C4D, Blender and others
[Walter Soyka] "Cory, I'm a C4D user who keeps an eye on Blender myself. I'd be really curious to hear your perspective on how the toolsets and workflows compare, if you don't mind sharing."
Sure Walter. I'll share my limited experience.
Cinema 4D is great. Very easy to use and pretty intuitive. I've also used Max and Maya to a limited extent; both are unnecessarily complicated. Blender 2.4 and before sucked. Their main focus for version 2.5 has been to revamp the interface. While it still is difficult to learn, the same is true for any 3D app. The Blender 2.5 interface is certainly better than Max 2011, not as nice as C4D. It is very customizable in terms windows and layouts which is very nice. Blender is a keyboard driven app. There are buttons and menus, but it's designed to be operated with one hand on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse. This gives a high learning curve, but a fast workflow. Now that I'm used to it, it's fine; 3DS Max is soooo clunky.
C4D has some very nice tools in mograph. Blender has some similar tools, and the community has put together some nice scripts that can simulate some things available in C4D. Blender has python so if you can learn that you can do anything. Some of the blender-mograph guys say the text objects suck and need improvement for motion graphics. C4D mograph text is pretty good; although I'd still prefer to leave type to AE. I'm investing my time in 3D specifically to add a new dimension to my motion graphics work. Yuk, yuk ;)
There are multi-pass export workflows from C4D to AE and Blender to AE. You can output depth passes, specular passes, etc. It works well under C4D. I've heard good things about Blender->AE, but haven't used it yet.
The built in renderer for C4D is ok. But it doesn't include GI, which is lame; is this 2011 or 1995? You have to pony up to get Advanced Renderer. AR is nice and can produce professional results. It takes study to get the most out of it.
The built in renderer for Blender is so lame. It looks like what Pixar produced in 1985. However, like C4D it works with other renderers. Most people use Yafray or Luxrenderer and the results look great in the right hands.
After much research, I've committed to spending my renderer study time with V-Ray. It is a commercial renderer (which means features will be complete). It is physically based, and provides a "physical" camera and lights, so my photography knowledge directly applies. It is very easy to start getting amazing looking results right away without needing so much study.
Plus it provides toon shading and a bunch of other cool features. Did I mention the results look amazing?
One can get VRay4C4D, or for max, maya, and you can get the standalone version. Andrey Izrantsev has been actively developing a blender export script for V-Ray standalone that works very well. I've been active on his forum and am starting to develop a material library. Check it out at V-Ray/Blender
Finally, many commercial and free renderers have export scripts for blender and C4D. Though I think there are a few top end renderers that still don't.
C4D's basic system doesn't come with this stuff. You have to pay much more for the advanced features. Plus their new module-less packaging system puts their best stuff out of the reach of independents. And you can't get C4D fluids at any price. That's another few hundred or thousand for a 3rd party plugin.
Blender will do all of the above. I'm working on a small motion graphics demo where I have paint flowing down some stairs. Within blender, I setup the lights and stairs, did the fluid simulation, applied v-ray materials to it, exported it and rendered. Then finished up post in after effects.
C4D: Pretty good. I can usually find what I'm looking for, although sometimes it is light.
Blender: Um.. Documentation? I knew we forgot something!
For 2.4 it is pretty well documented. For 2.5 it's in beta and hasn't made an official release. First they are coding 2.5, then they will document it. So there is none for 2.5! However most of the 2.4 documentation applies. So you learn with 2.4 documentation, 2.5 web tutorials, and elbow grease.
I've been able to import most things into blender occasionally in 3ds format, or collada or obj. This is still a weak area for them, and at best requires tinkering. Exporting animations for other apps (FBX) isn't solid yet.
C4D's pricing structure is what is causing me to migrate away from it. If someone wants to use hair or toon shading, plus mograph, you have to pay for the full meal deal. $3700k!
Modo is supposed to be pretty good, especially for modeling and the renderer looks amazing. Not bad for $1k. However it allegedly isn't strong in character animation or motion graphics and has no dynamics, fluids, particles, cloth.
Blender is free. V-Ray standalone is $300. Andrey gives away his work on his export script for free, but asks for donations. So $350-400 can get me a program with decent modeling, rigging, sculpting, character animation, fluids, dynamics, particles, cloth, hair, toon, and an amazing renderer.
Animated shorts produced with Blender (free to download):
2010, Sintel, http://www.sintel.org/
2007, Big Buck Bunny, http://www.bigbuckbunny.org/
2005, Elephants Dream, http://www.elephantsdream.org/
Check out the V-Ray Gallery.
Definitely check out the latest 2.5x beta version and some tutorials like those found at http://blendercookie.com and http://www.blenderguru.com
Any software requires an investment of time to learn the art, plus the interface. A commercial product can price themselves out of the market or have other problems that cause people to move away from it.
Blender will always be free. I certainly have a running issues list. But with 2.5 it finally has a usable interface. With V-Ray it can produce amazing results (and really nice results with other commercial and free renderers). So any time I invest in blender is well spent, because it won't cost me anything to always keep it as part of my workflow; even if I use another app primarily.
Cory, thank you for all the time and consideration you put into this!
I initially chose C4D years ago for its After Effects integration and motion graphics slant. As I've watched Blender develop over the last few years, I've been wrestling with the question of whether it's better to add more full C4D Studio seats or start a transition to Blender.
I'm especially intrigued about Blender's fluids simulation and character tools (which strike me as big weaknesses in C4D). A roll-your-own render farm in the cloud with EC2 is another really appealing cost consideration.
One of the things I love about C4D is the availability of good, "packaged" training from sites like Cineversity and FXPHD that make it a bit smoother for 2D artists to start working in 3D. I haven't run across anything really comparable for Blender before, but I'm also not very plugged into the Blender community. I'll certainly be going over all the links you referenced.
I'd be curious if anyone has an opinion on the availability of Blender-savvy freelancers. I'd imagine it's very low, but perhaps I would be surprised.
Thanks again, Cory, for sharing your time and expertise!
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Walter, my thought is that it will only cost you time (and staff time) to explore blender. And if it can even provide you one thing C4D can't (like fluids, or character anim), then you can benefit by integrating it into your workflow. You can calculate and render fluids in blender and composite them in AE, or you could calculate fluids and import them into C4D. It doesn't have to completely replace your licenses of C4D.
It will take a good bit of time to migrate completely to it though, ensuring all elements of your workflow can be duplicated in blender. You're likely to run into some disappointments and some happy moments.
You're right about the lack of structured learning for blender. Before we can have structured learning from top artists; we need blender to be used in studios by top artists. Before that we need the tools studios need like a decent interface, documentation, and solid import/export support. They are close, but they move at the speed of non-financially motivated, open source development. Eventually.
Creating the short films is the best thing they could have done. The demands of making an animated movie has given them motivating pressure and rigor in developing blender to meet their needs, has developed more artists, and given blender a lot of exposure.
Looking at a lot of the crap on youtube, my guess is that the percentage of good blender freelancers to poor ones is low mainly because blender is free, the number of non-serious users is high, and the built in renderer blows. It will require filtering for the right people; but that's what we do to fulfill any role in business.
Although I produce and prefer to bring in shooters and editors, I enjoy doing motion graphics myself and have been gradually developing my ability. So... keep me in mind for freelance work! ;)