Hands can be difficult. They’re tricky to model, rig, and weight, and they’re not particularly easy to animate. I thought I had a modeled a good hand a while ago and saved it to my computer for future use. However, while I was working on the main character for Days Go By, I realized that the hand that I made wasn’t as good as I remembered. The knuckles weren’t deforming all that well, and I wasn’t crazy about how the thumb was connected to the main body of the hand. It was time to go back to the drawing board.
After a considerable amount of work, I finally came up with a better hand. The knuckles and the thumb now look a lot better and the point weighting has been improved. For those of you who don’t do character animation, every vertex on a model needs to be bound to an underlying structure of joints and bones which is also known as a rig. By manipulating the rig, you deform, and thereby animate, the mesh of polygons that form your model.
The thing is that each vertex on the mesh may be influenced by more than one joint. Therefore, in order for the model to deform correctly while you are animating, you must define the joint influences for each point. This is called weighting.
I made the following video to test out how my new hand model performs with the rigging and weighting. It is officially the first video of the Days Go By Blog:
For the test, I did not concern myself with textures or shaders. That will come later.
The 3D software that I am using to make Days Go By is MAXON’s versatile and easy to use application CINEMA 4D. The Studio version of C4D has a full set of character animation tools including the ability to build your own complex rigs. You can also use the Character Object which allows you to easily build entire advanced character rigs (for humans or animals) in just a few clicks. That’ll save some time.
For this test, however, I built the rig myself using the Joint tool and manually bound and weighted the points since I wanted to focus just on the hand.
To render out this test, I used Redshift Render, a new unbiased third party GPU render that I had heard good things about. While I am still learning how to use it, I must say that I am impressed by it and looking forward to seeing what else it can do. I’m not sure which renderer I will use for the final frames, but it very well could be Redshift.
Well, that’s it for this installment of the Days Go By Blog. I’ll see you on the next one.
If you think about it, August is kind of like December, but not due to the weather of course. Every August at SIGGRAPH, MAXON unveils a new version of CINEMA 4D, their popular 3D modeling, rendering and animation package. For C4D users, it’s a little like the holidays. After months of anticipation, each new feature is something like a present, one that they can’t wait to open up and play with. This year was no exception as MAXON announced the latest version of CINEMA 4D, R18 at SIGGRAPH 2016.
In addition to rolling out C4D R18, MAXON also streamed a series of live presentations from their booth at SIGGRAPH. These presentations were delivered by accomplished CINEMA 4D artists (which also included demonstrations of some of the new features in the new version).
R18 is a substantial upgrade and contains a lot of enhancements to C4D. Let’s take a closer look.
One of the most exciting new features in R18 is the addition of Voronoi Fracturing. 3D programs are great at building things and making them look clean and perfect, but suppose you want to destroy something? For example, let’s say you want to crash an airplane into an old castle in the Scottish Highlands and smash it to bits (or part of it anyway).
It wasn’t easy to do this in CINEMA 4D previously unless you wanted to spend weeks cutting up your model with the knife tool. Actually, that wouldn’t really work, so don’t even try it (I was just kidding).
Fortunately, there was a solution available previously in the form of an excellent third party plug-in called NitroBlast which, in fact, did a good job of breaking up your model into lots of pieces, a technique called Voronoi fracturing.
In C4D R18, Voronoi fracturing has now been natively built into the software, no need for any plug-ins, and with its implementation comes a whole slew of parameters and options for a ton of creative fracture effects. There are options that allow you to set smaller pieces in one area and larger pieces in another. This is handy, for example, since an object usually breaks up into smaller pieces near the point of a collision with the pieces getting larger further away.
There are lots of other ways to fracture an object. You can use a spline path, a polygonal mesh or even a matrix object to define the way an object will break up. In addition you can scale down the fractures for a cool, broken up effect with a little more space on the edges. You can also define separate materials for the outside and the inside of the pieces for enhanced realism (the outside can be dirty and scuffed up, for example, while the inside can be clean).
