Siggraph 2015 Rewind - Marc Potocnik: C4D R17 in Documentary VFX Production

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C4D R17 Take System, Variation Shader, and DEM Earth plugin recreate a city for TV VFX.

Marc Potocnik of renderbaron demonstrates how he recreated Lower Manhattan and the crash of US Airways 1549 for the German television documentary show Leschs Kosmos.

05:31Autopilot Project
08:59Recreating Lower Manhattan with DEM Earth
12:25Lighting & Shading (Multishader / Variation Shader)
20:06Importing Hero Buildings via Sketchup 3D Warehouse
23:24Light Groups using In/Exclude
24:47Volumetric Sky with Ozone
29:39Rendering and Compositing
33:38Render Layers via C4DR17 Take System

Marc used the DEM Earth plugin to procedurally create the landscape of Lower Manhattan, and added hero buildings imported from Sketchup 3D Warehouse. The Multishader and Variation Shader offered a simple way to randomize textures on the procedural buildings.

Marc also demonstrates how the Cinema 4D Release 17 Takes System allowed him to quickly create scene variations to render layers for flexibility in compositing.



- Hello, guys, my name is Marc Potocnik from Tiny But Nice animation studio, Renderbaron in the most western part of Germany, Dusseldorf. And first of all, big thanks to Maxon for having me again at SIGGRAPH this year. And a big, "Hello, " to all of you watching here onsite and watching here online. The Cinema 4D community all over the globe and especially my favorite Cinema 4D buddies: Freddy, Andy and Olaf. Hello. I am here, thank you for having me. First of all, a bit on Renderbaron. It's a studio for animation, okay here we are, and is focused on visualization, visual effects and TV commercials already since 2001, founded by myself. I am a designer. I started communications design. I'm a Maxon certified instructor as well. And have a look at the most recent and best work so far of Renderbaron on the brand new show reel 2015. So this is it for the moment for the best and most recent work for Renderbaron. And let's head over to the some Scientific Eye Candy, meaning visual effects for TV documentaries. First of all this is one of two different presentations. I'm having a second presentation on Tuesday 12:30 p.m. don't miss it. This is the first part, Scientific Eye Candy. So what is Scientific Eye Candy? Most of all it's visually explaining things in a way the audience wouldn't expect by creating a rich visual experience by the means of visual effects overlapping classical explaining visualization. So the result in enriched reality with an explanatory aspect. From an artists point of view it means in terms of modeling, add a rich level of detail and do it 110%. In terms of lighting, play off your lighting skills, use simple yet effective animation-proof, bullet-proof light set-ups. And in terms of shading use smart shaders complimenting your light set-up. Putting all this together means sleep well while rendering, and be independent from animation rendering from GI, if you want that. So let's head over and give it a shot. Recently we did work for the second German television, ZDF, for a TV documentary show called Leschs Kosmos. It's about, let's say, the hidden dangers of aviation called Nightmare of Flying. And it's a bunch of shorts we did about the ditching of Flight U. S. Airways 1549 in the Hudson River nearby Lower Manhattan. It's about the function principal radar, about radar coverage of the planet, about the disappearance of Flight MH370, Malaysian Air in the Indian Ocean. So let's give it a look. Unfortunately, it's just German, one and a half minutes, I hope. Imagery speaks for itself. And afterwards I will break down for you guys the first shot ditching in Lower Manhattan, the autopilot principal. [beeping] [speaking German] - What I will break down for you guys now is the shot above Lower Manhattan. It's the shot where the autopilot system and this had a huge 3D part because recreating Lower Manhattan is not a simple task even not in Cinema 4D. And first of all, we had to do some research on Flight 1549 as well as on autopilot system and as well as on Lower Manhattan itself. So we had to change the screen play a bit because the machine started originally at LaGuardia Airport, but we wanted to have those iconic landmark buildings inside so we had to change the screen play a bit and let it approach from southwest. So when doing research about Lower Manhattan you get to know some imagery and you get pretty fast an idea of the insane amount of details you're dealing with. So recreating Lower Manhattan is almost an insane task. So you have to find some mechanisms to recreate that let's say procedurally or something equivalent. And the imagery also gives a good idea about the atmospherical images, elements, how they would look like in combination with the metropolitan area. So the first stop in our workflow was a pretty cool plug-in for Cinema 4D called DEM Earth. And DEM stands for Digital Elevation Model. And this is the tool from Paul Everett and I used it as the first station in my workflow for recreating Lower Manhattan and by typing in latitude and longitude of the location I got the topography as a 3D model in Cinema 4D. And as you can see the topography does not only cover geographical aspects it also covers the height of the building, as you can see here in financial district or mid-town Manhattan in front of Central Park. So this is the topography model which was the basis for the workflow. And her is another cool feature of DEM Earth, it's called the Smart OSM, and OSM stands for Open Street Maps. That means by requesting certain aspects from Open Street Maps server you can download for free [inaudible 10:44] open street maps data as spline objects. And we all know splines can be extruded. We