Professionally, most of my work has been General TD and Character TD stuff. Rigging, pipeline, scene optimization etc. here is a list of essential plugins that have helped me get my job done. Keep in mind my list is not the ten best free plugins overall, there’s some other cool ones out there I really like, but these are my 10 essential I use all the time.
1 ) Shorty
Think of having an animation shortcut set and a modeling shortcut set. CINEMA 4D does so much nowadays that often there’s just no ideal shortcut available for certain tools so they either get a stupid one, or don’t get one at all. Finally I can make a shortcut set that is sensible for animating, another for rigging, and another for modeling. It has a sensible icon to go right next to the layout/menu switch icon and works the exact same way. Matthias is a MAXON employee, helping out at the plugin cafe, and a lot of handy little plguins of his are available on the R11 DVD, so I do hope this plugin will become a goody on the DVD if not fully integrated into the application in the future.
An important honorable mention here is the first plugin that offered this capability, by Chris Montesano, called OLX. OLX’s latest version offers this shortcut functionality on top of an already cool preset system. This replaces a now missing feature in R11, the old object library for storing scenes that you ant easy access to like presets. OLX takes it far beyond the old system and is much more flexible with sub-directories and categories.
2 )Smooth 1.5
Smooth 1.5 comes with a nice addition to the previous version. Michael has had a great smooth tool for smoothing geometry for years now. I contacted Michael however, after seeing a cool Maya trick on one of Aaron Holly’s Fahrenheit Digital rigging DVD’s. The technique abused Maya’s modeling history in a way I couldn’t really do in cinema, but also has some inherent issues by being a modeling history command instead of an actual deformer. So I contacted Michael and asked him to take his great smooth tool and convert it into a deformer. Two Days later, smooth 1.5 was made. It It smooths geometry just like the iron tool in Cinema 4D does, with a few different options for different smoothing algorithms. The advantage to this as a deformer though, is that it can be weighted to specific areas so it only smooths certain sections of the model, and more importantly, it can be applied after other deformers and thus smooth the result of other deformers.
I used this a lot on Dog Gone for the squirrels since we were provided a squirrel with no time to really remodel it. there were areas with bad topology or not enough edge loops, and the squirrel was modeled in a pose rather than a relaxed state, which made extending the arms and legs out very difficult to weight. Smooth deformer allowed me to have the shoulders armpits, thighs and hips etc smooth after posing. So if the pose was causing collapsing or intersecting etc it would smooth out those areas. This also allows for getting stretchy skin effects and the likes.
Chance are your going to need to move animation from one app to another, and while FBX and Collada and the likes can work, they often don’t, and quite frankly they complicate what needs to be done. Typically one doesn’t need to copy over the skeleton and such, just a straight export of the geometry at every frame. This can be tedious and create a lot of files if you were to use something like OBJ, but MDD is a point cache file, meaning it applies to an existing object and tells the points where to move to like Point Level Animation. Modo is a popular route for MDD , but you can go to Maya, XSI, and Max with this plugin, you will just need a counterpart import and export plugin or script for the other app as well. The most popular would be Point Oven, for Max and Maya, but it can be costly.
This plugin is also handy for simply caching out animations to reuse in cinema without all the expression and deformer calculations, but isn’t really needed if you have the MOCCA module in 10.5, as the Point cache tag can do that quicker and easier.
Obj, or the Wavefront object format, is the standard imo for file formats. a Simple Geometry and basic materials format that pretty much every application supports. CINEMA 4D does have an obj import and export built in, but its limited and doesn’t support some key things needed for working with certain kinds of applications like Mudbox, ZBrush, and HyperShot.
The free plugin is hard to find, but it is in the 9.1 section and should work fine up to and including R11. The pro version though is very cool, it automates the creation of normals when exporting, and allows saving presets for certain types of apps. The free version should work fine for people, but particularly with HyperShot renderer, you will also need Keith’s Add Normal Tag plugin, which is sadly PC only, and is a very manual one by one process.
You have an object that needs to roll? Look no further. Simple, and very very effective, I honestly don’t know how they can give it away free, but Do note they have a Paypal donation button, so if you like it and use it a lot, then send a little support their way.
SSS, or Translucency is a big thing for me. Milk, Wax, Skin, Marble, so many materials need this, and CINEMA 4D’s SSS shader usually doesn’t do the job for me. I use Chanlum a lot, and its fast, but being a clever “fake” it often can’t achieve the effects I really need. Translucent is the free version of Translucent Pro. To be honest even though I have both I often just use the free version out of habit. One thing I used to use this for a lot was for absorption effects, but R11 has a faster simpler method for that now, so its mainly just for SSS effects now. Consider the Pro version, and Also Arndt has a great Skin shader which is a special SSS specifically for skin effects.
Per has done a lot of cool free plugins, and most have made it into CINEMA 4D now that he Programs for MAXON, but XLinky never made it. I think because other solutions have made their way in in terms of Xrefs and Point cache. Honestly with those two you don’t need this plugin that much, but is still handy. It is sort of like MDD in that it stores the points for each frame of animation, like a geometry cache. It does store each frame as a separate file however. Then the Xlinky object can read those files in real time allow you to reference the animation back in and re-time it etc. What is still handy about Xlinky imo, is the “Bake Mesh Animation to Xref” command. Since Xlinky stores a file per frame it doesn’t have to preserve point order so each frame can actually be a different object, not just a different pose. This means I can bake out metaballs, primitives with deformation, NURBS objects etc.
This one disappoints me in away. It drives me nuts that such a simple function should require a plugin, but the only way to do this directly in CINEMA 4D is with the Structure Manager, and it’s not the cleanest or easiest task to accomplish. This tool works like you think it would. Go into an object, select polygons, then use copy. Then select another object and paste. Best thing is it preserves all point information, so morphs, vertex map values etc.
I often use this plugin to copy polygons form my character models into my joint objects so that the joints look like the character model allowing me to hide the character and turn off deformations while animating. giving a nice speed boost but still looking like my model. Since morphs are preserved it is possible for the head joint to look like the actual head model and morph like it too.
Okay to be honest I don’t use this one at all anymore myself because I have MoGraph which has the spline wrap. That said anyone without MoGraph, should get this, and I know a lot of motion graphics guys that still use this because of how it works as opposed to how Spline Wrap works. Basically this plugin deforms an object along a spline.
So often I pick up where others left off, particularly with architecture type stuff I get a lot of content brought in from CAD apps and such. This handy plugin lets me check the geometry for common problems that may help me in fixing, or understand why a certain tool won’t work on a selection like I think it should etc.