Interest in (new) Exporter for Cinema 4D?

The place for artists, modellers, level designers et al to discuss their approaches for creating content for OGRE.

Would you _purchase_ a C4D .mesh Exporter?

I might pay ~$50 USD, if it included .skeleton file support
14
34%
I'd pay ~$25-$35 USD, for a good .mesh exporter
5
12%
Dang your need for food - plugins must be FREE!
22
54%
 
Total votes: 41

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Interest in (new) Exporter for Cinema 4D?

Post by Spanki »

Hi Folks,

For those who may be familiar with my work, I am the author of the Riptide and Riptide Pro Wavefront .obj file I/O plugins for Cinema 4D. I do not currently use Ogre3D for my own use, but stumbled across it a while back and played around with it a bit...

I noticed that Licorna had started work on an Exporter for Cinema 4D but there were several issues with it (axis orientation, bugs, etc.) and it looks like he/she may have lost interest (hasn't posted in a year and a half).

Anyway, I started out with the thought of just helping by fixing a few bugs/errors in that Exporter, but as the fixes/changes started adding up, I scrapped that idea and wrote my own Exporter from scratch, using a lot of existing code-base / framework established in my Riptide plugins...

Image-Image

...(the Skeleton and Material tabs are currently just place-holders). It's actually been on the back-burner for a while now, so I'm a little rusty/foggy on the details, but off the top of my head, it:
  • * correctly re-orients the mesh/axis for use in Ogre3D engine.
    * can export submeshes.
    * properly sets the use32bitindexes flag.
    * properly sets up the usesharedvertices flag.
    * properly exports UV coordinates.
    * properly exports Normals (based on Phong Tag settings including phong-edge-breaks)
    * properly splits the mesh as needed at material boundries (based on Texture Tag 'Selection' restrictions).
    * can scale the mesh up or down on export.
    * exports .mesh.xml file, converts to binary .mesh using external converter.
    * allows the creation of unlimited number of Export option 'Presets'.
    * etc.
...it doesn't currently create any material file, but it does/can set up the material names within the file so that it can link the mesh(es) to the correct materials (per-polygon, based on selection tags). It also doesn't currently export any .skeleton file - I just hadn't got that far yet.

So - as mentioned above - I don't currently have any use/need for the plugin myself, so if I decide to distribute and develop it further, it would be to help put food on my table (this is how I make my living). In other words, a Commercial plugin (no source code), to be licensed for some reasonable fee. This post is a way for me to gauge interest to see if there are enough people interested in paying for such a plugin to make it worth my time to continue developing it...

If there is enough interest, I may release the plugin in it's current form (no material or skeleton file export) for a small fee ($25-$35 USD) and - depending on sales - decide whether to work on the skeleton file export side of things (there would be a price increase for the full version, with a discounted upgrade fee for any registered owners).

If this is something you're interested in, please reply to this thread and/or vote the poll (BTW, the poll questions assume you could play with a 30-day trial before deciding to purchase, so I'm just trying to judge a level of 'general' interest for now).

Thanks,

Keith

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Post by Spanki »

BTW... while I made the "FREE!" poll option sound 'mean' - that was just a joke :). I won't be offended or take it personally in the least if you feel that way - I just have to spend my time on projects that will generate income, so if that's the prevailing/consensus thought, I'll just move on to other projects.

Thanks,

Keith

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Post by Praetor »

It would be greatly appreciated. Here are my thoughts and feedback less on the actual state of the exporter (since I can't play with it, hard to give feedback) and more on the pay issue.

If the plugin works well and adds value, then I'm willing to pay for it. A few years ago when I was squarely in the hobbyist category, I probably wouldn't. But now this is a business choice. A lot of content creators I might work with seem very comfortable in cinema. So, I think you'll find that those of us who are serious about this, and definitely those of us who make a living doing this, will definitely pay for a valuable system.

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Post by Spanki »

Thanks for the feedback Praetor. Back when I just did this stuff as a hobby, I didn't mind giving my work away for free, but I'm now pretty much forced to make ends meet however I can and my options on doing that are more limited.

I do apreciate that a lot of folks are using Ogre3D as a hobbiest and/or because it's free and that there are other ways of getting the files converted (export in some other format, then convert in some other app), so the 'value' issue will boil down to a matter of feature-set and/or vs. convenience of native exporting (which itself will depend on the feature-set).

