Animating a Holiday Ribbon Tree

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Instructor Sean Frangella

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In this holiday-themed tutorial, learn to create a 3D ribbon tree animation in Cinema 4D using keyframe animation, MoGraph Effectors, and 3D rendering techniques.

In this holiday-themed tutorial, learn to create a 3D ribbon tree animation in Cinema 4D. This tutorial covers creating the ribbon animation using keyframe properties and traditional animation principles, and then creating the ornament animation using MoGraph cloners and Effectors. For the final rendering, we’ll cover render tips in Cinema 4D such as Reflectance and the Variation Shader, and final post-effects in Adobe After Effects.



- Hey everyone, Sean Frangella here with a new holiday theme Cinema 4D tutorial covering how to create, animate and render this 3D animation of ribbon twirling into a tree with some fun Mograph ornaments dropping into place. Here we are looking at our final animation and if we take a look at our Cinema 4D project file, we could see we have this set up by animating a helix, adding some Mograph animations to drop in these ornaments and then adding some nice touches for our lighting, texturing and camera work to set up our final shot. So let's get started with this one by creating a new file. First, let's get our render settings set up at HD resolution on the physical render. So we'll change this width and height to 1920 by 1080, lock that ratio and change this to physical. And then to start building this, we are going to base this of a helix. So we go to our spline tools and grab this helix, we'll drop that in and then we want to change the plane from XY to XZ, so it's pointing vertically. And with our helix, there's a lot of additional settings that we can change beyond just our start and end angle of how tall it is where it kind of still looks more like a coil. But we have a lot of these radial bias height and height bias settings where if we shape this out, you can really see how you can go beyond just that coil look and build something that feels more like a tree. So let's do some whole numbers so we can keep track of this. We'll take this down a bit and set our start radius to about 215. Our end angle we're pretty close, but let's just keep going up and we'll go up to 2700 so this is pretty tall. You can see how it's starting to work out and then this radial bias we don't need that much. Let's go down to about 55 and that will start nicely. Our height, we can make it a bit taller so it feels more like that tree. So we'll go up to 450 and pull the camera back and then our height bias we can take this up a little to 45. Then we just need to make sure this end radius is at zero and it will end with just a point and you can see that's starting to feel like our tree concept. Next to create the geometry for our ribbon, we can grab a rectangle and this helix and drop them both into a sweep to sweep a shape around this. So to get that started I'm going to grab a rectangle, and this will be the shape that goes around this helix so we can scale this down so it's a thin little ribbon. So I'll put this at 24 width and 2 height and we can check on Rounding. And what that's going to do if we punch in here and take a look, that's going to round the edges and we'll get a nice rounded, smooth edge to that ribbon. We could take that down to .5 the and it'll be a little more realistic. Then we want to grab a sweep and we can drop both of these in with a rectangle on top and that will sweep our rectangle around our helix and we get our geometry. But we can see we have an issue. Things aren't really pointing in the right direction and a quick way to address that is if we create a rail spline within this sweep. The way we can do that is if we grab our helix and instance it by going up to Instance. It will create an instance of that helix and we can use that as the rail spline by dragging it into our sweep hierarchy. It looks like everything disappears, but if we move our helix up or down you can see that's controlling the direction in which this geometry is pointing. And by default, it also controls the scale. If we don't want it to control the scale and retain control of the scale with our rectangle, we can go to our sweep and uncheck use rail scale. That way how far away this is isn't going to impact the scale and if we wanted to make this ribbon taller, we could still do that on our rectangle. If we go up to display, Gouraud Shading Lines we could take a look at our geometry. It's a little rough right now and if we want to adjust that a bit, we can take a look at our helix and add some more sub divisions. So if we put this up to 200 and we'll just double it. That should be good. It will look smooth and round. If we press NA, we can get back to just our Gouraud shading and that looks nice without adding too much geometry. Now how we're going to create that bouncy, unwrapping, twisting animation for this, we're going to animate our start angle which will unwrap it and make it grow as well as our radial bias and height bias which will help to create that bouncing secondary animation that we saw in our example. So let's start with our start angle right here. What we can do is start with it unwrapped so on frame zero, we are going to set a key frame for pretty high. Let's go up to 2700 and we'll set a key frame for this. And what I want to do is have it anticipate first so it will snap back a bit before it fully unwinds. So on frame 20 we're going to go back a bit. We'll set this to 2850 and set a key frame and then we want it to quickly wind back to that tree so on frame 55, we'll just