Maxon Cinema 4D tutorial: Create liquid 3D type

Craig Minchington and Gareth Roberts look at 3D type

The use of CG in type-driven illustration is growing in popularity. With easy transitions between 3D suites such as Cinema 4D and Adobe’s Creative Suite, the possibilities are endless. Cinema 4D also supports high-end plug-ins such as RealFlow, which enhances your depictions of liquids. In this tutorial, we’ll look at how to generate 3D type, apply realistic materials and lighting, and polish it in Photoshop.

If you don’t own RealFlow, download a trial version from, or follow from Step 4 in Cinema 4D using the Pulsar.c4d scene in the project files. If you haven’t got a copy of Cinema 4D, you can follow along with the Photoshop part from Step 10 using the rendered letters, which are also in the project files.

Time to complete

2 days


Cinema 4D Broadcast or Studio, Photoshop CS or later, RealFlow 2012

Project Files

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here.


Start by creating your 3D text in Cinema 4D. Select MoText object (MoGraph > MoText). Input a letter and give it a depth of 25. Next, apply Fillet Caps to its start and end (5 steps, radius 4). Copy and paste your MoText until you have enough letters to spell your word. Change each object letter to spell out the word you want (we went for PULSAR).


Select all your MoText letters, right-click on one and select Current State to Object, then press Delete. You should now be left with one null object for each letter.

Right-click on each one individually, select Children, then right-click Connect + Delete. You should now have only polygon objects. For simplicity’s sake, rename each letter object to that letter.

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If you have RealFlow and the plug-in for Cinema 4D installed, export each letter as an individual .sd file using the RealFlow SD Exporter (Plugins > RealFlow SD Exporter). An overview of what to do in RealFlow is given in Step 4. If you don’t have this application, head straight to Step 5 to learn how to make the bubble-style material and cool lighting effects.


Open RealFlow and import your first .sd object (Import > Import Object). Change the Simulation option to Inactive and the Visible option to No under the Node Params box on the right. Remember to hit the Reset button after every step.

Select Fill Object from the Particle Fluid menu. Under Fill Object in Node Params, select object and choose your letter. Change the Fill Volume to Yes. In the Particles box under Node Params, increase the Resolution to 30, lower the Density to 100 and the Viscosity to 1. Grab the Magic and Noise Field tools.

Highlight your Magic tool and select your letter under Object. Change Magic Mode to Nearest Face and Random within Face to No. Move the keyframe pointer to 25. Next, highlight the Noise tool and change Strength to 30 under Node Params tab. Right-click on the Strength bar and select Add key to add a keyframe. Move to frame 26 and add another Strength keyframe of 0.

Hit the Simulate button. Right-click in the Nodes box, then Add > Mesh > Particle mesh (Standard). Change Filter to Yes and the @ Steps value to 128 (in Nodes Params). Right-click the Particle Mesh object and select Build. Change to view mode, highlight Fill Object, and change Polygon Size value to 0.02559 and Display Visibility to No.

Right-click on the Particle Mesh object and select Build. Hit Simulate. Choose a frame (115), go back to Cinema 4D and import the mesh using Plugins > RealFlow Mesh Importer. Select File Path in the Setup tab inside the Attributes box. Locate your mesh folder and open the first .bin file. 


You should now have some pretty awesome-looking fluid-driven lettering (either from RealFlow or by opening Pulsar1.c4d). Work on just one letter, which will be a template for the other letters. Next, add two lights to the scene in front of your object: one just above, one far below. To include a Sky object, you’ll need to create a new material (Cmd/Ctrl +N). Double-click it to open Material Editor, deselect the Color channel and select Luminance.

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For this step, we used Greyscale Gorilla Light Kit Pro, an HDR light map – this is downloadable from for $69. However, any HDR image will do (you can create one in Photoshop).

Hit the arrow button next to Texture, select Load Image and open DottedWith-Spots.hdr (or your own HDR file). Next, drag the new material onto your Sky. Right-click on the Sky object and add Compositing Tag. In the Tag tab under Attributes, deselect Seen by Camera.


