Maxon Cinema 4D tutorial: Use 3D to create colourful abstract art

Nicolas Monin-Baroille looks at how experimenting with 3D renders and colours can produce fantastic-looking illustrations

This tutorial explains how you can easily transform a simple 3D abstract render into a big and colourful illustration. Using simple techniques in Cinema 4D, along with some handy Photoshop tricks, German digital artist Nicolas Monin-Baroille will guide you through the creation of his work, Project X

Nicolas says the piece is a fun and personal experiment with colours and mixed media, and that following this tutorial to the letter is not recommended as most of it is about experimenting and creativity. Nicolas believes that to get the best out of your abilities, you need to play around and learn how to take risks. 

He created Project X using Cinema 4D, but the steps can easily be completed in any pro-level 3D package such as TrueSpace or Maya. If 3D’s not your thing, you can start off from Step 7 in Photoshop, using his renders in the project files.

Nicholas has used German versions of Cinema 4D and Photoshop in this tutorial. We’ve noted where settings are written in German in the screenshots – so you’re getting a small language lesson as well as learning creative techniques. 

Time to complete 

3-4 hours


Cinema 4D, Photoshop


Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here


The first step is fairly easy if you’re already familiar with 3D programs (or even if you’re not). We’ll start off by creating some – well, quite a lot of – simple cubes. Create them, then change their length, width, height and the like to build an irregular mass. Group the cubes into a ‘Null Object’ (Alt + G) and duplicate it (Cmd/Ctrl + drag the group down). After some experimenting, you should end up with something that looks a bit like this.


Start adding lights to the scene and create a test render (Cmd/Ctrl + R) of your object to see how it looks. Now the funky part. Create a material with a gradient of bright colours (created in the Colour tab (Farbe in German) in the Material Editor and apply it to your Null Objects to apply it to all your cubes.

Advertisement. Article continues below


Add an Explosion FX deformer to your Null Object for a destructive appearance, adding small shards and particles that are quite useful for your composition.


For a great sense of variety in your objects, it’s important that you also apply a gradient in the Luminance (Leuchten) tab in the Material Editor – again experimenting to get the best results. Start adding perspective by right-clicking on the Zoom icon (two small arrows) at the top of the screen.


Rotate your object to get the maximum feeling of depth. Render it in the picture viewer at a high resolution, as we’re creating a print artwork here, and save it as a PSD with Alpha Channel (Alpha-Kanal) enabled.

Advertisement. Article continues below


Create different versions of your render – changing the angle of view, gradient colours, and position and size of objects. I even used a material with stripes on it.


Open Photoshop and create a bright to dark radial gradient on your background like that shown here, though the choice of colours is up to you. Place your renders (or one or more of the render.psd files from the project files), layering them as you wish – then select the layers of your renders and merge them (Cmd/Ctrl + E).


If your render hasn’t come out with exactly the right colours, it can be quicker to use a Colour Balance adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + B) to make small changes to your colours, rather than re-rendering your scenes. 

The same applies to contrast. To heighten this, apply a Curves adjustment and subtly move the points to enhance the effect. 

Advertisement. Article continues below


Duplicate your render layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J), rotate it by 180° and set the blending mode to Pin Light. When done right, this gives you a nice effect that’s almost like a reflection without major effort.


Select both layers from Step 9 and the background, and create a new merged layer from them (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E). Duplicate this layer and hide it – you’ll need it Step 11.

Select the Filter Gallery (Filter > Filter Gallery) and apply a Halftone Pattern in the Sketch tab. Set this layer’s opacity to 60% and its blending mode to Soft Light.


For a small but nice effect, unhide the layer from Step 10, open the Filter Gallery and apply Glowing Edges in the Stylize tab. Use the defaults: Edge Width 2, Edge Brightness 6 and Smoothness 5. Click OK. Set the layer’s blending mode to Lighten, with an opacity of 56%. This brightens up some of the hard dark edges of your render and adds in a little detail.

Advertisement. Article continues below


Select all your layers and create a new merged layer from it. Apply a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with a radius of 60.8 pixels. Set its blending mode to Soft Light (Weiches Licht) and its opacity (Deckkraft) to 48%. This creates a smoother and warm look. If it’s too much, adjust the Brightness and Contrast using an adjustment.


To get rid of the yellow tint I had in some places, I used a Gradient Map adjustment layer running from dark to bright blue. I set its blending mode to Lighten and used an opacity of 60%.


To finish off, I used a Curves adjustment layer (Gradationskurven) to brighten up the reds and blues, and took some of the green away. That’s it for me, though it doesn’t have to be for you. You can always add some more on top of this and make this work your own.

Advertisement. Article continues below


Nicolas Monin-Baroille is a digital artist and illustrator from Offenburg in Germany. He draws his inspiration from life, music, movies, family and friends. Nicolas is currently attending a Graphic Design school in his area, and is looking to finish with a degree as a state-certified Graphic Designer.