How to transfer Cinema 4D models to Blender

How to transfer Cinema 4D models to Blender

If you’re a freelancer, contractor, or part of a studio team, the odds are high that you’ll need to work with the files and formats of more than one 3D software. In this guide, we’ll be looking in particular at how to transfer 3D models and data from Maxon’s Cinema 4D to Blender.

When it comes to transferring model data between 3D software, there are plenty of formats to choose from. To get started, let’s look at some of the formats supported by both Cinema 4D and Blender.

The benefits of transferring Cinema 4D models to Blend

Other than being able to use Blender-specific operations to models created in C4D, the utility of transferring models from Cinema 4D to Blender is  particularly apparent when your project is destined for rendering on a render farm. This transition is not just a matter of necessity for projects that use Blender as the main rendering software. Rendering with Blender can also  be a game-changer in terms of efficiency and cost.

1. Enhanced Compatibility with Render Farms: Many render farms favor Blender due to its open-source nature and robust community support. However, there are services such as ours that have robust Blender and Cinema 4D render farm support. By transferring models to Blender, you can take advantage of a wider range of render farm options, often at a more competitive price point.

2. Cost Efficiency: Blender, being a free and open-source tool, offers a cost-effective solution for rendering. Studios and freelancers looking to cut down on software licensing fees can benefit significantly from transitioning to Blender for the final stages of their projects.

3. Access to Blender’s Rendering Engines: Blender’s powerful rendering engines, like Cycles and Eevee, offer advanced features and flexibility. Transferring your models to Blender opens up possibilities for utilizing these engines, which might be more suited to the specific needs of your project.

4. Leveraging Blender’s Compositing and Post-Production Tools: Blender comes with a comprehensive suite of compositing and post-production tools. Artists can add significant value to their projects by utilizing these tools, which might not be as extensive or may require additional plugins in Cinema 4D.

5. Community and Collaborative Advantages: Blender’s massive user community is a goldmine for resources, tutorials, and collaborative opportunities. Moving your project into this ecosystem can provide access to a wealth of knowledge and potentially collaborative inputs that can enhance your project.

6. Workflow Streamlining: In some scenarios, certain tasks might be more efficiently executed in Blender. For instance, if a project requires extensive use of particle systems or fluid dynamics, Blender offers robust tools that might make it advantageous to switch over post-modeling.

7. File Size and Portability: Blender files can be more lightweight compared to Cinema 4D, especially when dealing with complex scenes or high-poly models. This makes it easier to transfer and manage files, particularly when dealing with the constraints of a render farm's data transfer capabilities.

8. Future-Proofing Projects: Blender’s rapid development cycle ensures it stays on the cutting edge of 3D technology. Transitioning to Blender can be a strategic move to future-proof your project, ensuring that it benefits from the latest advancements in 3D rendering technology. Formats and Transition Strategies:

Now that we've established the benefits, let's delve into the practical aspects. To facilitate a smooth transition, we need to explore the various file formats that both Cinema 4D and Blender support. Formats like FBX, COLLADA (DAE), and OBJ are commonly used for their ability to maintain model integrity during transfers. However, each format has its own strengths and potential pitfalls when it comes to preserving textures, animations, and other complex data.

To get started, let’s look at some of the formats supported by both Cinema 4D and Blender.

Choosing a format

Wavefront .obj (or OBJ) is one of the most common file types for transferring 3D models between Cinema 4D and Blender, mainly because of its simplicity and ubiquity amongst 3D software. Unlike more advanced formats like USD or Alembic formats, the strength of OBJ files is that they almost always transfer as expected with very little translation. An Imported OBJ mesh in one software is likely to appear identical to what’s seen in another.

However, the reason for their wide compatibility is the format’s relatively small feature set. OBJ files exported from Cinema 4D may include geometry, UV coordinates, textures, and very basic interpretations of materials. All of which can also be imported by Blender.

FBX is another popular choice for exporting 3D models from Cinema 4D. A proprietary Autodesk format, FBX files include more advanced data types such as animation strips, lights, cameras, and even splines.

Cinema 4D has fairly robust support for exporting FBX files, including support for all of the features mentioned above. However, Blender has a far more sparse implementation for important FBX files, missing some features. Because of this, FBX is mainly a useful format for transferring 3D objects with animations and armatures, rather than for importing an entire scene.

Alembic files are designed to import/export entire scenes between software. While not foolproof for transferring all aspects of a project, the format is great for getting a jump on moving an entire Cinema 4D project to Blender. Alembic’s strength is its ability to capture most attributes of static scenes, like mesh, lights, cameras, and curves. Alembic can even capture animation data, though all animations are baked to static vertex data, rather than procedural or skinned animation types.

Both Cinema 4D and Blender support the Alembic format, making it a good choice for transferring a variety of 3D models and scenes.

Universal Scene Description (USD for short) is a relatively new format for transferring 3D scene data. Because of its relative newness, support for all USD features is still in development for Cinema 4D. However, it is still a great format for transferring 3d scenes to Blender. Currently, Cinema 4D supports exporting geometry, materials, lights and cameras to USD. Blender also has fairly robust support for USD, including support for importing all of the above data types (and more).

USD is designed to improve on the Alembic format as a way to transfer both a higher volume of 3D data and more advanced 3D data. While Alembic works best for transferring static 3D scenes, USD can integrate directly with your 3D pipeline, making it perfect for moving 3D models back and forth between software. While support for USD in Cinema 4D is still in its infancy, the format will be an important format to watch as it develops.

Exporting from Cinema 4D

Now that we know a bit about formats, we can move on to exporting! Exporting files from Cinema 4D is pretty simple. 

To export all objects (at least, all compatible objects) in your scene, go to File > Export… and choose your desired format. After picking a format, the export options for the format will appear.

To export only a subset of objects, you can select objects in the object manager and then select File > Export Selected Objects as… from the object manager. Once again, after selecting a format, the export options for the format will appear.

Importing to Blender

Importing to Blender using any of the formats described above is also pretty simple. In Blender, importers for all of the file types described above can be found under File > Import.

If the texture and material files for the 3D model match the specifications of the format (which Cinema 4D should respect, for the most part), they should be automatically linked to the materials created by Blender. If the links are broken on import, you can manually relink them in Blender under File > External Data > Find Missing Files.

FBX animations and bone skinning should also be automatically imported by Blender. However, Blender may not always be able to read complex FBX animation data, so unbaked animations could create issues. If your animations do not import as expected, try selecting “Bake All Frames” in the FBX Export settings while exporting from Cinema 4D.

Wrap up

As workflow tools like Universal Scene Description gain traction in the Cinema 4D and Blender communities, transferring 3D models will only get easier over time. But in the meantime, hopefully, this guide has provided you with the know-how to efficiently move 3D models for your needs, no matter how complex your 3D project might be.

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