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Tutorial: Using Splines in Cinema 4D to Create 2D Looks

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Learn how to use splines in Cinema 4D with this helpful tutorial.

Sometimes After Effects can't pull off the exact look you're going for with ease, and when that happens you'll need to add another tool to your arsenal. In this lesson Joey is going to show you how to take a path created in Adobe Illustrator and turn that into a spline in Cinema 4D. You can then make something that looks like a piece of 2D vector art in Cinema 4D, but have greater control over how to animate it than you would in After Effects.

This tick may look very specific on the surface, but it gives you a few tricks that you can add to your workflow that you might find handy one day.

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Tutorial Full Transcript Below 👇:

Joey Korenman (00:11):

Hey there, Joey here for school of motion. And in this lesson, we are going to take a look at a neat little trick you can use in cinema 4d to get a flat vector looking shape, to animate on with easing using splines. Now you might be thinking that animating something with a 2d look in cinema. 4d is a bit of overkill, but the look that I created in this video is much easier to pull off in a full 3d program. And by the end of the lesson, you'll understand why don't forget to sign up for a free student account. So you can grab the project files from this lesson, as well as assets from any other lesson on the site. And now let's jump in.

Joey Korenman (00:47):

So what I did was I first figured out what shape I wanted to end up with. Um, so I just picked a star, um, just cause it was easy. It's built in to cinema and you don't have to use a star. You just need a spline. Um, the one limitation of this is that if you have any sort of curved shape, um, that curvature will not come through with this effect. So right now this only works with shapes that have straight edges. Um, but it could be any shape. It could be something you've created an illustrator, um, or it could be something you've done in cinema or, or, you know, one of the built-in shapes. So we're going to start with a star, let's make it a five pointed star. Okay. And this is the shape we're going to end up with now, the way that I'm going to do this is using MoGraph.

Joey Korenman (01:44):

Um, and it'll start to make sense once I show you. Um, and hopefully this also gives you some other ideas about what MoGraph can be used for. So what I want to do is essentially have clones on every single point, uh, every vertex of this star. So the easiest way to do that is to use a cloner. So let's add a cloner and I don't actually want any objects that will be visible on the points of the star. So instead of using an object, I'm going to use a no, and I'm going to put that in all inside the cloner, and I'm going to set that cloner instead of linear mode, I'm going to set this to object, all right. And object mode, we'll just copy. It will make clones on whatever object you drag into this field. So if we drag the star into that field and it's kinda tough to see because Knowles, uh, don't really show up as anything by default, they're just little points.

Joey Korenman (02:41):

So if we click on that, no, um, and this is a good tip with a lot of objects and cinema. If you look at this display option, you can have those NOLs show up as different things. So instead of a dot, why don't we set this to a diamond? Now we can actually see where the NOLs are. It gives us a better idea. Um, one other quick, little thing you need to do in the cloner is, um, you know, so this is actually working correctly already. Um, but for different shapes, um, it might not work, um, because what might happen is the clones might be placed in the middle of some of, some of the vertexes. It might be on an edge instead of at each point. Um, the way to ensure that the clones end up on each point is to come down here to distribution.

Joey Korenman (03:30):

And instead of count, um, you just set this to vertex. So there you go. Um, so now, uh, regardless of what the shape is, the Knolls will end up on the vertexes of that shape. All right. So this is where we want those NOLs to end up now, where do we want them to start? Well, we want them to start basically all in the center here. Um, so it would be as if we scaled that star down to zero. Um, but we, we don't want, we also don't want the Knowles to scale evenly down to zero. Like we don't literally want this start a scale down like this. Um, what we want is for this snow to end up here, this null to end up here so that when they animate outwards, it will look like the star is sort of growing on instead of just scaling up in, in kind of a simple way.