The current plugin seems to work well - relative to what's implemented so far - and produces optimized, functional ouput. If there is enough interest in the plugin as an on-going effort, I could start looking at how to expand the feature set over time (skeleton files, animations, etc)... it's a bit of a chicken-n-egg situation, but I thought I'd try to first see what the general mind-set was.

Anyway, thanks again for your thoughts.

Keith

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Post by xadhoom »

Hi!

OFusion Pro (3dsMax exporter) has a commercial business model. And we
gladly pay for its functionality and great support (we work in the scientific business).
Maybe you can get a hint on how successfull your exporter may sell from
this example.

Also there was a User Survey a few month ago. Possibly you get an overview of your possible customers there.

http://www.ogre3d.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=43924

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Post by Praetor »

In fact, we had some users a few months ago trying to work with cinema. At the time, the skeleton and animation support wasn't working out and they wasted a lot of their time dealing with their asset pipeline. So, yes, a robust exporter with skeleton and animation support is worth it.

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Post by jacmoe »

Professional tools are always welcome!
We had more than one serious project leave Ogre because of the absence of pro-level tools. :wink:
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Post by Spanki »

Thanks for the info, guys.

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Post by Spanki »

Speaking of skeletons and animations... does anyone have a simple example .c4d file with C4D 'Bone' rigging they can send me? With one or more simple animations would be great, but I'd settle for just the rigging for now.

I have full blown C4D disks for R9 (?), R10.5 and R11, so if you know of some example file on one of those disks you can point me to (or some web-link, or whatever), that would be great as well.

(I have plenty of MOCCA 'Joint' rigged examples, but am not seeing any 'Bone' rigged examples off-hand).

Thanks.

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Post by Praetor »

The team I spoke of used the joint rigging, which is think is hard to map to most things, even in other DCC tools. I think that was one of their main sources of problems. I'll will ask them if they ever converted it to bones.

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Post by Spanki »

Yeah, I think Bones was the original rigging and Joints is the newer means of rigging in C4D. I'm not personally adept at either and haven't done much investigting yet to see what the issues might be, but I would hope to be able to handle either type, eventually.

(I'd love to find a broad-strokes comparison / overview between the two)

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Post by matches81 »

wow, the current mesh exporter you wrote has exactly the functionality the one has I wrote roughly a year ago (I'm only missing the presets, which is a very nice feature, I have to say)... however your UI seems much more comfortable than mine. Never got around to getting a decent UI done. Funny that you actually do the same workaround I did, i.e. exporting to mesh.xml and then converting that using the external converter.
I wrote a material export, too, although it's pretty specific to me, since it exports material scripts that will work with shaders I've written. It also exports all textures needed for the scene.
If you're interested I could try to answer questions on that matter, though you should keep in mind it's been roughly a year and I'm not exactly into the workings of my exporter anymore. I could look it up again, if there's anything you need to know.
Since my exporter was originally meant to export complete scenes from C4D, it also exports lights and their properties (I tried to find a conversion that gives very comparable results in Ogre), object instances, converts HyperNURBS objects etc... my goal was to get a scene in Ogre that is as close as possible to the one created in Cinema4D.

The only real issue with my exporter probably is that the scene description (i.e. object transforms etc) was saved as a simple text file, since I was too lazy to familiarize myself with XML and Ogre's .scene format (I also didn't find any file description for the format, sadly)

Anyway... bones vs joints:
If my understanding of joints is correct, they're basically a different representation for the same thing. Bones have a start and an end point, while joints only define the end points and implicitly act as a start point for the next bone in the hierarchy. So, you should be able to construct bones from the joints, simply by connecting them, right?
If I'm right about this, I simply would create a temporary bone hierarchy from the given joints, only implement a bone exporter and export the temporary bones.
My experience with joints and bones is very limited, though, I only played around with them in C4D a few times.

I voted for the "free" option, btw. In the end I think you might consider a free version for non-commercial use and version with a price-tag attached for commercial users, but that's up to you, of course, and probably would be hard to keep track of. I use C4D for modeling my stuff on the rare occasion (got a student license), but I wouldn't pay for an exporter.
I think most people that are using C4D and Ogre for a hobby project would be reluctant to pay for an exporter and might just use something inferior that just works in some way or the other.