set this back to 0 and again update our key frame. Now if we back up and play this, it's working pretty nicely, it's looking good. If we look at our timeline here and press tab to look at our F-curves we can see how this is animating and this is a good start but we can adjust these curves to push this even further. So let's grab this first one and have it just go smoothly out and then after it anticipates back and holds here for a second. Let's adjust this one by holding Shift and dragging left and we'll have it really snap out of there quickly. Then pull this last one and have it really ease in. So now if we back up and play, the key frames are the same but we are really pushing our easing and working that anticipation and then snapping to our final state. Then we can just close our timeline for now. Now to create that secondary bounciness and go a little beyond, this just animating in and stopping, we can animate our radial bias and our height bias to push that further and have it really bounce and add that nice little secondary animation. So let's start with our radial bias. On frame 45 as this is animating, let's adjust this so it's still wider and we'll set it to 25 and make a key frame and then after our ribbon is done animating, let's create that secondary animation on frame 62. Let's set it to 45, so it will be bringing in and we'll set our key frame and that'll help to keep the animation going and make everything look smoother. Next, we can animate our height bias so it kind of bounces in and there's some feeling of weight as this wraps around. So let's go to that same earlier key frame when the radial bias starts on frame 45 and we'll turn this up so it's a bit higher. We'll set this to 70, set a key frame and then at frame 60 right before it's all brought in on the radial bias, tone this down so it's dropping and we'll set this to 45. Update our key frame. And then as it lands we want to go ahead in time and have a couple additional bounces so it looks like it's smoothly slowing down. So on frame 69, we'll turn this up a bit so it's bouncing up to 50. Update our key frame and we'll go ahead a bit. Let's go to about frame 78 and we'll bring it down a bit so it's still bouncing, but not all the way to where it was because it'd be slowing down. So we'll go to 46, update that key frame, and then let's go almost to the end of our animation, frame 85. We'll put it up just 1% up to 47 and update that. So then after it's done wrapping and dropping into place, we get some nice little bouncy smooth animation that slows down. As it goes in, it really feels like this thing is winding and then has a bit of weight as it drops in and recover a bit as it settles into place. Let's take a look at that track on the timeline by right clicking, go to animation, show F-curves. Here we can see what that curve looks like and how that animates and then slows down a bit and we can pull these curves as well to really help with that springiness. So let's grab this middle key frame and just pull both ends away a bit and grab both of these and tighten them up a bit. If we play this now and focus on that part of the animation, it's going to really help feel like it's bouncing and slowing down as it eases and settles into that final position. And we can just close out this timeline. Now that we have this in place, let's quickly rename these elements so we can keep everything straight when we start to reuse some of these pieces later. So I'll call this ribbon Sweep. I'll call the helix Ribbon and I'll call our instance Ribbon Instance. Next, we can create those ornaments and the animation of them dropping directly into place as our ribbon is unwrapping. So to get that started I'm going to grab a sphere and this will represent our first ornament and I'm going to take that radius down to 12 centimeters and we can grab a cloner from MoGraph cloner and we want to clone this sphere. Now what we want to do to get it to go around our ribbon is go to cloner and I'm going to change mode to object and for our object we'll use our ribbon. That's going to clone around our ribbon and we can turn up our count to add more. So let's put this at about 70. We can see they're bunching up a bunch at the top. So what we want to do is change distribution to even and that'll space it out and if we want to make sure there's not any on the top or bottom exactly we can adjust our start and end just a bit. That way we know they're not intersecting or ending right where it starts. We go at end 99.5 just so they're wrapped right around, but not hitting the beginning or end. Now we want to have some variation in the size of these and we want them to be hanging from the tree as if they were on hooks. So what we want to do is first put this sphere which we can rename Ornament into a null by pressing Alt or Option G and that's going to make sure that it has a container. So when we start to add some effectors for the animation, things stay in place and we can rename this Hook. And then to get some randomness in our size, we duplicate this whole hook and ornament by holding command or Ctrl and dragging up. Then on this ornament, I will make it small, I'll make it 8 centimeters and we'll duplicate that whole system again and on this one I'll make it bigger than the original, so I'll go to 14. That way we have some variation. Now if we go back to our cloner, instead of iterate our clones we can change it to random. That way they are not going to all be stacking up in a row. And we'll also want to add that same ribbon instance to our rail of our cloner so everything is working together correctly. Now to create the animation of them falling into place on our cloner we can use a plain