Joey Korenman (04:21):

So what I worked out was I basically want to morph between this star and another shape that is scaled all the way down to zero. That has the same number of points as this star. So what I, the easiest way I figured out to do this is take this star and make it editable. Um, and in cinema you can just hit the C key and it makes it editable. The reason I did that is because now I can go over to the structure menu here and it will show me exactly how many points are in that star. So we're starting with 0.0, it goes up to 0.9. So that means there's 10 points total. Um, and it's pretty easy. I could've just counted, but if you had a really complicated shape with a hundred points in it, you probably wouldn't want to sit here and try to count them.

Joey Korenman (05:09):

Um, so that's a quick way to find out how many points are in an object. Um, so the next thing we need to do is create another spline with 10 points that is sort of set up the way we want these Knowles to look in the beginning of the animation. So what I found was that if you go to the spline menu and pick the inside polygon spline, um, you can easily set the, uh, the number of sides to 10, which will also add 10 points. And you can, you can see just by looking at it now that you have a one-to-one correspondence of, you know, this Nolan appear, the snow will end up there. And if I set the radius of this, of the spline to zero, then essentially all we want is to move the Knowles from this point on the star, to this point on the end sided polygon spline.

Joey Korenman (06:06):

All right. Um, so now this end polygon spline, we don't actually need to make editable. Um, we can if we want to, um, but it actually doesn't matter. And, um, we could even go as far as, uh, you know, once we find out the number of points on this star, by making it editable, we can hit undo, and then we can, uh, keep it editable. So if we change our mind about the number of points we want, you can actually keep all of these things editable, which is kinda cool. Um, to keep this simple, I'm not gonna do that. I'm just gonna leave the star editable. Um, and then I'm going to leave this end side the way it is. All right. So what I want to do is now move these Knowles from the star onto this spline, because that's the starting position of where we want those NOLs.

Joey Korenman (06:52):

So what I'm going to do is in the cloner, I'm going to switch the object from the star to the enzyme. All right. And what you'll see is that now all of those NOLs are right in the middle there because that inside has a radius of zero. So now if we go to the cloner, um, I need a way to move those Knowles back to the star and have it be animatable. So what you can use is a spline effect. So Manu, you have to have the cloner selected. Otherwise the spline effector won't actually affect it. So we're going to get a MoGraph effector, spline, effector. All right. And what I like to do is try to label my effectors in a way where I know what they're doing, because you're going to have multiple effectors in this scene, and it may get a little complicated.

Joey Korenman (07:42):

So this spline effector is, is basically what I'm going to animate to move the Knowles to their end position. So I'm just going to call this spline dot end and that'll just help me remember, um, what that effect is doing. All right, I'm going to move the, uh, the effector underneath my cloner. That's just a workflow thing I do. It just helps me keep things straight. Um, all right. So now, if I, uh, if I click on this effector here, um, it's going to add it right now. It's not doing anything because you have to tell it which spline you want it to use to affect your clones. Um, so I'm going to drag the star spline into the spline field and you can see it has now moved those NOLs back onto the star. Okay. Um, and that is, uh, that is because right now the strength of this effect is at 100. All right. Now we're when we actually animate this, we're going to animate in the fall off tab and we're going to animate the weight fall off. Okay. And you can see, as I do this, we already have the animation we want, we are moving those NOLs from their initial position to their final position.

Joey Korenman (08:55):

All right. Um, so this isn't very interesting yet because it's, they're all moving at exactly the same speed and kind of this very stiff manner. Um, so the next step is going to be to randomize the speed that those NOLs are moving. Um, so first I'm going to add a, I'm going to add some frames to this animation. So let's just make this a 60 frame animation. Um, and let's put some key frames on this so we can get this thing to start animating. All right. So it's going to start at zero. So I'm going to put a key frame here and, uh, you can just hold command on the Mac and click the little key frame button here, and it will turn red letting you know, there's a key frame. Uh, now I am working in a scene that is 24 frames a second.

