Cinema 4D – A Step by Step Tutorial Part 1

Section 1: Interface, Navigation and 3D Basics

Section 1: Interface, Navigation and 3D Basics

by Denby Smith

Let’s take a look at the CINEMA 4D interface.

Starting from the top, we have the usual menu bar featuring File, Edit, etc. but we also find a host of menus for accessing tools and options specific to C4D such as ‘Simulate’ and ‘MoGraph’. Immediately below this we find the C4D tool bar, home to Undo/Redo, main object manipulation tools; Select, ‘Move, Scale and Rotate’.

Tools for generating and deforming objects as well as generating lights, cameras and environments are located here. Down the left-hand side are modelling selection mode options, which we will get into further as we progress. Along the lower portion of the screen are the animation timeline and options as well as the material editor for creating and customizing textures.

2.Animation, Materials & Coordinate panels

And the main coordinate panel, to the right, which gives coordinate details of any selected object. Now, down the right-hand side are the main information panels within C4D, both feature tabs down the right-hand side, but we will explore those a little later. The top window contains the object panel, as you create and add items to your scene they appear here. Below is the attribute window where you will find details of object, material, effect, animation, in fact any and all attributes within your C4D scene.

3. Object & Attribute Panels

At start up this panel displays your ‘Project Settings’ and defaults to 30 FPS, so go ahead and change this to 25 FPS (if you are in a PAL region). Throughout C4D you can either enter values into the dialogue box or click the up /down arrows to change values incrementally or click and drag the arrows to scroll values. Finally, that big panel in the center with the grid… That’s your workspace, the navigation panel. The other thing we should do is to enable text descriptions for toolbar icons. Right click on the toolbar and hover over ‘show’ then select ‘text below icons’ from the menu. This will help when getting familiar with the interface.

4.Toolbar with text description

Finally go up to the options menu and select ‘display’ and set it to ‘Gouraud shading(lines)’ to see a bit more of what going on once we start modelling.
Speaking of navigation, how do we move around in the 3d environment?
In C4D you use ‘Alt’ all the time and there are a couple of options for how navigation works but let’s stick to the default ‘Object Mode’ for now.

Hold ‘Alt’ while holding the Left Mouse button and drag to rotate the view around the object. Alt plus Right mouse button and drag to zoom in and out. ‘Alt’ plus the Center (wheel) button and drag to Pan the view. It can take a little while to get used to moving efficiently around a 3d scene, but you will get the hang of it before long.

Now, let’s jump into it!

To get started let’s create a 3d shape or what’s called a ‘Primitive’, a premade geometric shape, by either selecting ‘Object’ from the ‘Create’ menu or by clicking on the cube icon on the main tool bar, click and hold to reveal more options but just choose the cube for now to keep things simple. It will appear in the ‘Navigation’ window but also in the ‘Object’ and ‘Attribute’ panels on the right.

Tip: In C4D whenever you select something, whether it’s an object or menu item, the ‘Attribute’ panel will display details for that item automatically.
You will also notice Red, Green and Blue arrows pointing out from the center of the cube. These are the object control handles and represent the object’s axes. In a 3D scene, an object’s ‘Position, Scale and Rotation’ are defined by coordinates of three axes. These are named X (red), Y (green) and Z (blue), with X being the Horizontal plane, Y being Vertical, and Z being Depth plane. The values of these axes are displayed in the ‘Attribute’ panel under the ‘Coord’. Tab and presented as Position (P), Scale (S) and Rotation (R). When a new object is created it is placed at default the coordinates 0,0,0.

5a. Object Axis Control Handles – Move Tool

5b. Object Axis Control Handles – Rotate Tool

Select the ‘Move’ tool using the icon on the C4D toolbar or simply hit the keyboard shortcut ‘E’. Options for the ‘Move’ tool will now be displayed in the ‘Attribute’ panel, but we want to see attributes for our cube, so select the cube directly or in the ‘Objects’ panel above to display the cube’s attributes. Now click and drag one of the cube’s axis arrows. As you drag the cube you will see its coordinate values change in the attribute panel and that movement in one direction results in positive values while the other direction results in negative values, this is because the object began life at zero and represents the basis of how we describe objects in potentially infinite 3D space.