effector. So we'll go to MoGraph, Effector, Plain. And by default on that plain effector, if I go to parameter, it's just moving them just a 100 in Y and you can see they're going up directly vertically. Now that was why the rail spline was important on our cloner. If you can see if we deleted that, the plainer works different way and even if we move Y, they're kind of shooting out. So it's really important that we have that ribbon instance and therefore the rail of our cloner. Now what we can do with our plain effector is put them above frame so they'll animate down into frame but we don't want them just all dropping in a big clump like this. So we'll first get them above frame and then we can go to falloff and I'll change this from infinite to linear. Change our orientation to Y plus so it's pointing in the right direction, and then we can turn up our falloff to 100%. So now if we go to coordinates of this plain effector and animate that on Y, we can push them up and drop them into place. So let's do that. When this animation is close to done at frame 55 and on the Y coordinate for that plain effector, push them all out of frame, set a key frame and let's go ahead in time to when this is almost done at frame 85 and we'll just pull that down so they animate into place and just set a new key frame. Now we need them to be hanging off of the tree and that's why it was really important that we set each ornament into a null object because now if we grab those ornaments separately, hang off those hooks, we can just pull them down and everything is still going to work correctly just like we wanted it to. And now that we have that all set up, we might want to adjust the size of our ornaments a bit. We can see that we have some little ones that are a little too small, so we might want to go to that smallest one and put that back at 10 and that looks a bit better. Now if we back this up and play as those are animating in, we can see we can get some nice animation and they'll follow that bounciness that we key framed on the ribbon. One last thing we can add to that to make it even smoother and bouncier is if we go to our cloner and we'll add a delay effectors, we'll go to MoGraph, Delay. And on this effector instead of Blend, let's set it to Spring and now you can see as they animate and kind of bounce down, we get a little bit more additional animation of that kind of popping into place and we can just turn the strength of that down to 25 so it's not so pronounced. And that will give us some nice little bonus animation. Now if we back up, we can see it's cloning those the entire time and we don't want to see those ornaments until near the end when they start to fall into place. What we can do is just go to our cloner and under Basic we'll key frame visible in editor and renderer off and than on. So on frame 54, I'll set these to off and make a key frame for both and then go ahead one frame to 55 and check both of these on, update my key frame. That way they are not visible until we want to see them when they start to drop into place and animate in. Now to complete the animation for our shot, let's get a camera in here and create a bit of camera movement so we can adjust how our shot is framed up from the beginning to the end. So I'm going to grab a camera, jump into my camera view with my camera bottom and on my camera, under Object I'm going to change my focal length from 36 up to 50 so the scene looks a little flatter which works well for this one. And then I can just pull my camera back and frame up this final shot and then I'm going to go to when this is close to animating in at frame 75 and on my camera under Coordinates, I'm going to key frame all position values so that'll lock in my key frame. And then I'm going to go to the beginning and we'll frame up the top of this ribbon so we can have a nice little pullback of our camera. So we'll frame this up, update all those position key frames and if I scrub through, we get some nice animation. But we want the camera to kind of pop back as this initial animation is happening right before it starts to really unwind. So let's go to frame 20, and again, I'll pull back in frame this ribbon up so that it all starts to be in place and just update those key frames. That way our camera kind of quickly pulls back in Z, frames this up, and then slowly pulls back as this animation is happening and locks into place for our final shot. If we look at this from the top and move back a bit, we can see what's going on with our camera over time. It starts pretty close, quickly goes back and then we just smooth into this last little pullback in Z as our animation completes and all of our ornaments bounce into place. Now that we have all of our animations set up, let's take a look at our scene and get to texturing, lighting and rendering this. So what we want to going to do is texture our ribbon material, kind of a satin material, the ornaments with reflective materials and then create some interesting lighting around this to really give it the right feel for the holidays. To get started with the ribbon material what I can do is go to my content browser and search for satin and there's actually a really good cloth satin material that comes in our content browser. So I'll drag that into my materials and then on my object manager, I'll drag that onto my ribbon. And if we do a quick Alt R and take a look at this with our area render, we can see that creates a really nice satin material on this ribbon. That's already starting to look good even before we get some lights in our scene. Now there's a couple little things we'll want to change on our texture tag to improve this a bit more. So that this material