Joey Korenman (09:42):

So if I wanted this start open up in one second, I would move to frame 24, turn this up to 100 and said another key frame. All right, sorry about that. I had to pause the screen capture for a second because I have two and a half year old and she decided to run up and try to scare me. So anyway, well, we're going to preview what we just did. All right. So if we hit FAA preview this, you'll see that the Knolls are now moving from their start position to their end position over one second. All right. And this is pretty boring. Um, one of the things that I always always do, and I'm going to do a whole tutorial about this, um, is I never leave the animation curves, uh, at their default setting because usually that's not what you want. Um, and I'll show you what I mean by that.

Joey Korenman (10:36):

I'm going to change the layout to animation. So you guys can see my timeline. So you can see, I have a key frame at zero and a key frame at 24. Um, if you have your mouse over the timeline and you hit the space bar, you will change to F curve mode. And now if I click on, uh, if I click on my spline, uh, and the weight property, which is the property that has the key frames on it, you can see the animation curve for that property. And then if you hit H uh, it will zoom in and sort of maximize your screen real estate. So you can see that curve. So what this curve is telling me is that I've, I'm easing out of the initial position. You can see it starts out flat and get steeper and flat means it's moving slower as it gets steeper, it's accelerating, and then it flattens out again.

Joey Korenman (11:29):

So it's easing out and easing in what I actually want is for this star to kind of burst open at the beginning and then really slow down at the end. So instead of easing out, I actually want it to, I want to take this handle and pull it above the curve. When this is below the curve, it means it's slowly accelerating when it starts above the curve like this, it means it actually out faster and slows down over time. All right. So I'm going to crank this pretty high. Then I'm going to come over to the last key frame and I'm going to hold the command key, which will basically let me drag this point. Um, and, and if I let go, you'll see, I can start to move this up and down to which I don't want. I want to keep it flat. So if I hold the command key, it will keep it, um, parallel like this.

Joey Korenman (12:22):

So I'm going to pull this out a little bit further. So now you can see, it starts out really fast by the time we're nine frames in, it's almost completely open, and then it takes another 15 frames to finish. And if I preview this, you'll see that it's got a much more burst kind of feel to it, which is cool. I'm going to, uh, turn this preview range down a little bit, just so we can loop this a few times and see if we that's feeling pretty good. It might be a little bit fast. So what I'm going to do is just pull this handle back a little bit, lower this guy, just a little bit. We'll preview that. All right. That feels pretty good.

Joey Korenman (13:07):

All right, cool. So now we've got a nice feeling sort of opening star here. Um, the next thing we need to do is randomize when those NOLs are actually moving. So I'm going to go back to my startup mode here, my startup layout. Um, so when the reason that we animated the, uh, the weight here, um, instead of just animating the strength is because every, every clone that you make with a cloner has a weight. Um, and that weight is generally at 100%. When you make a cloner, every clone has a weight of 100%, meaning that every effector you put on that cloner will affect each clone 100%. Um, if there was a way to have each clone have a different weight, let's say this clone has 50% weight, and this clone has 100% weight. What that means is that the spline effector will then affect this clone only 50%, but it will affect this one, 100%.

Joey Korenman (14:15):

Um, and this took me a while to get the hang of, and it actually, there's a, there's a great tutorial on grayscale gorilla that I highly recommend that sort of made this clear for me. Um, so what I'm going to do is show you how to randomize the weights. So what you're going to want to do is, um, add a random effect or to the scene. So we're gonna go to MoGraph effect or random, uh, and in order for that random effector to actually do anything to this cloner, um, you're going to have to make sure in the effectors tab for the cloner, that the random effector is actually in this box. The reason it's not is because I did not have cloner selected when I added this that's okay. I can actually just click and drag this into the box, and now the random effector will affect the clones.

Joey Korenman (15:03):

Um, now one thing that's very important when you do this is to make sure that you have the right order of factors, um, when you want to have random weights on your clones, so that effectors you put on after that will affect them at different times, you have to have the weights affected first. So we're going to take this random effector. We're going to move it up. So now it will, this effector will work before the spline. All right, now I'm going to rename this random dot wait, all right, again, so I can help myself remember what I'm using it for. Um, and what we're going to do is go into the parameters tab by default, it's affecting the position, which we don't want. So let's turn that off and then we want to affect the weight transform. Um, so this is basically the variation that you want to introduce to the weights of your clones.

