduced last year with the static camera matcher. This could also open up better venues for working in After Effects on such projects. You know, things like genuine calibration and matching scene scale. 3D tracking makes so much more sense in a 3D program…

The rendering department also received some love. It seems they learned from the TeamRender debacle and pimped it considerably. The reflectivity mapping is indeed something I wished for doing my machinery stuff, but how much it will improve rendering quality will remain to be seen. In my little world it would only make real sense if they also have optimized reflections considerably. Blurry reflection can make scenes terribly slow. The hidden good news is raytracing support for Sketch & Toon and Hair, which is pretty significant and should eliminate the need for convolutedd workarounds and compositing tricks.

So all in all it’s not that bad, just not particularly exciting, either. There’s simply no killer feature that would win me over if I were using another program and ultimately that’s what Cinema needs  one of those days…  If you get my meaning: The program is like a Volkswagen – solid and reliable, but in your dreams you still yearn for that Porsche.

Berlin is pretty crazy, BTW. Hadn’t been there in ages, but it’s amazing how  the city has changed. And to me at least it has much more charme than Hamburg

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