Adobe and Maxon Development Teams Collaborating to Simplify Workflows, Save Time in Post

Regular users of both Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D got some great news Tuesday when Adobe and Maxon announced they had formed a strategic alliance and would begin developing solutions that both simplify and evolve workflows in After Effects-Cinema 4D pipelines. This is not an acquisition or a merger, like the one The Foundry and Luxology completed last fall, but is a cooperative effort that will bring the two product teams even closer together during the software development process.

Adobe has long offered technical support to Cinema 4D users, especially for the free plug-in Maxon released previously that let users of AE CS3 and up directly import their projects in Cinema 4D R13. Before that, Maxon also supported export of Cinema 4D out to After Effects. "Interoperability exists between these two applications but, at a fundamental level, they don’t really talk to each other in a way that’s super-productive," After Effects product manager Steve Forde posted in Adobe's AE blog. The collaboration, he said, would also be about giving AE and Cinema 4D artists and compositors more flexibility during the creative process and more time saved during post. 

Forde can't say much yet about the first steps in building a bridge between the two platforms, though the announcement raises many questions: Will it be based on Maxon's existing After Effects plug-in? How will it work with Creative Cloud? Will we see a preview at NAB? What he can say, however, is illuminating. "This announcement means we've intertwined our development process, and we're obviously looking hard at what we can ship next and what interesting things we can bring to the workflow," Forde told me in a telephone interview. "But this is just the beginning of the story."

Though some see the union as unlikely, many users see it as inevitable. "People were already pretty ecstatic," says Forde, "about the fact that they can create .C4D from After Effects CS6, especially after we introduced the camera tracker. It's now really easy to get a camera track into Cinema 4D that way, do your 3D model, add some other digital cameras and lights, and import that .C4D file with your multiple pass render. So we are starting from a great place already. We published an SDK, Maxon created a terrific plug-in, we continue to support it. What you see in the products as they ship today, that's what that process created."

Everyone, says Forde, including Paul Babb at Maxon's U.S. headquarters and the lead engineering team in Germany, loved that workflow. But as they looked ahead to future point releases, both companies agreed there could be even more they could do for users if they tried something new. Says Forde, "We eventually got to a point where we asked, 'What if we were to spin this on its head a bit? What if we were able to get involved in the design of each other's products?' And what would it look like on the other side of that? That's when it started to get interesting."

The next step, he says, was to create a development team at Adobe to focus specifically on Maxon—Maxon created a similar After Effects-focused team—and do a "pseudo-cross-pollination" of the two in order to remove initial process or work culture barriers. The timing was also ideal, says Forde, since both had just shipped major upgrades of their core products: After Effects CS6 and Cinema 4D R14. That gives you a general idea about when these two companies began talks in earnest, which leads one to consider that NAB might be the perfect place to preview the new technology. "I wouldn't say that that's an unreasonable assumption," admits Forde.

Forde says there has been a strongly positive response in their beta program, so we asked a few power users that often traverse the two packages how future developments would change the way they work. "The existing back-door integration between Cinema 4D and After Effects has been a cornerstone of our workflow," says John LePore, creative director at the New York-based design and animation facility Perception. "To say we are excited about the potential of a native workflow would be a huge understatement. A native workflow will have a dramatic impact on our technical approach and level of efficiency, but even more exciting will be the additional freedom it gives our artists as they develop looks and concepts incorporating the best features of both After Effects and Cinema 4D."

Troika, a Los Angeles-based creative branding and animation company whose clients include The Food Network, HBO Sports and The CW, sees it similarly. Says Dan Pappalardo, Troika's executive creative director and co-founder, "Orchestrated integration between After Effects and Cinema 4D will certainly lead to greater efficiencies and, most importantly, greater creative potential for our designers, animators and directors."

"Our users can get really creative really quickly when they have powerful new tools," adds Forde. "After Effects and Cinema 4D are already both very, very deep. One doesn't need to become a subset of the other. This relationship is the best way for C4D to be C4D and After Effects to be After Effects."

Users feel the same way. Posted one on the Adobe blog, "Sweet. It's like finding out two people you work with are dating!"