One of the greatest things about Voronoi fracturing, however, is that it is part of MoGraph. This means that MoGraph effectors can be used to control the fractured pieces. This results in mind-boggling creative possibilities and creative animation options.
Motion tracking was introduced in R16, and it was a great addition to the program since it allowed you to bring footage shot by a moving camera into C4D, track the camera and add seamless 3D elements to the scene.
The thing that was missing however was the ability to track individual objects in addition to the camera. With Object Tracking you can do things like add 3D elements to moving objects. For example, you might to add radar equipment to the top of a turning vehicle or a helmet on somebody’s head.
It’s great that object tracking has been implemented inside CINEMA 4D. That, together with the pre-existing camera tracking, makes the application a complete tracking solution and saves users from having to rely on third party tracking software. This saves time and money.
As mentioned before, Voronoi fracturing is an important new feature of MoGraph. Let’s now take a look at some other enhancements to C4D’s popular cloner tool set. One interesting new feature is the Push Apart Effector which can be used to prevent MoGraph clones from overlapping on top of each other, a common issue that can happen when generating clones.
Push Apart can work in several different ways. Besides “pushing” the clones away from each other (on every axis or on just one), it can hide overlapping clones as well as scale them down to eliminate overlaps.
Another nice new feature in MoGraph is the ability to generate clones in a Honeycomb pattern. Before, clones could only be generated in linear, radial or grid array arrangements. The addition of the honeycomb array is very useful, especially since the offset of the pattern can be adjusted. This is not only useful for making honeycombs and beehives, but thinks like cobblestones, movie theaters, and many other things.
The ReEffector is another interesting new MoGraph feature. It can be used to modify a group of multiple effectors that have been applied to a cloner object. With it you can do things like reset all effectors at once as well as limit all effects to one axis.
MoGraph now includes the ability to store MoGraph Caches externally with the new MoGraph Cache tag. Suppose you have a complicated simulation involving lots of clones and decide to cache it in order to speed things up in your scene and enable scrubbing back and forth in the timeline. Since caches can add lots of data to your file (maybe hundreds of megabytes), next time you save your file, the cache gets saved along with it making your file that much larger. This complicates things, especially when you want to do something like email your file to someone.
Now you can use the MoGraph Cache tag to store your caches externally and keep the cache data separate from the main C4D file. In addition, multiple MoGraph Caches can now be used and blended between each other with the use of a few judiciously placed keyframes. I like that a lot.
Among some of the other enhancements to MoGraph is the new Weightmap tag which allows you to use a new weight paintbrush tool to directly paint the influence of effectors on MoGraph Clones.
When it comes to polygonal modeling, there’s almost no tool as useful as the knife tool (okay, maybe the extrude tool). In CINEMA 4D R18, the knife tool has updated with several important new enhancements.
The knife tool is now divided into three sections. First is the Line Cut tool which now allows you to interactively draw a shape to define the cuts on your object and edit it to your heart’s content with onscreen handles and gizmos, until you are certain that the cuts will be exactly where you want them. That’s a handy thing. There are also new slice modes. In addition to Cut, there is Split which splits out the new polygons as well as Remove Part A and Remove Part B which allows you to strip away or preserve sections of your geometry easily.
Next is the Plane Cut tool which allows for planar cuts of your model and allows you to define the number and spacing of parallel cuts. The third mode of the knife tool is the Loop/Path Cut tool which cuts new loops or paths onto objects. Loops and Paths can now be applied bidirectionally and there is now a handy on-screen GUI to help with the knife tool.
One new feature that is pretty cool in the C4D R18 is the Thin Film Shader which allows you to simulate in your renders those colorful rainbow-like effects that are sometimes visible on the surface of transparent bubbles, soap films or oil slicks.
R18 also includes many other important new features such as parallax bump mapping for better results with bump maps, and inverse ambient occlusion which can, among other things, help you achieve a fake sub-surface scattering effect as well as do things like simulate wear and tear on the edges of a model.