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Post by Spanki »

matches81 wrote:wow, the current mesh exporter you wrote has exactly the functionality the one has I wrote roughly a year ago (I'm only missing the presets, which is a very nice feature, I have to say)... however your UI seems much more comfortable than mine. Never got around to getting a decent UI done. Funny that you actually do the same workaround I did, i.e. exporting to mesh.xml and then converting that using the external converter.
Hi Match, I see that you found the thread - thanks for chiming in. And yeah, without knowing enough about what folks might want to do with the data (and to disconnect plugin updates from SDK updates), I thought it best to just go the external converter route. I may look into doing direct binary output in the future, but it's one less thing to be concerned with for now :).
matches81 wrote:...Anyway... bones vs joints:
If my understanding of joints is correct, they're basically a different representation for the same thing. Bones have a start and an end point, while joints only define the end points and implicitly act as a start point for the next bone in the hierarchy. So, you should be able to construct bones from the joints, simply by connecting them, right?
If I'm right about this, I simply would create a temporary bone hierarchy from the given joints, only implement a bone exporter and export the temporary bones.
My experience with joints and bones is very limited, though, I only played around with them in C4D a few times.
...I've actually been playing around with this since my last post here. There are some additional functional differences between Bones and Joints - Bones are actually individual "Deformer" objects, whereas with Joints, the singular "Skin" object is the deformer - it looks at the Weight Tag on the mesh to get the list of Joints and weighting information.

The biggest problem (or advantage, depending on your perspective) with C4D is the multitudes of methods available for rigging/animating a figure (multiplied by the multitudes of different approaches to implementing a given method). For example, with a Joint rigged figure, you're much less likely to have created any keyframes at all for any Joints - but instead have set up IK with controllers and just animate the controllers.

This breaks things down into two separate issues 1) determining the structure of the skeleton - for Bones, it's likely and might even have to be found directly under the mesh object - for a Joint rigged figure, it could be anywhere in the scene, but the Weight Tag should have enough info to find it. 2) determining animations - With Constraints and Targets and IK Goals and Expresso and 3-4 other modifiers potentially involved, it's pretty much impossible for a plugin to 'divine' the rigging system in place and easily pluck out sparse "keyframe" data. The only recourse is to either specify/impose some known/fixed/supported structure or just parse the results (the resulting matrices of each joint) at every frame (or some combination/option of both).

...Anyway... my approach to learning what's going to be needed for Export was to pause and go write a .skeleton.xml Importer :). It can read in the bones, re-orient them to make sense in C4D's coordinate system and then read in and set up the animation tracks. So, having done that work already, I'll likely add the code to import the mesh.xml files and include an Import plugin as well.

matches81 wrote:I voted for the "free" option, btw. In the end I think you might consider a free version for non-commercial use and version with a price-tag attached for commercial users, but that's up to you, of course, and probably would be hard to keep track of. I use C4D for modeling my stuff on the rare occasion (got a student license), but I wouldn't pay for an exporter.
I think most people that are using C4D and Ogre for a hobby project would be reluctant to pay for an exporter and might just use something inferior that just works in some way or the other.
As mentioned above, I can appreciate that many Ogre users are hobbiests, but the local hobby shop doesn't give away free models and glue and paint supplies either :). If I had other sources of income, I'd likely still be giving away my work for free (as *my* hobby), but that's just not the case anymore - I do this kind of work to (literally) put hot-dogs in the fridge, a few gallons of gas in the car and hopefully keep the lights on in the process.

Obviously there are people like yourself who have the skills and time to write and maintain your own exporter, so my audience will be limited to those that don't, and/or find the feature-set and convienience worth the asking fee. Others will make do with whatever's available for free at any given point in time.

Cheers,

Keith

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Post by matches81 »

Spanki wrote: This breaks things down into two separate issues 1) determining the structure of the skeleton - for Bones, it's likely and might even have to be found directly under the mesh object - for a Joint rigged figure, it could be anywhere in the scene, but the Weight Tag should have enough info to find it. 2) determining animations - With Constraints and Targets and IK Goals and Expresso and 3-4 other modifiers potentially involved, it's pretty much impossible for a plugin to 'divine' the rigging system in place and easily pluck out sparse "keyframe" data. The only recourse is to either specify/impose some known/fixed/supported structure or just parse the results (the resulting matrices of each joint) at every frame (or some combination/option of both).
I think you're right: As soon as there is something more than simple keyframes involved, you would have to let C4D evaluate all the stuff related to animation, to assure you get the same results in the exported animation as the artist got and intended in C4D. When that is done, all that's remaining to do is converting the joints to bones, which is what I can only guess about.
Spanki wrote:Obviously there are people like yourself who have the skills and time to write and maintain your own exporter, so my audience will be limited to those that don't, and/or find the feature-set and convienience worth the asking fee. Others will make do with whatever's available for free at any given point in time.
May I suggest a rather big feature?
I thought about how to implement a more-or-less complete Ogre material export that would be more flexible than my current version (i.e. wouldn't require specific shaders to work with).
My idea was to go about this the following way:
a) The plugin receives a list of files containing Ogre's vertex and fragment program definitions.
b) The plugin provides an additional OgreMaterial tag that allows the user to basically create an Ogre material, including techniques, passes, which VP / FP to use, as well as bind some values to parameters for both the VP and FP.
c) The plugin provides the ability to save / load OgreMaterial tags.
This probably would introduce quite a few follow-up issues, but might be worth doing.