Tip: There are two ways of looking at coordinates and it is important to get to understand them early on. One way is ‘Local’ or ‘Object’ coordinates which are unique to an object in relation to itself, while the other is known as ‘World’ or ‘Global’ coordinates and can be considered ‘true’ coordinates, where X Y and Z remain constant. There is more to cover here but for now let’s start making stuff.

The world is made up of shapes and if you look at anything you can start to break it down into its basic shape elements. ‘Primitives’ are a great way to start creating things and there are plenty of shapes available from the toolbar. An exercise I did in my first lesson, was to look around your office or wherever you are and pick a simple object that you would like to recreate.

The first thig I made was a rather crude looking fire extinguisher, which I have recreated here for your enjoyment. Now have a look at the object and isolate what shapes make it up, then have a look in the primitive menu and bring in whatever you think you will need. For example, the fire extinguisher consists of 2 Oil Tanks, 1 Sphere, 1 Tube, a Cone and 2

Pyramids. By default, all objects will be created at the same place (0,0,0) and overlap in the ‘Navigation Window’ but just move them across so you can see them all. Pick whichever shape forms the main body of your object and begin placing the others around it in the right positions using the ‘Rotate’ and ‘Scale’ tools to get the proportions and orientations right. With a bit of back and forth you should be able to create something resembling your real-world object and never be afraid to delete it all and start again.

6. Fire Extinguisher constructed with Primitives

So, Let’s take a closer look at an object. Save or delete everything in your scene and create a cube. First let’s make the cube editable. Click the top icon on the ‘selection modes’ toolbar (left). We are currently in the ‘Object’ selection mode, so from the ‘selection modes’ toolbar select ‘polygons’ mode. Now when you hover over the cube you will see each face becomes highlighted. In solid 3d modelling terms, these flat surfaces are called ‘Planar’ and referred to as ‘Polygonal Faces’ or just ‘Polygons’ or ‘Faces’.

7. Selection Modes Toolbar

So, select a face and just drag the move tool and see how the polygon deforms. To make it a bit more interesting delete the cube and create another. Noe in the attributes panel go to the object tab and increase the number of segments for each axis to around 4. Note that this step can only be made before the object has been made editable, although there are more advanced ways to do it. Now make it editable and go to polygon mode and start pulling faces around. You’ll see you can start to create some interesting results quite quickly and congrats, you are now 3d modelling.




8. Cube showing division segments

9. Modelling Cube using Polygon Faces

There are two other ways of selecting and modifying objects in this way and together they are incredibly powerful and form the core technique of 3d modelling. From the selection modes toolbar select ‘Edges’ mode, which allows you to select the lines connecting polygonal faces, experiment with selecting lines and manipulating them with the Move, Rotate and scale tools. Move your view around the object and see what the results look like from different angles. Go nuts.

10. Modelling Cube using Edges

Depending how extreme you go, you’ll probably notice that things can start to become a bit of a mess at this point. It becomes increasingly easy to start pull faces and lines through each other with odd results (see picture). This is a big ‘No-No’ in 3d modelling as it wreaks havoc on steps later in the process. So how do you fix it? Well the best way is to avoid it by exercising caution and awareness as you go. A good 3d model depends on being a complete set of boundaries.

11. Example of Bad Geometry

The third ‘Selection Mode’ is the most powerful, the ‘Points’ mode. Points mode is like the fine control giving access to the fundamental building block of all 3d geometry, what’s called a ‘Vertex’. A Vertex is a representation of a point in 3d space and it is by connecting these Vertices with lines that a polygonal face can be calculated. So, select ‘Points’ mode and see that now the vertices are highlighted. Again, have a play around manipulating vertices and looking around, getting a feel for the results. Note that manipulating individual Vertices (Vertex Wrangling) can be a way to correct bad geometry created by mistake but it can be painstakingly tricky, and you may find yourself digging the hole deeper. So, always best to avoid.

12a. Modelling Cube using Points or Vertices

12b. Close up of Points

So that’s an overview of the interface and a look at how we go about manipulating elements of an object. Spend some time experimenting with the set of basic primitives and get creative using the different selection modes, see what interesting shapes you can come up with. Also, try recreating some real-world objects, stick to ones you can see from your workspace so you can reference it as you go. In the next edition we will look at some handy tools and get started on creating our sci-fi scene. Happy modelling!

Don’t forget, you can see the full feature list, the difference between versions and  download a fully operation trial version if Cinema  4D for either Mac or PC from the Australian Distributor, ADIMEX.


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