doesn't stretch, we can adjust our UV length. Let's make the tiles on U .5 and then let's bring up tiles on V up to 3. That way it's not going to appear so stretched. And we'll also want to turn off use UVW for bump. That way we won't get any artifacts with our bump. One last little thing we'll want to adjust in our material if we open this up, on the bump, it's being created procedurally and we want to go into this layer and jump into our noise layer right here and make sure our space is changed from texture to UV. We can do this same thing on this other one and that way it's not going to slip as much when this ribbon is animating and twisting around. And we can just close that out. Next, let's create some materials for our ornaments to get some colorful red, green and silver reflective shiny materials on these ornaments. To do that, let's create a material from scratch, we'll go to Create New Material and we can drag this onto our ornament, cloner system and let's open this up and I'll rename this Ornaments. How we can create one material that has three different colors on it seeded randomly throughout this cloner system is for our color, if we go to Texture, Effect, Variation and open this up. To take a look at what this is doing to my ornaments, I'll turn off my ribbon sweep for right now and do a quick picture viewer render with Shift R. We can see it's creating variation based on our settings. So to get complete control of that rather than this pastel color system, what we can do is replace this gradient with red, green and silver colors. So I'll open up this blue and change it to a reddish color. Click to create a new color and I'll open this up and change this to a green. On our gradient, we can click this little arrow to open up our gradient properties and we can change interpolation from smooth not to none. Then it's just going to give us our solid colors and we don't have to worry about adjusting our gradient further. Now to get this to blend correctly onto our ornaments, we need to turn up our gradient blend all the way up to 100 and change our gradient mode from Normal to Replace so it replaces our original color. And then we're going to take random color from 100 down to 0. And we can see in our preview now it's sequencing only at red, green and this whitish silver color.and if we do another Shift R, picture viewer render we can see how that comes out and so we can get some nice reflection happening on these. Let's go to our reflectance channel and we'll delete our default specular and we'll add a new Beckmann layer of reflection. We can open up our Layer Fresnel, we'll add a new fresnel setting. Under Dialectic, we'll grab the preset for Plexiglass and that will give us a nice base reflection. Once we start to add some lights, we'll get some nice reflection bouncing around. We'll get some nice reflection and specular hits on those ornaments. And I'll just close all those out now, so we can work on lighting next and turn back on our ribbon sweep. So let's grab a light and for this I'm going to use an area light and this will be our first key light. So let's take a look at this scene from the top and we'll pull this light over into the side and we want it to point at our tree and where it's sitting on our scene. So what we can do is create a null. So I'll go to Create Object, Null and we can call this Lights Null. For our light, I'm going to add a target tag by right click Cinema 4D Tags, Target and then we'll drag that lights null into that and that area light is always going to point at that light null. That way we can keep a consistent point for our lighting. Now for this first light, let's give it a little bit of a warm color for our main color and that little tint will help a bit. Let's make this light quite a bit bigger. We'll go 800 by 800 and just pull it away a bit. Now how we can really affect the way these ornaments are appearing and reflecting is we're going to bump up this visibility multiplier to 500. Turn on Show in Reflections, and we can also change our falloff from None to Inverse Square, which will be physically accurate. And then, if we want shadows to be cast within here, we can go to our light and turn shadows onto Area. And let's do a quick render of this. First let's set our render settings temporarily to halves. So we'll divided by two for our width and height and then we'll do a quick Shift R to render to picture viewer. That's going to work nicely for our key light. Let's keep going. What I'm going to do is rename this key light real quick and then I'm going to duplicate this by holding Command or Ctrl and dragging. You can see it's going to point at our object and you can see the nice hits and the satin material. I'm just going to move this on the other side and take it a bit below and it's going to keep pointing at our target which is nice. We'll counter that key light with a fill light here with a bit of a blue and we'll call this Fill Light and do a quick render to take a look at this. You can see the difference between the two with just the key light and now our fill light is really filling out those shadows a bit and adding some nice definition on our ornaments. Let's close that out and we'll create one more light by duplicating our fill light. And I'll move this to the back and above and we'll change this color to kind of a reddish color to go along with our holiday theme and this will be our rim light. So I'll rename that Rim Light. And we can get some nice three point lighting set up. Let's do another quick picture viewer render to take a look. And those three lights really blend together well to create some nice basic lighting for our tree. If we want to tighten up our lighting