There’s also a new Shadow Catcher shader that allows you to easily extract object shadows for later compositing. In addition, interactive real-time rendering has been further enhanced. For example, C4D’s viewport now supports screenspace ambient occlusion, approximate reflections, and displacement. Pixar Open Subdivs are now also supported when creating subdivision surfaces for alternative subdivision surfaces options as well as increased compatibility with other applications (subdivision surface weights can also now be exported).
There are a lot of other very substantial new features to C4D such as a new Quarternions workflow, enhanced Alembic and FBX exchange options, support for Allegorithmic Substance materials, better Houdini exchange, updates to Team Render and, importantly, improvements to baked displacement maps from sculpts. For a complete list of all of the new features in CINEMA 4D R18, see this list here (insert online link to complete R18 feature list).
MAXON has put together a very compelling release in CINEMA 4D R18 which includes important new features that every C4D user will want to have in their arsenal. Having personally used C4D for many years, I feel that this release contains many enhancements that will prove indispensable, Voronoi shading and object tracking not the least of which. CINEMA R18 is a must-have upgrade.
If you work in high-end post production, visual effects, animation, video editing, matte painting, audio recording or any creative field for that matter, you probably have already heard about HP’s top of the line workstation, the Z840, found throughout the industry in leading computer animation studios, color suites, editing facilities, production companies and by creative professionals.
In addition to reviewing the Z840 in this article, I will also review the HP Z27s 4k IPS display, a high resolution monitor that offers excellent color fidelity and the ability to reproduce intricate details (as well as plenty of pixels for the user interface).
I’ve created a comprehensive video review of both the HP Z840 workstation and the Z27s display which you can watch below. This article pretty much mirrors the video (with some extra things added to the mix). Depending on your preference you can either watch the video, or read the story. Or you can do both.
Here’s the video review of the Z840:
The first impression one has when removing the HP Z840 workstation from its box that it is one heck of a solid machine, designed to withstand the most demanding and punishing production environments. It’s built like a tank with thick solid metal sides that seem capable of repelling sledgehammer blows or surviving an earthquake.
The machine weighs more or less fifty pounds depending how you configure it with a height of 17.5 inches, width of 8 inches and a depth of 20 inches. It’s not that heavy, but not exactly light either, but workstations are not designed to be ultra light, there made to crunch through the most daunting computing challenges, often needing to render frames 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thankfully there are sturdy handles at the top of the machine that make it easier to move around.
A new Z840 comes with a layer of protective plastic on the side which you’ll probably want to remove. It takes a little elbow grease to peel it off, so make sure you get a good grip. Don’t forget to peel of the plastic covering on the handle while you’re at it.
One of the first things I noticed about the HP Z840 is that it’s darker than its predecessors the Z820 and the original Z800. I prefer the darker look, and think it adds to a classier look.
On the Outside
The HP Z840 Workstation has a chassis that is one of the industry’s most expandable. We’ll take a look at what’s inside of the machine in a bit, but first let’s have a look at the outside.
If you like, you can mount the workstation on a rack with a set of extendable rails which you can purchase separately from HP. This is a handy option for large facilities and machine rooms. More information about rack mounting can be found here.
On the front of the workstation, there’s a slim line optical drive bay, two external 5.25 inch Bays into which you can install things like a front loading media card reader (or more drives), power button, hard drive activity LED, 4 USB ports (the top one has charging capability), headphone jack and microphone jack.
On the back of the machine, there’s the power connection, a serial port, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, audio line in, audio line out, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 4 USB 3.0 ports, 2 RJ-45 Gigabit LAN ports, four displayPort 1.2 connections, One DVI connector, Thunderbolt 2, and a pair of keys which are used lock up the system and keep it safe when you’re not around.
On the Inside
Opening the chassis is easily done by pulling the side off from the handle. There’s a handy overview and diagram of the system board laser-etched on the back of the side panel for convenient reference.