have another cool feature in DEM Earth called the Smart Extruder. This is able to create an extrusion from all those open street map splines. Another cool thing about that is you can create groups with different index color that is seen here. And index colors is something in Cinema 4D which addresses objects by their index colors in the attribute manager. It has nothing to do with coloring or shading. It's just let's say a point for address to. So after changing the Smart Extruder object to a polygon object by pressing key C, we have those groups. I defined as you can see, twenty groups with index colors and after changing that we have twenty groups with different index colors down here. And what also gets preserved are the internal caps of the extruded object and this can be used for texturing the roofs of the buildings. So let's head over to a live demo and we just right now built Lower Manhattan, not from scratch but with Cinema 4D R17. I've already opened my scene here and what we get with DEM Earth, Smart Extruder is something like that. Now we are over East River, and yeah, that's quite a lot of detail here to be seen. Now the task is how to texturize that and how to light that. First of all, a word on the lighting set-up. The lighting set-up is really pretty simple. In this case, it's just a sun and a sky dome. And let me show you what the sun is about, it's just infinite light with 200% intensity and area shadows of course, because area shadows are the only kinds of shadows in Cinema 4D capable of focusing spatially. So this is the way to go for sunlight. And for the sky dome I used, for light from the sky, coming from the sky I used also an area shadow but in combination with an area light. And the special thing is, in the shape of a hemisphere. Seen from above this is a huge hemispherical area light covering the whole scene, seen from the side you'll see that, so it's huge, and it's blueish as a complementary contrast to the yellowish sunlight. So that's basically the whole light set-up in here. We will come back to that later. So this is the combination of my skylight with pretty soft diffused shadows between the houses and my sunlight for the let's say car shadow areas. Now we would like to address all those index colors of the groups to a texture. We do not want to have white buildings, do we? So we have to do something about that. And there is a cool feature in Cinema 4D which allows to address all those index colors with the shader and this shader is called the multi-shader. And right now it's lying inside the layer shader because I like something about that, I will explain that to you in a few moments. Right now we will focus on the multi-shader, and the multi-shader is something that's really versatile. You can feed in as much input texture as you like, in this case twenty because I have twenty groups, twenty texture maps from CG, basically thumbnails. Now those are addressed by color brightness to all those tiny little houses and color brightness means the brightness of just look here, the index color, from bright white to pitch black. And with this system I can distribute all my tiny thumbnails of pigment textures to my scene. And when rendering it looks like this. With just random looking distribution of facet textures but we do not only have it on the facets we also have that on the rooftops and we have to do something about that in a couple of minutes. But what we also have are some repetitions. When we look at this facet and this facet, they look nearly the same and we have to create some variation on that. There comes a new feature of Release 17, it's called the variation shader. And I had back inside my layer shader where I put my multi-shader and the variation shader multiplying above just as layers in Photoshop. And when I head into the variation shader there is a brand new interface. So what's the variation shader about? It's about varying of cosma textures by the means of objects so you can distribute the variation on objects meaning clones, instances, objects, object groups or by polygons or polygon selections. And if you choose polygons you can do it with let's say a definable unit, the polygon step. The unit, which polygons you have for varying this texture. So you can vary the texture by a secondary bitmap or shader. Just imagine a leaf with a secondary texture bitmap on it. Or you can simply do it by using a gradient. And this is just done by gradient in this case, we'll [inaudible 16:56] multiply, and no random color otherwise it would spin off to certain colors as you can see in the preview. So it's just a grayscale gradient. And it gives just a slight amount of variation. In this case it's just distributed among the polygon selections meaning the polygon groups, just twenty groups in there. And we will do something about that a bit later but first of all, we witness that, we noticed that some areas here are almost perfectly black and by placing a bounce slide in to the scene we get some nice let's say, fake indirect light coming from the opposite side of the sun. It's just the sunlight plays on the other side much less intense and that's my bounce slide for now. So we have to do something about the rooftops. As I said, the polygon selections from my DEM Earth Extruder object are perfectly preserved so we can address those selections called CAP in all of those polygon groups now, here we are, by addressing this with a shader. Just right order. And heading over in the roof shader, roof texture, we again have a layer shader in there with a noise. A noise texture is a basis. In this case it's a tiny scaled cell noise and cell noise is just like a pixilation effect. And you can use that at a tiny scale of 3%, to use, to create let's say some techie or architecturally looking details