Adobe Illustrator & Maxon Cinema 4D tutorial: Create decorative 3D type & swirls

How to create colourful typography that appears to made from parts of children’s toys and cut paper.

Recently, illustrator and long-time Digital Arts contributor Murilo Maciel created a series of artworks to celebrate five years being represented by Shannon Associates. Here he takes you through the complete process of how he created one of these – a bright and colourful 3D typography piece that appears to made from parts of children’s toys and cut paper. 

“The main goal behind this piece was to create a playful and modern typographic artwork through the combination of simple geometric forms,” explains Murilo 

Even though the illustration was mainly done in Cinema 4D, most of the creative aspects behind this piece where planned in Illustrator. Murilo says that this process not only gives you more freedom while creating each character, but also gives you a very close approximation of how the final illustration will look like.  

After Murilo shows how he created his guide layout, and explores how he used Cinema 4D to bring the type into the warm bright world of 3D, he reveals how he was able to produce a complex and detailed 3D typographic piece.

In the project files, you’ll find one of Murilo’s typographic explorations showing how he developed his type, plus his lighting setup for Cinema 4D.

Time to complete 

10-12 hours


Cinema 4D 12 or later, Vray 1.2.5, Illustrator CS5 or later

Project files

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here


First, I created a new document in Illustrator and changed the size to 29 x 21cm. I typed the word Shannon, then began exploring different styles of fonts to get a variety of representations for each character. Even though the typography didn’t have to be technically perfect, it was important to be consistent with symmetry and kerning overall.


Using guides to help with the process, I started breaking down each letter – simplifying its form until I was left with basic geometric shapes. In the project files, open letters_to_shapes.jpg and see the creative process behind some of the letters I created. 

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Once I was happy with the type work, I started experimenting with different colour combinations and incorporating other graphic elements into the image. When I had a pretty good idea of the final layout, I saved it as a version 8 Illustrator document, so that it was ready to be imported into Cinema 4D. 


I imported the file into Cinema 4D and started extruding the first letter from the flat shapes within the lettering. While modelling, it’s useful to see your letters in perspective, and also the top, right and front views. Press F5 to see them all. I used Cinema 4D’s Sweep NURBs rather than Extrude NURBs because I wanted to extrude the letters along a spline – I selected Object > NURBs > Sweep NURBs.


Here I’ll take you through how I created the first S. In the Objects panel, I dragged the arc from the top of the letter inside the Sweep NURBs object so it extruded. I selected Object > Spline > Primitives and chose a rectangle, changing its the size to 16 x 16cm in the Attributes panel. Back in the Objects panel, I moved the rectangle inside the Sweep NURBs object, but above the arcs. I then repeated the whole process inside new Sweep NURBs objects to create two lower arcs, adjusting the size of the rectangles to around 9 x 9cm for the medium and 7 x 7cm for the smaller arc. 

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Next, I inserted two sphere primitives, changed each one’s radius to 8cm and placed them in the middle of the arcs as shown. I created a cylinder and – in the attributes panel – changed its radius to 0.7cm and height to 37cm. I positioned this to connect the upper sphere to the arc – which will help give this a toy-like feel when we render. I duplicated the cylinder and moved it away as I wanted to use it to create ‘bare wiring’ coming out of the arc.  


I then went to Objects > Modeling and selected Array. In the Objects panel, I moved the cylinder inside the Array, selected the Array and rotated it 90° in the Attributes panel to a horizontal position. In the Object tab, I changed the number of copies to eight and the radius to 5cm. I then positioned it on the end of the arc, duplicated it and placed the new version of the opposite end of the lowest arc to complete the letter. 


Once I was finished, I deleted the paths I’d used as a guide for the first letter, selected everything I had just created in the Objects panel and hit Alt + G to group everything together. This helps keep the objects organised.

It was now time to move on to the next letter. For the letter H, I started by creating two Extrude NURBs objects from the Object > NURBs menu. 

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I selected both Extrude NURBs objects in the Objects panel, then in the Attributes panel, checked Hierarchical in the Object tab. Now all the shapes inside it were extruded. Holding down Shift, I selected all the four corner elements and dragged them inside one of the Extrude NURBs objects. With that object still selected, I changed the third Movement field in the Object tab of the Attributes panel (which here controls Z extrusion) to 16cm. 


Next, I selected the two more-rectangular objects and moved them inside the other Extrude NURBs object, and changed their Movement in Z to 10cm to make them thinner than the corner elements. To complete the letter, I placed a sphere in its centre and a group of vertical cylinders in each side as in the screenshot (above). I selected all the shapes that I’d created for this letter, grouped them (Alt + G) and deleted the reference lines.


For the letter A, I added four Extrude NURBs objects: one for each colour. I checked Hierarchical once again and changed the Movement field for Z to 16. I used the layout guide to know which triangle shapes should be place inside each of the Extrude NURBs objects. 

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To create the paper ribbon-like decorative elements, I used the technique highlighted in Steps 3 and 4. I added a series of Sweep NURBs objects and dragged in one decorative line per object to create the path for the ribbon to follow. For each object, I created a spline rectangle and dragged it inside the object, above the decorative path. I then adjusted the rectangle until it looked like a thin paper strip. 


I used the modelling techniques I’ve detailed to create the rest of the artwork. When this was complete, I started creating the rubber-looking materials to apply to the artwork. First off, in the Material panel, I selected File> VrayBridge > VrayAdvancedMaterial to create a new material that we’ll be rendering using Vray.


Next, I checked Diffuse layer 1 and chose the first colour I wanted to use. I also looked at Specular layer 1. This creates a glossy and reflective texture, which is not how a rubber texture would really look like. Before I started fixing it properly, I changed the Specular type to Phong.

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In order to get rid of the reflective glossiness, it was important to uncheck Trace reflections inside Specular layer 1 parameters. To quickly create different colour variations of the same texture, I Cmd/Ctrl + dragged the material in the Material Manager to duplicate it, then changed the colour in Diffuse Layer 1.


The appearance of all of the textures also depended on well-chosen lightning. In this case I used a three-way lighting setup, with three softboxes to provide natural-looking light with soft shadows. 

If you want to use this setup on one of your own projects, you can find it in the project files. Just remember to adjust the light intensity and tones to match your personal taste.