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Post by Spanki »

matches81 wrote:May I suggest a rather big feature?
I thought about how to implement a more-or-less complete Ogre material export that would be more flexible than my current version (i.e. wouldn't require specific shaders to work with).
My idea was to go about this the following way:
a) The plugin receives a list of files containing Ogre's vertex and fragment program definitions.
b) The plugin provides an additional OgreMaterial tag that allows the user to basically create an Ogre material, including techniques, passes, which VP / FP to use, as well as bind some values to parameters for both the VP and FP.
c) The plugin provides the ability to save / load OgreMaterial tags.
This probably would introduce quite a few follow-up issues, but might be worth doing.
Actually, aside from the ability to have the names of the materials exported, I hadn't got around to working out any Material Export issues yet... and I've never written or even much looked at any vertex/fragment programs/shaders yet, so any input (or examples you could send me?) you might have on that subject would be welcome (once I get to that point, at least).

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Post by matches81 »

Spanki wrote:Actually, aside from the ability to have the names of the materials exported, I hadn't got around to working out any Material Export issues yet... and I've never written or even much looked at any vertex/fragment programs/shaders yet, so any input (or examples you could send me?) you might have on that subject would be welcome (once I get to that point, at least).
Sure, no problem. Just send me a PM when you're at that point. ;)

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Post by NxJonny »

I'd be vey willing to pay for this. I'm really in need of a way to export meshes and materials from C4D, as I just can't get used to Blender.
I hope you continue developing this!

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Post by Spanki »

Thanks. Here's a status update:

First off, the target platform is Cinema 4D R10 or later.

(from my original post)
* Can Export .mesh.xml files...
- correctly re-orients the mesh/axis for use in Ogre3D engine.
- exports submeshes.
- properly sets the use32bitindexes flag.
- properly sets up the usesharedvertices flag.
- optionally exports as sharedgeometry
- properly exports UV coordinates.
- properly exports Normals (based on Phong Tag settings including phong-edge-breaks)
- properly splits the mesh as needed at material boundries (based on Texture Tag 'Selection' restrictions).
- can scale the mesh up or down on export.
- exports .mesh.xml file, converts to binary .mesh using external converter.
- allows the creation of unlimited number of Export option 'Presets'.
- etc.

...(new, since then)...

* Can Export .skeleton.xml files...
- properly re-orienting the bones for use in Ogre
- currently does not yet Export skeletal animations (that's the current work-in-progress).

* Can Import .skeleton.xml files...
- re-orients the rigging for use in C4D
- creates C4D "Joint" rig based on the Ogre bone heirarchy, including a "Skin" deformer and a "Weight" tag on each mesh (that properly lists only the Joints that affect that mesh, along with the per-vertex weighting information) - C4D Joints are more flexible and easier to work with than the older C4D "Bone" deformers.
- optionally Imports and sets up all skeletal animations (C4D R10 doesn't support animation 'clips' or multiple timelines, so the animations are simply concatenated, end-to-end).

* Can Import .mesh.xml files...
- (currently) only supports non-shared-geometry files.
- (currently) creates a separate C4D poly mesh object for each ogre SubMesh (using the SubMesh names, if they exist)
- correctly re-orients the mesh(es)
- optionally scaling them up or down (the same scaling is applied to the skeleton)
- optionally importing UV coordinates (in case you had some reason not to)
- optionally importing Normals
- optionally swapping the Y & Z axis (experimental - for those goofy 3DS Max oriented meshes)
- imports the vertex bone assignments (and weights) and 'skins' the mesh to the rig created above.
- optionally creates named (but blank) Materials for you, as well as creating Texture Tags on the resulting meshes, that use those materials (I'm not actually (yet?) filling in color/bitmap file info in the Materials, but at least they are created, named and applied to the appropriate meshes for you)
- individual options to create R10 or later "Layers" for each type of element created (Mesh, UVW Tags, Normal Tags, Joints, Skin Deformers, Weight Tags, Texture Tags, Polygon Selection Tags, Phong Tags, etc).

etc.