which really don't make sense but they look as if. Here we are, you'll see there are just a few compartments on the roof, some detailed, some more detailed. And if you place the same cell noise at a different scale in the normals channel you get additionally some bump information looking even a bit more detailed. And on top of that we head back in the layer shader adding the variation shader again with just the gradient being multiplied on top. And here we are. We have another level of variation just by this brand new shader of R17. And as I said the facets could need a bit more variation so let's head over to a polygon step based variation and that's looking like this. This is the final let's say base for creating the Lower Manhattan scene. So let's head back to the next part of my slide presentation, just a second. One thing I have to show you prior to that, when we head to the southern tip of Lower Manhattan, we see all those beautiful fill houses in the distance, in the mid distance but we notice that the southern tip is nearly empty. There are no landmark buildings in there. No Battery Park. No One World Trade Center. So we have to do something about that because these are the landmarks of this cityscape. So what I did was as always some research and then headed over to 3D Warehouse basically. And 3D Warehouse gives you the opportunity not only to download for free relevant 3D models from talented artists but also to use them free for commercial purposes. And in this case I just downloaded them, brought the in to Cinema 4D R16 at that time and at first sight they look quite good but the second site was pure horror because the structure was much too detailed. There were lots and lots and lots of tags and selections and it's Pandora's Box, just leave it unopened, deal with it, live with it. I think it's not an issue of the work of the artists uploading those models. I think it's just an issue of bringing sketch-up models to R16. In R17 we now have a native sketch-up importer for sketch-up models. So I think nowadays this would be much easier. So I had to clean up that things manually, it was really pain, and place them step by step, Lower Manhattan is growing. Here we have one way to see and this is the insane amount of materials you're dealing with. So another Pandora's Box you better leave unopened, believe me. And if you look at this there is a third Pandora's Box you leave unopened: 4,000 texture files. You don't want that, but you have to live with that. So this is the ready modeled scene. And let's head over to the steps in terms of lighting. No, we have something extra here. In the distance I added some more buildings coming from the metropolitan pack from Video Copilot. Very useful in this case. Empire State Building as well in front of Central Park. And here we have some trees basically just hemisphere's displaced by a noise. And here we have some tiny, tiny cars moving along a mograph's spline, basically just cubes. Some ships and boats, image based satellite imagery based texturement for the ground. Some frenal controlled reflection with some noises in the enormous channel of course. And here we have the lighting set-up. As I said just basically just two light sources. But as I have different groups in my scene, the landmark buildings, the fill houses, the airplane of course, the atmospherical elements and all those extras, I approximately had five groups or something like that and each of them got their own sun and their own skydome. So it's absolutely not physically correct but who cares? It doesn't have to be correct. It just has to look like it's correct. So all groups had to have some slight variations in terms of lighting, slightly different sun angle and something like that. So it's really easy to do and all of those light sources were just restricted to their very own object groups by the Project tab, and Include, Exclude, basically light linking. And here we have the steps of lighting. Here is the landmark buildings with their own sunlight, the fill buildings in Jersey with their own sunlight and so on. The other fill houses and the metropolitan pack houses with their own sunlight, the skydome full of landmarks, skydome for the rest of us, and some really odd, mysterious looking sky. What's that? This is technically seen as just a sphere with a so-called "knocking noise" from Cinema 4D. It's a native noise trader. This is being projected with shrink mapping on this sphere representing a sky by the way. And that looks really odd but seeing through a volumetric atmosphere, that just looks like high altitude clouds, thin cloud layers, something you'd witness on early morning over Manhattan perhaps. So and another cool thing about that is if you check back this state of the scene, it just looks like let's say a miniature, a prop on a film set or something like that, basically cubes. But with this atmospherical element, you get an idea of scale. You can breath the scale. Huge scale of the scene and it gets a bit more atmosphere, basically. And the atmosphere is done with another cool plug-in for Cinema 4D called, by the way there's an airplane in the scene heading for East River, it's done by Ozone. It's a plug-in from Eon software called Ozone Cloud Factory 2015. And it's not only capable of doing haze and fog and something like that. It can also create some very beautiful 3D volumetric cloud layers. And I did that and it just looked like that, but, there's a big "but" in the sentence. And it's coming to render times. Because we're head up in the clouds right now, literally, with our camera inside the volumetric container of the clouds and that slows down rendering very much. In this combination, you're with a camera in a volumetric container seeing all those heavy, heavy highest [inaudible 0:26:53] quality