Entering the Third Dimension!

Have you ever seen one of those movies where the kid from Montana, fresh off the farm, goes to Hollywood because he has dreams of becoming an actor, because he was the best actor in his 75 student high school’s rendition of West Side Story? Then he gets to Hollywood, with his suitcase and his cowboy hat, and he’s walking down the street wide eyed and astonished at all the bright lights and weird people that inhabit the area, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself or where to begin? Well, I feel like that farm boy, except instead of going to Hollywood I’m using Cinema 4D, and instead of seeing freaks everywhere, I’m looking at complex menu screens and lots of buttons that I have no idea what they do. I mean, look at this interface, it’s scary for someone with no background in 3D to open this program!

A decision was made by the high council of elders, at their shrine resting on the peak of the volcano, that I would be the chosen one to learn how to use a true 3D program. But I have no experience whatsoever in this area. This is my first job in this industry out of college, and to be honest, I didn’t even use something as basic as Photoshop a single time while I was in college! Let’s just say the most experience I had working on 3D was when I watched WALL-E a couple months ago. So I was nervous at the thought of learning this program, but at the same time excited at the possibility of what I could potentially do. I suppose the purpose of this post is to show you what it’s like to first delve into a 3D program if you have no idea what you’re doing, and possibly how it’s not as scary as one may think.

To help guide me along this journey, I enlisted the help of a tutorial on lynda.com by Larry Mitchell, titled “CINEMA 4D R10 Essential Training”. It’s actually not as complex an interface as you’d think by just looking at it. I’ll go into the details of that in a minute, but first I’d just like to note an occurrence that happened on my first day ever working in this program. Mr. Mitchell, in what seemed like he was possibly saying it in passing while talking about the content browser, mentioned something about accessing human models for use in in the program.

I shifted my eyes back and forth, as perhaps the computer was trying to tell me something, or someone was playing a joke on me, by giving me this glorious information now. Then Larry said “So, if you hit this Inverse Kinematics button, you can start to animate this human, but we are getting way ahead of ourselves here, back to the content browser.”

HOLD UP LARRY MITCHELL. You’re telling me that by just clicking this one button I can mess around with this human figure, make it do whatever I want? I’m sorry, but I am going to have to take a break from this tutorial, as I now feel obliged to mess around with this. So it wasn’t long before I figured out how to use the dimensional arrows and scaling tools to simulate the fake woman kicking the fake child.

And with a third human figure at my fingertips, how could I not add in the grown man doing a leg sweep…?

Through just futzing around in the content browser without any supervision, I figured out how to add texture to objects and even a sun!

Then as I seemingly finished amusing myself with this, I started playing the tutorial again, and not a minute later, Larry is saying “Oh, just press THIS button RIGHT HERE for quick easy animation keyframes.” …Really, Larry? Do you even want me to watch this tutorial? Next thing I know, I’m going through the content browser like a madman, building a house from basic shapes, adding grass, making brick textures, and animating a 90 frame woman to man slap for the ages (I’d have exported a real movie of it, but I don’t know how yet!)

I guess I wanted to show these displays of polygonal violence, because I came from no experience whatsoever in 3D, and I was able to do all of that while just messing around with stuff just 2 and 1/2 hours after I opened Cinema 4D for the first time! Not that any of this could be used for a real job around here or anything, but I learned a lot about how to move objects, and how to use the interface just from playing around. I got much more comfortable. (And if you’re wondering why I instantly resorted to violence, let’s just say I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas my junior year of college, so I have a natural urge to harm people made of polygons)

After all that fun, I decided to resist the temptation of messing with the human figures anymore, and decided to continue with Larry Mitchell’s tutorials. Up next on the list was to create a spoon out of a cube. …OK? I like the idea, but even that seems strangely overwhelming to me, as morphing a cube into something of value is something that you would have to know what you’re doing in order to complete. But I guess it all starts with selecting a cube (and again, you can credit Larry Mitchell for this, I didn’t come up with it on my own).

OK, so now that we have a cube just sitting there, what’s next? That will be a spoon at some point…? Well, if you move those arrows on the cube with the scale tool, you can make it better, stronger, faster bigger, longer, flatter.

The four screen display was frightening at first glance, because I figured it would involve some insane complexity to use them. But they are actually pretty useful, as they obviously give you a top view or side view look at the 3D object, sort of simplifying it into 2D. And maneuvering between them is easy as pie, you just click the button in the top right corner of whichever screen you’d like to work in, and click it again to go back to the four screen display. Or you can just work in the four screen display if you’d like.

There is still a vast list of tools that I have no idea what they do yet, but I do know one thing, it takes a knife to make a spoon.

The knife seems like the most basic and useful tool, as its purpose is to segment polygonal shapes into, well, segments. And it works just like a real knife, just cut it across the shape while dragging the mouse.

And don’t make the same rookie mistake I did when working in a 2D viewing screen, and make sure you are cutting all the way through:

Cutting creates points in which you can select, and making new shapes becomes a very simple matter of selecting those points with the live select tool, and scaling them using the big colorful directional arrows with the scale tool.

So it was pretty simple to turn the cube into a lamp or a jousting stick or something, but a sweet little feature called HyperNURBS makes it unbelievably easy to turn a lamp into a Q-Tip. By clicking on the cube in your layer menu (which is comfortably similar to that of Illustrator or Photoshop) and then option clicking on the HyperNURBS icon on the top menu bar (which looks like a cube trapped in a cube prison) and all of the sudden you have instant curves, that work in a great way.

Then it’s just a matter of scaling and adding depth to the, i don’t know what it’s called, the “food” part of the spoon. And then I end up with a pretty good metal shovel.

Of course after some more fine tuning, cutting with the knife, scaling, and trying out some wood swatches (just for the fun of it all), I have a pretty good giant wooden 3D spoon.

If only I had a giant 3D metal pot so I could use my giant 3D wooden spoon to stir some 3D spaghetti meat sauce with polygonal sausage and peppers, I’d have a fantastic fake meal in the works! (don’t forget to HyperNURB the diced mushrooms!)

The SuiteTake Take?

I know making a spoon and animated violence with pre-made human models may be no big deal to someone who uses 3D programs a lot, but to someone with no idea what their doing in Cinema 4D, I just wanted to show how easy it is to start working in 3D, and it’s not as threatening as it may possibly appear to a novice. Just look at me, I made a wooden spoon out of a blocky cube 4 hours after my first opening of a 3D program!

In the future I’ll do a follow up post to let you know how my training has progressed. 

3 thoughts on “Entering the Third Dimension!

  1. This post made me LOL so much. Some of your posts are, like, little better than average, but this one was so mint. I wet my knickers laughing. The comedic timing when scrolling down to see the leg sweeper pure did me in. Also, +10pts for the use of “futzing”

  2. This article defintely inspired me to take that metaphorical 3d step into 3d…. does that make sense?

    Scott's article was great. Very funny. Looking forward to that follow up.

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