Maxon Cinema 4D has been making a real name for itself
in the world of 3D recently by offering an excellent value main application, which provides all the power that most users will ever need, along with the option of adding further dedicated modules if required (the Advanced Render and MOCCA character animation modules have been updated as part of the launch). Further extensibility comes from the program's excellent integration with wider workflows through unique features such as multi-pass Photoshop PSD rendering and the ability to work hand-in-hand with After Effects and now Final Cut and Combustion. What really makes the program stand out though is its ease of use. Where other high-end 3D modelers rely on complicated stacks of modifiers, for example, Cinema 4D takes a simple object-based approach - drag a spline object onto an extrusion object and it projected into 3D space, drag this onto a " HyperNURBS" object and the results are automatically subdivided and smoothed, drag this onto an array object and the results are automatically repeated and distributed and so on. Working in this way it's simple to quickly build advanced models and, because each object in the hierarchy remains editable, you remain in complete control.
Alongside its object-based approach, Cinema 4D provides a working environment that is both transparent and powerful. And even more so in this latest release. The most immediately noticeable changes are the slightly darker interface designed to be less distracting and the - to my mind distracting - proliferation of command icons. The menus have also been tweaked and can now be floated off as palettes for easy access, though this probably won't be necessary as you can now access all menus via a general pop-up. Further streamlining comes from the former Function menu dialogs which have been made non-modal, with the option of real-time updating, and are now accessible via the main Attribute Manager panel.
For a 3D app, Cinema 4D's interface is a model of usability. Wherever possible Maxon has also improved interactivity and feedback. When rotating, for example, the object's axes are now represented as bands and the angle rotated appears onscreen both numerically and as a slice. There's also a new Measure and Construction tool for taking readings off your model and ensuring accuracy. You can also drag and drop more elements than ever, including dropping named items, such as polygon selections, as fields into the Attribute Manager.
By far the biggest change in this area is the introduction of the new Heads Up Display (HUD), named after the projection of cockpit dials onto the windscreen of planes. Using the viewport's Configure command you can set a number of general options to appear onscreen such as the active object and its hierarchy, and the current number of selected polygons, edges and vertices. But this is only the beginning. Right-click on just about any parameter in the Attribute Manager, including material settings, and you can also add it to the HUD. Moreover the parameter remains live so that you can simply drag on the onscreen setting to update your object directly! You can even take advantage of the new ability to automatically create animation keyframes, making the HUD ideal for collecting together all those parameters that you want to animate.
Apart from the improved interface, the main focus of the latest release is a major reworking of Cinema 4D's mesh editing capabilities. Key to this is selecting the right elements to manipulate in the first place and this is much easier for a whole host of reasons. First up is the new automatic switching between polygon, vertex and point mode and the clearer highlighting of selections. You can also now create selections across multiple objects and there are new selection modes for automatically selecting rings and loops of points, polygons and edges - a huge boost to productivity - while the new Soft Selection mode automatically smooths the changes between selected and unselected polygons. And finally there's a new Isoline mode which projects the underlying polygonal cage onto the smoothed HyperNURBS object which makes editing these objects, that in other programs would be massively complicated, even more intuitive.
The modeling power on offer has been strengthened too (not that it was exactly bad to begin with). New tools include Polygon Close for filling holes within objects and Stitch and Sew for filling gaps between objects. Most impressive is the excellent Brush tool for interactively applying no fewer than 13 different effects from smearing through to smoothing. The crucial Knife tool has also been seriously enhanced and now offers five different modes for cutting lines, loops, hole, planes and paths. And the main surface editing commands, such as Matrix Extrude, are now controlled non-modally through the Attribute Manager, again with the option of real-time updating.
The biggest modeling enhancement is the introduction of N- Gons. Previously, as with most modeling applications, Cinema 4D supported 3 and 4-pointed triangles and quadrilaterals, now this limit is lifted entirely and you can create n- gons, polygons with any numbers of corners. This is ideal for creating objects from scratch especially as you no longer have to add your points and then join them in a two-stage process. It also comes into its own when simplifying a model with the new Melt tool, which converts multiple polygons into a single n- gon, and also when adding detail with the Knife tool which creates new n- gons by default so keeping the mesh under control and more easily editable.
Core modeling capabilities have been totally overhauled. Like Cinema 4D's object handling in general and its HyperNURBS handling in particular, the introduction of N- Gons is another example of how Cinema 4D lets users work at a higher level of abstraction protected from the inherent complexities of 3D handling, in this case the internal triangulation of the n- gons. What this means in practice is another huge boost to productivity and ease of use. The other real beauty of release 9 is that when you do need to get down to the nitty-gritty of mesh level manipulation, the hands-on editing power is there too.
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