on the you need for the perspective and for the camera movement on the ground. You see through the volumetric container down to all those details and to a heavy anisotropic rough blurry reflection on the water, bumped by a normals channel, that's a combination, you can go on vacation and when you return rendering is ready if you're lucky. So in this combination the rendering took about four hours of full HD frame on a dual 10 core Xeon workstation and that's not because you're dealing with Ozone. When you render Ozone from a ground level it's pretty fast. You barely notice it, it's in the scene. But if you're diving in with your camera in the clouds it really gets slow. So we have to do something about that. And I split up my rendering, my scene set-up. In an upper part, with all of those beautiful volumetric clouds but no geometry, no heavy anti-aliasing, no reflection and a lower part with all the rest of my scene except for the clouds. But when I combine that in compositing, there will be a problem because the reflections of the clouds on the water would just not be there. So, what did I do about that? We apparently have some reflection here. And normally you would say apply a tag, a compositing tag of some [inaudible 28:23] to the clouds and say just be unseen by camera and only be seen by reflection. But Ozone ignores that. You can't do that. You have to find the work-around. And the work-around is just like that. I rendered a top view of my clouds and used it in the other channel for a texture map of a plane, placed them on the scene and I placed some dummy objects, basically just spheres. And those are now getting a compositing tag. This is this guy here, here we are, saying not seen by camera but seen by reflection. And now you get the idea, the impression that something is reflected on the water and in combination of the upper half of my rendering. You now get the psychological impression, "Oh wow, the clouds are reflecting." So it's just a psychological trick basically. And you save a lot of render time. Now you cut down on render time from four hours to forty minutes a full HD frame. That's still a lot but you're getting something for that. So, just two tips on the render settings here. Man. I chose to use the physical renderer because of all those anti-aliasing details here. The standard render just wasn't capable of doing that even at 16 x 16 subdivisions anti-aliasing. You're always got a noise of flickering some steps when moving with the camera especially at those tiny details. So I just chose to use the physical renderer with, and there are some tips, with a high shading arrow threshold, so render times do not explode but with a wide range of shading subdivisions that is these two guys here. And shading subdivisions are the equivalent of anti-aliasing quality, adaptive anti-aliasing quality in the standard renderer. So these were the two tips: lower reflection depth as much as possible. You don't need reflected reflections of reflective reflections. It doesn't make sense. So just one reflection, that's all. So these parameters here at the physical renderer, that's it. This is the raw rendering. Now we now will take a look at the compositing and the compositing is a process which really benefits from a brand new main feature of Cinema 4D R17 called the Take System. I will live demo this Take System in a couple of minutes for you guys. So first of all let's head over to the steps of compositing. So this is my rendering lower half, my raw rendering coming straight out of Cinema 4D, one pass. And this is the rendering with some color correction especially for the water to give this nice impression of a January morning perhaps. So the water looks a bit more harder, more metal-like. And here we have some glow effects on the plane, pointing toward the morning sun, the orange-ish morning sun. And here we have the upper half with all those clouds. And in the distance there's appearing something like an orange tint. And for these effects you have to create a mask, created by a render layer directly coming out of Cinema 4D. Here we have some so-called "God rays", nothing else, than volumetric noise on the visible light in Cinema 4D also as a render layer, put out as a render layer. And her we have some more extra clouds from Ozone but as Ozone clouds aren't capable of doing alpha channels you have to find the work-around for that and in After Effects I just copied this layer, brought it in to a high contrast black and white version and used it as a luma key. So that worked. Here we have some more extra clouds and here we have something that looks really complex but it's really simple, it's just this guy here. Just a volumetric visible light with noise in Cinema 4D. It's basically just an omnilight with a heavy contrast noise in the visible light. So this is basically the whole compositing. Here we have some extra clouds as well, and some tiny, tiny smoke trails on the rooftops because we're dealing with a January scene. There has to be some ovens on inside their houses. Some vignette. And this is the final image with the final color correction. So let's now head over, how all those render layers were created inside Cinema 4D. When we talk about render layers, normally when we want to create something like extra volumetric effect like those God-rays and those wafts of mist and extra whatever effect, we have to do copies of our original scene. And just for an example, for volumetric light being used as a mask we just have to turn the whole scene black, turn off every reflection shadow or whatever and just render the visible volumetric light on a totally pitch black scene. That was the case until R17 and one of the disadvantages with this workflow was if there appears to be a basic change of let's say landmark