setup a bit, we can just grab our lights and we'll just pull these all a bit closer so we can see a bit more of that reflection and kind of evenly brighten up our scene. We'll take a look at this again and that's starting to work well and get towards the look that we want for this project. Now the last thing we'll want to do is render this out as a sequence and do some final color grading and post production effects in After Effects. So how we can set that up is open up a render settings. First make sure under output we are at 1920 by 1080. So we can just punch that in. And we want to make sure we output all frames. Then under save, we want to pick our format. If we want to do an image sequence we could go as high as OpenEXR if we wanted full 32-bit color. Let's just go with png for this one where we can go up to 16-bit and get a bit quick of a render. Now since we want to composite this, we want to add an alpha channel and we can do a straight alpha since we'll be adding a white background behind it, and right now it's on black so it blends together better. I have my folder where my project is. What I could do is use the token system to have it automatically name that sequence based on my project name. So I'll click on Project Name and make sure there's a slash in there before that so it picks the directory. Then I can do a Shift R to start rendering this out to picture viewer. And as it completes the sequence, you'll see it's automatically renaming each image based on that file name and adding the frame number. All right, so we have our project that has finished rendering out as a png sequence with an alpha channel that we can see here, that's ready to go. So what we can do is take this in, bring it over into After Effects, we'll add our final color correction and effects. So how to get this into After Effects is I'm going to go to File, Import File and I'll locate the folder where that png sequence has saved out and we can see that it's continued naming those files through our token system and I can grab any of these and just make sure png sequence is checked and click Open. That's going to bring it in as footage. And to get this into new composition with these settings, I can take this footage and drag it into my new composition icon right here. That's going to create a new composition with those project settings as we can see it here. Now the first thing I'll want to do is change my overall project settings from 8-bit right here to 32-bit. And we can change our working space to SRGB so all of the color space settings are consistent. That way when we start adding some effects, we'll be able to go up to 32 bits of color and get a wider spectrum. So the first thing I want to do with this is brighten it up a bit and push the color grading. So what I'm going to do with that is on my footage, I'll grab the effect Curves that I can type in and drag that on and I just want to create a quick S curve to really push the contrast. Then I can go to the Red channel only and just push the red up a bit so we really get the red popping quite a lot. And that'll go a long way with really creating some life for this. Now another thing we'll want to add is motion blur in post production. We can see this is moving pretty quickly at the beginning and if it was moving that quickly in footage, we would get motion blur. We can add that in during post production and we can do that in one of the two ways. If we wanted to use the built-in effects, we could get Pixel, Motion Blur out of our effects and we'll drag that on. That's going to create that post production motion blur. We'll want to put that above our curves. So that's the first effect that's added. And if we take a look at a couple frames here, we can see how that's calculating. Now another option is ReelSmart Motion Blur, which I'll come up under RSMB if you have that installed. It's a plugin by RE:Vision Effects. And if we drag that on and turn off Pixel Motion Blur, it works pretty similarly. It just gives you a little higher quality of a result. So it's a good option for adding post production blur. Either one of these would work though, and that's really going to help this feel a lot more true to life as it would be if it was footage this was captured on. Now we need a white background and we can add that by going to Layer, New Solid. I'll call this BG1 and change our color just complete white and then drop that below our ribbon. Since we rendered this out on an alpha channel, that'll show through our footage. And the last thing we can do to this as a post production effect is add those little glows that we saw. There's a couple ways to do that, too. We could just grab our default Glow and drag that onto our footage and just adjust these settings here so it's not so intense. And that'll help us just get a little bit of glowing and shininess on our footage. Another third party option would be Starglow, which is by Red Giant. If we drag that on, it's a really cool way to create streaks of light out of our lightness of our footage. And we can just get a bit of those and it can create a really good nice holiday glinty look for this project. Again, either those will work if you're using built-in effects in After Effects or want to grab some third party options. From there, we could render this out and that would complete our project of building out this ribbon tree animation, dropping some ornaments in and even adding some post production color grading and effects in After Effects. This has been Sean Frangella teaching you how to create this Cinema 4D animation from scratch. Thanks for watching. I will see you at the next tutorial.
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