Now you need to create a new material. Turn on the Transparency and Reflection channels. Input the Colour values, Transparency settings and Fresnel Texture settings shown. 

Select the Reflection and Gradient Texture settings shown, but don’t touch Specular channel. Drag your new material onto your Particle Mesh Object.


Open Render Settings (Render > Render Settings or Cmd/Ctrl +B). Select A3 Print (Landscape) in Custom Settings for high-res results. Change Frame Range to Current Frame, then choose a save destination. Save it as a PNG file and turn Alpha Channel On. Change Anti-Aliasing to Best and Max Level to 4x4. In Options, turn Default Light to Off, and change Ray Depth to 6, Reflection Depth to 4 and Shadow Depth to 6. 

Click on the Effect button, select Global Illumination and input the settings shown.

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Exit out of Render Settings and select Render to Picture Viewer (Shift + R). Drop the bubble material onto every letter and render out each object individually. Remember, you already have your Cinema 4D scene set up, so you can just import each RealFlow letter mesh straight into there, keeping the same HDR image, lighting, and so on to speed up the process.


It’s now time to import this into Photoshop. Create an A3 RGB document and build up a background of dark blues, using a radial gradient of #0d000c to #100211 as a base. Pick a purple tint (#3d2f48), then – using a soft brush – dab areas of the canvas. Set these layers’ blending mode to Linear Dodge with varying opacities to help them blend.


Next, create a new layer and select a soft brush. You want to create a random brush effect giving the idea of moving organisms. In the Brushes Panel (F5), experiment with the spacing, scattering and size jitter in Shape Dynamics to get the right effect. Brush areas of the canvas varying in size and colour. Give some layers outer glows and apply small motion blurs.

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Place all the letters and then arrange them using Photoshop’s Transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl + T). Rotate them so they look like they’re floating underwater. Group the letters (Cmd/Ctrl + G) and set the group’s blending mode to Screen. Apply a vector mask erasing areas that make the composition too cluttered with a black brush.


Let’s add more elements. Start by creating a new layer and use the Elliptical Marquee tool (M) to draw a circle. Apply a white-to-transparent radial gradient and set the opacity to between 20 and 30%. Alt-drag to duplicate them around the scene. 

To add a greater sense of motion, we also drew some simple straight and wavy lines with a small soft white brush set to soft light.


Open Rays.psd from the project files, positioning it between your background layers created in Steps 10 and 11, and the type and elements created in Step 13. Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer of three bright colours, with its blending mode set to Overlay. This will tie all the elements together, giving a balanced overall colour. Make sure this layer is at the top of the layer stack.

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Next, we’ll add some fractals to give the piece an organic feel. I used some by Greentunic, which I downloaded from Place some of the fractals behind the letters so they can be seen through the transparent areas, adding a greater sense of depth. Experiment with the blending modes so they combine well with the background.


Now we’ll emphasise the highlights of the letters by brushing on white. Take a soft brush with its blending mode set to Overlay and a low opacity, and brush over the edges and faces to make them glow. Repeat this process using separate layers for each letter. 

Tie the pieces together with adjustment layers. We bumped up the black and white sliders in Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) to deepen the shadows. We also played with the Curves (Cmd/Ctrl + M) to achieve a vibrant colour. Finally, sharpen the image (Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen More) and sit back and enjoy your work.


Craig Minchtington

Better-known by his alias Adora, Welsh designer Craig Minchington lives in Bristol, working at Epoch Design as a creative art worker. In addition to his day job, Adora tries to get as deep into his own designs as the evening allows. He lights up canvases with sparks and glows, bringing things to life. He’s also a Dinosaur enthusiast and loves a good riff.


Gareth Roberts

Also known as R3 Media, Gareth Roberts is based in Bristol. Having studied graphic design at the University of the West of England, he has recently become interested in 3D motion design. His work is mostly client-focused, and usually involves various geometric shapes and type.  



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