buildings, camera movement in your original scene, then you're obliged to do all of those changes to every single other copy of your scene. And that exhausts and it's not fun to do. So we now have a feature in Cinema 4D called the Take System. And let me show you just how that works. I already opened that scene and for performance reasons I switched off certain aspects of the scene like unnecessary buildings and stuff like that. Remember we are heading for this epic impression so we have to add some of those render layers. And the Take System is to be found on the right side of our interface here as a vertical tab called Takes. I will demonstrate for you what the Take System is about on a very simple scene. I just create a cube. And the Take System, the term Take comes from cinematography. Imagine yourself as a director, you're shooting a movie and you want the actor to vary his expression, his dialogue, his behavior, his gestures. And so you take another take of your original scene. And the Take System of Cinema 4D is now capable of doing variations of your scene within one single Cinema 4D file. So you get rid of all those copies you have to deal with as I showed you. So, one main aspect about the Take System is it's working hierarchical. So with right click on the main take, and main take is the unaltered state of your scene, you create a new take and then I advise you to turn on auto-take which records every alteration of your objects as a so-called override on the right side of your Take System. And you'll see the right side of your Take System just in dualtry mode. And let me describe you, if you want to modify your object just in the take you have to create an override, a so-called override so within the main take your cube is perfectly unaltered. And in the new take, while being in autotake mode, you just modify your cube, perhaps in terms of rotation or whatever and you'll see on the right side the autotake mode just created an override. And this override is just the override for the parameters for the cube. Heading back to main take, the cube was perfectly unaltered as nothing had happened. Heading over to a new take, there's a modified cube. So this is a very simple example for creating different states, different variations of your scene within one single Cinema 4D file and the beautiful thing about the Take System is it works hierarchally as I said. And that means if you do not alter your objects it inherits all parameters from the main take. Also meaning camera, also meaning render settings. And with click on the render settings symbol you can define if you want to inherit the render settings from the main take or use different render settings you defined in the render settings down here. So this is really comfortable for using, for dealing with huge scenes and a certain amount of render layers. It saves you a lot of time basically. So back to the Take System version of my Lower Manhattan scene and here we have the Take set-up. The main take is called Basisfot, it s a German word for main in this case. The main take is just my scene perfectly unaltered just like that. Everything is maintained and when I head over to the Take called "mask orange fog" by clicking on the white rectangle here, you'll see in the override menu that there are some, certain aspects are overridden. One example are those volumetric visible lights seen here and responsible for this effect, which means this effect in the final compositing. This volumetric light source is turned on and turned on in rendering. Everything else is just turned off. Lower Manhattan is just turned off in rendering and in editor. So this is my variation of the whole scene but in one and the same single file and that's quite cool I think. So another cool feature of the Take System is something I'd like to show you on the God-rays task or take. When I activate that it creates something like that. This is the God-ray effect we are seeing in the final compositing right here. And this is nothing but a volumetric light admitting light on the scene, being visible, being volumetric and with a noise shader on the light source itself. And by the way all buildings in the scene, the whole scene itself turned to pitch black. And this is done by another cool feature of the Take System called Material Override. And this allows to define the material you just drag in here to be spread all over the scene. In this case it's just pitch black material and this is just spread all over the scene. Your whole scene is now pitch black and you can define exclusions. In this case I excluded the material responsible for the God-ray effect. It's just this noisy thing here responsible for this volumetric noise. So this is my take for the God-rays and additionally another example of the smoke trails, we have to head over to frame 180, just a sec, I think that's too heavy. Now all those tiny smoke trails you see in the distance are turned on and you can see it in the override manager, visible in editor, visible in renderer. That's the way you're dealing with altering object properties. Just drag them to your take by autotake system or by assigning them to a take. Then by this create an override and alter the parameters of your object, and you're done. And by that you create just a variation of the scene within one single scene file. And that all together looks just as repetition, like this. You'll see all those render layers here coming together. The wafts of mist, all those extra clouds, the God-rays being volumetric and correct in perspective and everything fits together now. Here we have the God-rays again and that's also thanks to R17 Take Manager. So, basically that's it. Don't forget to give a "Like" on Renderbaron on Facebook.
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