Joey Korenman (16:02):

So let's just say 50%. All right. So you can see already now the NOLs have kind of moved they're in different spots now. Um, and this is, this is illustrating exactly what the weights are doing. This clone here. This Knoll is, is exactly where it was before. So the weight of this Knoll is probably still 100%. However, this one is sort of in the middle. It's not at the beginning, it's not at the end, it's in the middle. So it's weight. It might be around 50%. So the spline effector is only affecting this snow 50%, which is why it's in the position. It is. Um, so how can we use this to our advantage? Um, let's go back to our spline effector and our falloff tab. Um, so if we go back to the first frame, you'll see that now we have a problem. The Knowles, uh, are not all in the right spot.

Joey Korenman (16:56):

The reason for that is because, um, when you randomize the weight, um, it's randomizing that weight in both directions. And what I mean is some clones have 50% less weight to them. Other clones have 50% more weight to them. So instead of making our, our range of weights zero to 50, it's actually made it negative 50 to 150. So it's sort of added range to that. So the way we have to deal with that is instead of animating from zero to 100, we actually have to animate from negative 50. So I'm a type in negative 50, and you can see that this icon has turned orange, meaning I've changed it. So if I hit command and click that, now we'll set that as a key frame, we then go to frame 24 again, and instead of 100, I now have to go all the way to one 50.

Joey Korenman (17:55):

All right. And you can see now everything's made it to the end. All right. So if we preview that, now you can see that we are getting the result we want, where all of the NOLs are ending up in the right spot. And they're, they're moving at different paces too, which is great. That's exactly what we want. Um, it looks like our animation curve may have gotten changed when I made the, uh, the tweaks. So I'm just going to go back to the, uh, the spline. Wait, um, I'm still an F curve mode. I'm gonna hit H and you can see that it's a reset my curve that I worked so hard on, and it's back to the default. So I'm just going to fix this again really quickly so that we can get that nice popping kind of animation. Cool. All right. So now it kind of bursts open and then sort of eases into those last few, those last few Knowles.

Joey Korenman (18:51):

All right. Um, so now we've got an animation that we are feeling pretty good about. The, the last thing I always like to do is add a little bit of, um, a bounce to this because these things are flying out so fast. It feels like they should sort of overshoot a little bit and then land in into place. Um, and there's an, a really easy way to do that with MoGraph, which is to add a delay effector. So if we click on the cloner, go to MoGraph effector delay, alright, and this delay, I'm going to rename delay springy. Cause that's what I'm going to use it for by default, the delay effector is set to blend mode. Um, and if you look, what blend mode does is it sort of helps. It helps ease things into place. It smooths things out a little bit, which looks nice.

Joey Korenman (19:46):

It's actually a pretty nice looking animation. Um, however, if I change this to spring, you'll see that now it gives these things a nice little bounce, and I'm going to turn up the strength of that a little bit. So we get a little bit of a more funky kind of animation. All right. So the last step to get this animation, um, to actually create an object for us, um, we now need to just create a spline that sort of traces all of these Knowles. And I just gave you a hint as to how we're going to do that. We're going to use a tracer. Um, so what I'm going to do is go to MoGraph add a tracer. Um, now if you've never used a tracer before it can do a few different things, um, what I'm going to use it for is to basically take all of these objects and connect them and create a spline.

Joey Korenman (20:41):

So to do that, you need to set the tracing mode to connect all objects. And then in this trace link box, you tell it what objects you want to link. Um, so if you have a cloner, all you have to do is drag the cloner in there. And what I'm going to do is the, uh, our original two splines are still visible. So I'm just going to make them invisible so that they're not distracting us. Um, so now this tracer is drawing a spline, connecting all of these Knowles. Um, you can see it's not closed and that's because in the tracer options, you actually have to tell it to make a closed this blind. So if you just click that little check box, it closes. So now when we preview this bam, there's our spline and that looks pretty close to what a, what we want.

