MAXON Computer is passionate about providing dependable and easy-to-use 3D solutions to real-world artists, including freelancers and those working in small boutique studios. The company places significant emphasis throughout development on stability and taking full advantage of the most recent innovations in hardware and processor architectures to provide maximum performance.
Cinema 4D* is MAXON’s full-featured modeling, animation, and rendering system that’s renowned for its ease of use and intuitive interface. Four versions of the software are available, and each one offers task-specific features aimed at different industries, including motion graphics for television and film, architectural, engineering and scientific visualization, matte painting, special effects, and game development. “Each of these industries utilizes Cinema 4D in different ways and places higher value on certain aspects of our feature set,” commented Paul Babb, president and CEO of MAXON for The Americas. “For example, most of our motion graphics customers work under tight deadlines—in many cases turning around projects in mere hours or days, so speed of workflow and output are very important to them. Our challenge is to provide solutions that enable them to quickly and easily create complex, dynamic imagery.”
Cinema 4D’s physics simulation engine, which makes it simple to perform complex collisions and interactions between a few or thousands of objects, is one such solution. “Our engineers worked hard to integrate the open-source Bullet engine in such a way that dynamic simulations can be easily applied to procedural object instances created in Cinema 4D’s MoGraph tool set,” Babb said.
Cinema 4D R13 also features an all-new Physical Render Engine. It uses real camera settings such as shutter speed and aperture to view the 3D scene through the lens, with 3D depth of field, accurate motion blur, and photorealistic lighting. Cinema 4D also now features an integrated stereoscopic workflow and new tools that make it much easier to rig and animate characters. Release 14 will be available later this year and features aerodynamic forces within the physics engine, an integrated sculpting system, and numerous other enhancements.
MORE POWERFUL HARDWARE FOR MORE PHOTOREALISTIC IMAGES
Creating 3D worlds out of simple building blocks is perhaps the pinnacle of computer artistry, and with it comes enormous technical requirements. MAXON endeavors to maintain compatibility with a wide range of hardware platforms, while at the same time taking full advantage of the latest technical innovations. “More powerful hardware allows our customers to render more photorealistic images than ever before,” Tilo Kuhn, one of MAXON’s lead developers said.
“Cinema 4D’s rendering engine has always been extremely multi-threaded,” Kuhn continued, “and our developers have diligently worked with Intel to ensure that we take full advantage of recent advances in microprocessor architecture and the ever-growing availability of hyper-threading, multiprocessing, and multi-core environments to squeeze the maximum power out of the system. Some tasks don’t lend themselves to multi-threading, and in those cases Intel® Turbo Boost Technology gives us a huge advantage.” MAXON has also begun taking advantage of speed gains offered by Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel AVX), specifically to improve the speed of working with dynamic simulations. Wherever possible, Intel Streaming SIMD Extensions were used, and OpenMP* is used in over 100 areas of the code to parallelize algorithms.
AN OPEN-SOURCE PHYSICS SOLUTION
The underlying technology behind Cinema 4D’s physics engine is a production-proven library known as Bullet. “Bullet provides outstanding physics solutions to our customers and we can dedicate more development time and resources to perfecting the interface and workflow without building the core physics algorithms,” Kuhn said. Because Bullet is an open-source technology, MAXON benefits from the work of a large talent pool and contributes its own enhancements to the Bullet framework.
ON LAND AND IN THE CLOUD
MAXON customers typically use high-end workstations with 12 or more cores from Apple or PC vendors that feature Intel® Xeon® processors. According to Babb, “Many times they’ll render projects on these same machines, but they also take advantage of our network rendering and command-line solutions to offload the processing of 3D images to their own local network and in some cases to the cloud.” Babb envisions the cloud playing a key role in rendering, client review, and even remote collaboration on projects, but sees bandwidth and security as hurdles.
Although MAXON customers use high-end workstations for the majority of their work, Babb points out that Cinema 4D is quite capable on a MacBook* Pro or high-end PC laptop. “Many customers leverage this advantage to work on set, onsite, or wherever their travels take them.”
Intel-inspired Ultrabook™ devices, Windows* 8, and advances in tablet computing bring with them increased interest in touch-based gestural interfaces. For Babb, “It’s hard to imagine working quickly in 3D without a keyboard and mouse or pen tablet, but touch-based and gestural input may offer some intuitive options for interacting with the 3D scene and maybe even free up some keyboard shortcuts for other tasks.”
“The biggest challenge to gestural input for modeling or painting is the hand itself—beyond challenges of accuracy, you simply can’t see what you’re doing because your own hand is in the way. That’s not to say it doesn’t have potential, but likely gestures will be more valuable for tasks like manipulating the view or adjusting tool parameters rather than aspects that require accuracy. Some artists have embraced alternative input methods such as 3D mice, iPhone* accelerometers, even Wii* or Kinect*, but it’s hard to compete with the simplicity of a keyboard and mouse or pen.”
It’s difficult to fight on all fronts at the same time. “This is why we focus on specific elements for each release, for example, Intel AVX for specific algorithms and multiprocessing for other parts of the program. It’s not only hardware that changes fast; the software side is also changing rapidly. New operating systems will offer new possibilities,” Kuhn said.
To keep up with the constantly shifting landscape of technological innovation, MAXON keeps its collective ear to the ground. As Kuhn put it, “Our team, our beta testers, and customers are incredibly passionate about Cinema 4D and the 3D industry in general, and spend hours on forums and web sites learning about and communicating to us about key developments in the business and technical landscape. Close association with key partners like Intel also helps ensure that we’re at the leading edge of new technologies.”
Optimizing the Bullet Library for Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions
Open-source technology offers developers several benefits. For MAXON, those benefits included full access to source code, which allowed developers to extend the Bullet library by adding additional features at the deepest level. Bullet is an open-source technology with a very active forum, where not only the core developers, but also the large user base quickly respond to questions and exchange ideas. To contribute to the project, MAXON submitted several fixes and extensions, which Bullet’s developers quickly integrated.
Describing their Bullet library enhancements, Dr. Ole Kniemeyer, developer for MAXON, said, “We added several collision shapes, including a special convex hull shape and an efficient algorithm to compute the convex hull of a point cloud. We use Intel AVX within the collision detection algorithm for the convex hull shapes. Simulations with a large number of colliding objects with convex hull shapes benefit most from the optimization—for 320 rounded, cube-like objects in a lottery wheel we were able to achieve a 70-percent performance boost thanks to Intel AVX. These additions originally worked on top of the library, but Bullet’s core developers integrated the convex hull algorithm in a way that it is now used by several internal Bullet shapes.”
“For the integration of our own soft-body implementation with Bullet’s constraints, which were originally designed for only rigid bodies, we had to go deeper and modify the constraint solver to work with our soft bodies,” Kniemeyer said. “Finally, when we added Intel AVX to the convex hull shape, we had to change Bullet’s memory allocation alignment to 32 bytes.”
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About the Author
Before signing on as one of the writing muses for Rose & Her Minions, Dominic Milano spent years in print, online, and event media production, working on DV magazine, Game Developer magazine and the GDC, InterActivity magazine, Keyboard magazine, Guitar Player magazine, and more.