Once the side is off, you’re greeted by green touchpoints which help indicate what to remove to access the internal components of the machine. There’s a door at the bottom to access the PCI slots, SATA and SAS ports. Above that is a structure which houses fans designed to cool the CPUs, memory and other components on the system board and is designed to guide the airflow effeciently through the interior.
The Z840’s power supply is removable and is available in 850 or 1125 watt options. Being able to remove it makes it convenient to replace should something ever go wrong with it.
At the heart of the Z840 are two Intel Xeon E5-2600 Haswell processors which are available with up to eighteen processing cores each. These two have fourteen cores each for a total of twenty eight physical cores and 56 threads. The Haswell processor architecture delivers faster compute performance and feature Intel Advanced 256 bit Vector Extensions,floating point instructions and gather operations which improve codecs, image and digital signal processing and mathematical operations.
The two Xeon processors, which are located behind two large black ventilation housings, also support ECC memory logic and 40 lanes of PCIe Gen 3 i/o for each processor.
The HP Z840 has a total of 16 DIMM slots which use new fast DDR4 2133 MHz ECC Memory (a 14% increase in performance speed over DDR3). The Workstation is able to support a maximum of two terabytes of memory if you add sixteen 128 MB DIMMS. That’s quite a lot of memory, if you don’t mind me saying. This system had a total of 64 Megabytes which results from eight megabyte DIMMs installed into eight of its slots.
The Z840 utilitizes PCIe Gen 3 technology which delivers a peak bandwidth of 16 GB/s, twice as fast as PCI Gen/2. There’s a total of up to seven high performance graphics and I/O slots including support for up to three PCIe 3.0 graphics cards in PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. That will be welcome news for 3D artists using GPU rendering software like Octane since the more GPUs you have, the faster the rendering.
The workstation in this review has a Quadro M6000 GPU, NVIDIA’s most powerful pro graphics card. The M6000 features NVIDIA’s powerful Maxwell GPU architecture, 3072 CUDA parallel processing cores and 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM with an ultra fast memory bandwidth of 317 GB/s. In addition the Quadro M6000 has a new display engine that drives up to four 4k displays natively with DisplayPort 1.2 support for high resolutions like 4096 X 2160. Four 4K displays, can you imagine how cool that would be?
Underneath the Quadro GPU, there was an HP Thunderbolt 2 PCIe I/O card in one of the PCI slots which provides 20 Gb/s of data in each direction, four times the speed of a USB 3.0 connection. The card also provides DisplayPort 1.2 capability with multi-stream transport support. Thunderbolt is a great connection for simultaneous 4k video capture and display as well as allows you to connect external GPUs and RAIDs to your system.
Beneath the Thunderbolt card in the Z840 is a 512 Gigabyte HP Z Turbo Drive G2. If you haven’t heard about HP’s Z Turbo Drive, it’s an innovative and revolutionary PCIe based SSD storage solution which uses Samsung’s NVMe technology. It allows for ultra-fast storage speeds and is great for things like 4k video editing among other things. Just how fast is it? We’ll talk about that in a minute.
Near the front of Z840 are four internal drive bays which are easily removed by a handle. The first two bays each contain 512 gigabyte SSDs which have been configured into a 1TB RAID. Under those was another SSD which was not part of the RAID. At the bottom of the stack was a 2TB spinning hard disk drive which can be used for storage and backup, or as a working drive if you like. Above the stack of hard drives are two more 5.25 inch external hard drive bays.
Speed Tests and Benchmarks
I used CrystalDiskMark to check the speed of the drives. I had heard that the Turbo Drive G2 was fast, and it certainly was. In the chart below, I’ve included results for the sequential reads and writes. As you can see, with a speed of 2,235 MB/s, the Z Turbo Drive G2 is more than four times faster than the SSDs.