I actually don't have a lot of rigged/animated meshes available to me, so before I could write the skeletal animation Export code, I had to generate some :). This resulted in me writing the Import side of things, so I could get some existing Ogre3D mesh/skeleton files, but I also took a quick break and wrote a MilkShape 3D Import plugin (which will become yet another, separate product, once I write the Export side).

Now that I have some rigged/animated characters to use for testing, I'm moving back to the skeletal animation Export side of things... Since C4D (R10, at least) doesn't support animation 'clips', I need some means of knowing how the user wants the timeline broken up into individual animations, so I'm in the process of adding a "Animation Clip Tag" of sorts.

This will be a tag associated with the mesh that will open a dialog to allow you to specify the Name, Start Frame and End Frame of each animation. For any new work, you'd need to add one of these tags and fill it in as needed, but the Importer would create one of these, fill it in and attach it for you (since it's a tag associated with the mesh, the info gets saved and loaded along with the mesh in your project (.c4d) files, so you don't have to fill out this info each time you Export - it's specific to the mesh in question).

Once I have that tag implemented, I can add the code to export the skeletal animations. I also still need to add the code to export the vertex bone assignments (and weighting info) back in the .mesh file. I also still haven't really looked into the .material side of things at all yet, but the names of the materials are exported in the .mesh file.

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Post by Spanki »

Here's "jaiqua" imported and scaled up by 10x, in mid-sneak animation (I loaded the texture by hand after import, to make the bones show up better)...

Image

..and here's what the Object Manager looks like after Import (I only unfolded the right arm and leg trees, so you could see more... I also have one bone hidden that goes from the world origin over to the figure)...

Image

..The "jaiqua_SkelRoot" Null Object is created by the plugin and the Joints are created under that. The root level "jaiqua" Null Object is also created by the plugin. The mesh(es) and the "jaiqua_SkelRoot" are inserted under that, so in effect the entire character and rigging is under that one root Null Object to help manage the scene.

Of course all the objects and tags have been attached to the appropriate Layers as well (color-coding for the layers is random, but easy enough to change after the fact)...

Image
Last edited by Spanki on Wed Dec 17, 2008 12:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by betajaen »

I'll throw my hat in and say I've been using Cinema4D since version 2 on the Amiga, and I would be willing to pay for such an exporter.

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Post by Spanki »

...and here's the "skeleton" from the WorldForge/Ember site, scaled up by 100x, with Y & Z axis swapped, in mid-punch animation...

Image

...in addition to it using a "Z is up" coordinate system, it uses kind of an odd skeletal structure - notice that there is no bone between the knee and the ankle... the feet are parented to a lower (root) level and use a lot of transforms to end up in the right place.

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Post by Spanki »

betajaen wrote:I'll throw my hat in and say I've been using Cinema4D since version 2 on the Amiga, and I would be willing to pay for such an exporter.
Ahh - a fellow Amigan :). I didn't know C4D was around back then, but then again, I was busy writing my "terminal program" (this was before the Internet) called "Access!" :).

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Post by betajaen »

Spanki wrote:
betajaen wrote:I'll throw my hat in and say I've been using Cinema4D since version 2 on the Amiga, and I would be willing to pay for such an exporter.
Ahh - a fellow Amigan :). I didn't know C4D was around back then
I got it for free from a cover disk from Amiga Format. In the first few days to the internet; I actually started a petition/website to release the source code so I could rewrite it in MUI (because the interface was pretty poor at the time). I never got a response though. Silly really because the only language I knew then was AMOS (A basic derivative), C and C++ was a complete mystery.

I do think I have the Cinema4D 2 manual around here some where. :D

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Post by Spanki »

...and finally, here's the "Male Builder" from the WorldForge/Ember site, scaled up 100x and in mid-stride animation...

Image

...note that this model uses several submeshes...

Image

..each submesh gets it's own Skin deformer and a Weight Tag, filled in with the joints/weights used for that submesh (if I was using the older "Bone" deformers, there would be 9 complete copies of the rig in the scene - using a "Joint" rig, the submeshes all share the same joints).
Last edited by Spanki on Wed Dec 17, 2008 12:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by jacmoe »

I just want to say that I am seriously considering buying Cinema 4D just to get my hands on your exporter/importer! It's great! :)
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