Joey Korenman (21:33):

Um, so the last thing that I did, um, to make the animation that I showed you guys was, I, I decided it'd be cool if as the spline was animating on these clones were sort of twisting almost like they were coming out of a, a vortex or something to build the star. Um, so because the clones are actually being, um, are being put right onto the splines. If you animate the splines at all, then the clones will also be animated. So what I did was I went to, uh, I went to the, the last key frame here and on my star spline, I add, I'm going to add a key frame on the banking rotation here. Um, and one quick thing, when you're working with a delay effector, um, it can, uh, it can be tricky when you start adjusting things. If the delay effector is still turned on, if I started justing this, you'll see, it doesn't look like anything's happening.

Joey Korenman (22:33):

That's because the delay effector, um, it doesn't allow you to see what you're doing until you go to another frame. So I'm just going to disable this for a second. There we go. Um, so now if I go to the star spline, I can, I can actually see what I'm doing as I rotate it. Um, so I want that star to end up facing straight up in the air. So I'm going to adjust it. So I think minus 18 is where it needs to end. And then at the beginning, let me turn the spline on at the beginning. Maybe it can be twisted a little bit this way, maybe something like that. All right. Um, I'm now going to go into my F curve mode again, click on my star spline and hit H a M. I'm going to use the same sort of curve that I, that I used on my spline effector, so that it sort of bursts and then kind of lands into place slowly.

Joey Korenman (23:35):

Um, and this can sort, this'll sort of show you what that's doing. It's just kind of twisting into place. So if I make that spline invisible again, and I turned my delay effector back on, and we preview this, you can see the, now it sort of twists and opens up into place with all that nice springy animation. So that's basically it. Now we, I'm going to go back into start-up layout here. Now this tracer can be used just like a spline. Um, so you can do a lot of different things with it. What I did in the example I showed you guys was I put it in an extruded nerve. Um, so if I just take, if I pretend that tracer is a spline and put it in the extruded nerve, we have an object and that object is going to animate, you know, this in the same shape as the spline we've created.

Joey Korenman (24:31):

Um, and that's cool because you can, uh, you can extrude this and actually get a 3d star. Um, you could add caps to it and, you know, get all kinds of, you know, funky shapes. And these shapes are going to, uh, you know, you can get something like that. Um, but that shape is still going to react to the spline. So you don't have to use this just for vector looking, you know, two D shapes that animate on in these cool ways. You can actually do this with 3d stuff too. Um, and then another cool thing you can do is, um, for example, if you reset them, delete this extreme nerves. If we put a new extruded nerves in there, put the tracer in there, um, and then let's set this, uh, extrusion to zero. So it's basically just creating a, you know, a polygon with no thickness.

Joey Korenman (25:32):

Um, you know, that essentially it could be like a vector shape. Um, if we take that and we put that in an atom array, and this is a trick I like to do when I want to try and make line art and cinema is you just make sure that the cylinder radius and the sphere radius are exactly the same. And then I'm going to make a texture. And by the way, I did that just by double clicking down in the material menu here, it makes a new texture when you do that. Um, and if I turn off every channel except luminance and put that on the atom array, now I have just, you know, just a, a line, uh, whatever thickness I decide I want it to be. And that line will animate, you know, and sort of visualize my spline for me. So this is a really versatile technique. There's a lot of cool things you can do with it. And you could also create your own splines and illustrator, bring them in, um, and, and animate, you know, your logo or whatever you wanted to. Um, so I hope this was helpful, and I hope that you guys can find some cool ways to use this technique. Um, thank you so

Joey Korenman (26:43):

Much for tuning in and hope to see you guys next time. Appreciate it. Thank you for watching. I hope you learned a new trick in cinema 4d that you didn't know before. If you have any questions or thoughts, let us know. And we would love to hear from you if you use this technique on a project. So give us a shout on Twitter at school emotion and show us your work. Thanks again. I'll see you next time.


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