However, if you think that’s fast, and it is, you’ve got another thing coming. The new Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro from HP is a new storage solution which effectively puts four M.2 Turbo Drive G2s in a RAID configuration onto a PCIe Express 3.0 x 16 card. Not only does that give you more storage space than a single Z Turbo Drive (up to two terabytes), but thanks to the RAID configuration, the Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro delivers speeds up to 9 GB/s. That’s more than sixteen times faster than an SSD and four times faster than a single Z Turbo Drive. Those are incredible, jaw dropping speeds and very useful for high resolution workflows. The nice thing is that it comes at a modest price too. Definitely worth looking into, in my opinion.
Cinebench is comprehensive benchmarking software that measures the performance of the CPU and GPU. I started with the GPU test which, in this case was the Quadro M600M. During the test, it runs a real time 3D animation of a car race that includes lighting, reflections, shadows and texture maps to see haw quickly the graphics card is able to render it.
The result of the GPU test was 145.61 frames per second. As you can see in the ranking, that blows the other graphics cards listed beneath it out of the water. To see how the Quadro M6000 compares to your graphics card, download Cinebench and run it on your own computer.
Next, I ran the CPU test which is comprised of a 3D render that includes reflections, global illumination, transparency and other advanced rendering challenges. The results of the CPU test was 3285. an extremely fast and impressive result and substantially faster than I have ever seen.
After I examined the internals and externals of the HP Z840, What else can you say but Wow. Between the powerful 14 core dual Xeons, fast DDR 4 2133 MHz memory, top shelf NVIDIA Quadro M6000 GPU, Z Turbo Drive G2 and Thunderbolt 2 ports this is certainly one of the most advanced and capable workstations on the planet that will help you realize your visions whether you are a filmmaker, animator, visual effects artist, digital painter or music producer.
HP has a great legacy in engineering and systems design which goes all the way back to the beginning of Silicon Valley. In the Z840, they have created a machine that represents the latest and greatest in workstation design.
The HP Z27s
If you work in 4K or just want more pixels to work with, you’ll definitely want to check out the HP Z27s IPS UHD 27 inch Display. It’s an Ultra High Definition (UHD) monitor with a resolution of 3820 x 2160 pixels. The Z27s has an sRGB color gamut with 1.07 billion colors for vivid and detailed color reproduction. Being an IPS display, it also has wide viewing angles of 178 degrees which makes it useful for presentations or work reviews with your team. You can even mirror your smart phone or tablet to the large screen through an MHL connection that also charges them up at the same time.
The Z27s comes with a collection of cables such as DisplayPort and mini DisplayPort, as well as a CD which contains drivers for the display.
The monitor swivels from side to side and can be lifted higher and lower as you like. You can also rotate the display 90 degrees and use it vertically. This can be useful if you are working on a tall matte painting, for example.
There are two Super Speed USB 3.0 ports conveniently located on the side of the Z27s in addition to the main connections which are under the display panel which include Display Port 1.2, mini DisplayPort, HDMI 1.4, MHL 2.0, USB 3.0, and audio connections.
I displayed several 4k images on the monitor and they were stunning to look at. I recommend you have a look with your own eyes. It is almost impossible to distinguish the individual pixels unless you look through a magnifier. The images appeared to be continuous tone with tiny miniscule details all rendered perfectly. The only thing better than this monitor is having two of them connected to your system, or why not three or four since the NVIDIA M6000 supports up to four 4k displays.
I used the HP Z840 and the Z27s disply to edit the video above in Premiere Pro. The HP Z80 was very snappy and responsive, just as you would expect with smooth scrubbing and playback, and the UHD display provided plenty of pixels to work with. In this case I worked at 1080p HD and was able to view the full image at 100% with plenty of room left over for the timeline and control panels. Next I opened a large Pro Tools project. Again, the 4k display provided ample room for the project window, mixer, midi editor and plug in controls, while the dual Xeons in the Z840 provided more than enough power to drive Pro Tools’ audio engine.
When using a 4K monitor, you might find that the menus and icons may seem a little small. I don’t mind small menus, keep in mind that Windows 10 has new scaling options for 4K displays. The machine I reviewed shipped with Windows 7, the operating system many still prefer since they can depend on its proven reliability. Personally I like Windows 10, but can understand if some are nervous about driver incompatibility.
The HP Performance Advisor
There’s a nice piece of software that comes with every HP workstation called the HP Performance Advisor that I demonstrated in the video and which I think is worth mentioning. You can use it to get all kinds of useful information about your system such as memory, drives, PCIe cards, processors and much more. Rather than describing it here, you can see it in action in the video (Maybe there is a reason to both watch the video and read the story as well after all).
What is a workstation? A very powerful computer? A movie making machine? A recording studio in a box? An artist’s creative playground? An enabler of dreams? A partner that helps you realize your wildest creative visions? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Its all of those things and more and the HP Z840 is the latest incarnation of the world’s leading workstation. Paired together with the Z27s 4K IPS display and you’ve got an unbeatable powerhouse of a system that can take you to new heights of creativity limited only by your imagination. More information about, as well as pricing details about the Z840 can be found here. To find out more about the HP Z27s UHD display, click here.
Note: If interested, you can see my review of the HP Z840’s predecessor, the Z820, by clicking here.
CMotion, MAXON’s CINEMA 4D cyclical motion generator, was introduced in R14. While it’s often thought of as a way to generate walk cycles on rigged characters, many are unaware of its power to generate repetitive motion of all kinds, and can be used for motion graphics, machines, and many other kinds of projects.
Some time ago, around the release of R14, I gave a talk in New York at the After Effects user group. In addition to showing how to use CMotion to create the animate the motion of a butterfly, I wanted to talk about and tell the audience about Cineware which had just been introduced. For those of you who are unaware, Cineware is a live bridge between After Effects and CINEMA 4D. With it, you can import CINEMA 4D files into After Effects without rendering them out first. There’s a lot more you can do with Cineware such as being able to extract and convert C4D cameras and lights into After Effects cameras and lights as well as the ability to create multi-pass layers for compositing on the fly.
C4D’s external compositing tag is also a very helpful tool that allows you to tack 3D elements onto coordinates generated by objects in C4D inside of After Effects. Cineware can also be useful for this as well, allowing you to pull in 3D positional data which convert into nulls in the comp.
Thus I designed my talk to cover three things. The first was how to use CMotion to easily animate the motion of a butterfly. Next, how to use Cineware to bring in the 3D butterfly into After Effects and extract the other 3D data such as the cameras (and lights) Finally, I used Cineware to extract positional data generated by two external compositing tags placed at the tips of the butterfly’s wings onto which I affixed Trapcode Particular emitters to generate magic dust.
After the talk, I came back to my studio and captured the talk in a movie. I was intending to release it somewhere, but somehow it got tucked away into a folder and over the course of time I kind of forgot it was there. About a week ago I was poking around my drive and found the folder, so I decided to upload it to my YouTube Channel. I hope you find it useful. It was made in R14, but all of the lessons are still just as pertinent.
MAXON’s CINEMA 4D, known for its intuitive user interface and powerful features, continues to be embraced by studios, advertising agencies, design firms, networks, architects and freelance artists around the world. Its innovative features include MoGraph (it’s renowned cloner toolset), full featured polygonal modeling tools, sculpting, physics, cloth, hair, multi-layered reflections, an extensive list of deformers and lots more.
I have been using and enjoying this well-engineered software for many years on all kinds of professional projects big and small, and, in case you didn’t know, happen to be an official MAXON CINEMA 4D Representative in the metropolitan area. I have also taught at many well regarded establishments in the past including The School of Visual Arts and others.
If you are a company, studio or individual that is new to C4D, or have been using it for a while and need some help with the program, I am available for consultation as well as on-site training.
If you are interested in learning more about CINEMA 4D’s 3D modeling, animation and rendering capabilities from someone with a lot of production experience, drop me a line in the contact section of this blog (above) and I will get back to you. Thanks, and hope to see you soon.