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How to Animate the Inception Totem with Cinema 4D and Dynamics 136 Comments

In this tutorial, I show you how to animate, light and texture the totem top scene from Inception. I show you how to use the Lathe Nurbs, Dynamics and noise in your textures to build and texture the scene. Then I show you how to light the scene with the HDRI Light Kit Pro. Stay tuned for part 2 of this tutorial where we head into After Effects and do the texturing and compositing.

Final Render

Watch Part 2 of This Tutorial

Comment Rules

This is a friendly community. Please treat everyone with respect. We don't all have to agree, but we do have to be nice. Criticism is fine, but rude comments and name calling will be deleted. Use your real name and don't be spammy. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


  1. Snake Plissken

    Still no “iPhone/iPad users friendly on Vimeo” link for traveling guys ? πŸ˜‰

    Thanx anyway.

    • Steven Jenkins

      Upgrade to pro and they’ll convert them for you.

    • Steven Jenkins

      Ah, but limited to thirty minutes in video length.

  2. Nicklas

    About the XYZ axis 12 minutes in. Rotation uses HPB (Heading, Pitch, Bank) πŸ™‚

  3. Ellius Grace

    Great tutorial Nick, I have some great ideas to use the methods you taught here and make something different out of it. It’ll still be Inception related though of course

  4. nice tut nick…

    btw, i was wondering if that custom initial velocity controls can be applied to a bullet time. (rotation of the bullet)


  5. as always nick great tutorial.

    nice to see the focus shifting in different turorials.

    lights and texturing has always been my issue.

    look forward to part 2.

  6. suraj es

    next time if u get trouble in the shaping objects using bezier curves.nick..create a plane and add the reference image as a texture to it..then trace it out from either of the 4 views πŸ™‚

  7. Stanly ok

    you have great tutorials Nick! am looking forward to watching this one ^___^

  8. Heres one I tried knocking up last night.

    I’m gonna share the scene file for anyone who likes the look of it and whos interested – send me a message πŸ™‚

    Thanks Nick for the inspiration – its fun to try and figure stuff out before you show us!

    • Daveguitar

      Amazing man! IΒ΄d like to see that file too πŸ™‚

    • Hikups

      indeed, i would also love to have a look a this. Thanks for sharing!

    • Great lighting and texturing. Would also really love to see this file. Thanks

    • Hello Mike! Great work you did! I would like to see this file too;-)

    • Hi Mike !
      I’m also very interested by the demo file. Especially by the texturing of the spin, like if it has been metal textured in a cylinder shape, and some noise in the reflection maybe. Well. Hope to see that πŸ™‚

    • Magic

      I would like to see this file too. I almost spend the last 2 days getting my totem texture to look like yours, I am getting close…..

    • Ishiro

      Very nice looking result! If you do end up sharing the scene file I would love to see it.
      Thank you

    • Ryan Mitchell

      Hi Mike – dropped you a message on Vimeo to share the project file, if you would. I’d love to see it!

    • Ramzes

      Mike hi, could you please send me your project file?Thanks

    • haiQu

      i don’t know if it’s a good idea to give that scene files for free download because there are actually complete parts (with textures and so on) from the gorilla light kit you have to pay for.

      maybe he is not amused by this.

    • I think you need the .lib4d file so opening these will just have missing textures and broken expresso etc. I could be wrong though which of course I’d remove instantly.

    • Mark Lawrence

      Agreed – this looks fantastic.Thanks for the source file on this – a great insight.

      I dont suppose you have the material jpgs avaialble too so I can see how the materials look on the scene? πŸ˜‰

      Ill be buying the lightkit pro methinks…

    • Kelvin

      Can i have a copy of the scene file for aftereffects aswell? thanks

  9. Classicgamer

    Fantastic tutorial again Nick thank you so so much! Mike your test is incredible would love to know how your achieved such a realistic scene short but sweet! πŸ™‚

  10. Nick, you have got my respect. Your tutorials are like grail.
    Greetings from Czech.

  11. Justin

    I think the rotation is worked out using H P B.
    Heading Pitch and Bank rather than X Y Z.

  12. Hi Nick,
    i’m new to 3D world, and i got stuck for years with 3D apps, those interfaces like Blender or 3D Max that are so complicated. That to say, thank you for giving me very good insight of the app, potential, and the well done ergonmics of it. Even if you talk fast for my French hears, your passion, your skills and sens of humor, makes things clear and understandable, thanks again πŸ™‚

    About the “Scale thing” you talked about, why not, put in the preferences the units to “centimeters”, to be as close to the real world as possible. If you model an Ant, in meters units, that is mutation science right ???
    Keep up the great work. Can’t wait to see Part II…

    Have a nice day πŸ˜‰

    • As far as I can see, Just changing the scale of the units doesn’t actually change the physics. You have to scale things down to make it work.

  13. philip

    absoloutely brilliant,thanks again for doing theses tutorials,im learning c4d and having great fun doing so,big up yourself sir

  14. JordiM

    Nick, Go on!!!! Just usefull and easy. Waiting for more!!!

  15. Matthew

    Hey Nick, nice tutorial.
    Quick idea, when you colored your light could you use the color grabber like the one you used on the floor texture? would get you closer quicker.

  16. Suriel

    Just saw the first minutes of the tutorial. Could it be, that “snapping” was switched on in point mode? This would explain the rough movement…..You also could get into the “structure” option (when you have selected the move tool) to tweak it further in point mode. You then can tweak the bezier lines manually (that are the <x, <y, , y>, z> rows).
    So far, I am very excited to see the rest:)

  17. Daveguitar

    Great Tutorial Nick, cant wait for the second part! πŸ™‚

  18. Neily Peely

    Really great tutorial. It’s so good to know I am not alone in trying to work out how to do these things. Loving your chubby Totem! πŸ™‚

  19. mac_p

    can’t wait for part 2!
    i was really stunned by the realistic physics … amazing.

  20. Hey Nick,
    in terms of Lighting and Shading to me, this is your best tutorial. I really dig the light kit pro now much better…

  21. Awesome tutorial Nick! also just bought both of your iphone app. work great on my new iphone 4… you are one awesome guy! how do you manage so many things together (tutorails, app development, photography) keep up the good work dude.


  22. kamykazee

    Just one thing, in the render, the noise is actually moving, it’s animated. Is there any way i can turn off the movement of the noise texture?

  23. Hey,
    Fantastic tutorial, really enjoyed this one.
    I did have one problem though; when using depth of field, I set mine up literally identical to your’s but I am getting the totem blurry in every frame! I made sure that the totem is always after the front depth of field bar on the green camera lines but still, blurry!

    Anyone have any ideas? I always have problems with depth of field. A good tutorial on it would be awesome!


    • hi

      dieselpower44 i dont want to be an ass but as the gorilla sad in some previous tut just right click for example on the target distance and show help. in the explanation that pops up is everthing you need to know about depth. just look at “figure 1” its really easy to understand.

  24. Hi Nick,
    great tut like allways.
    I saw that you’ve forgotten to tick “Consider Multi-Passes” in the Anti-Aliasing-Tab (render-preferences). May the Object-Buffer-Output looks a little bit sharp.

  25. Hey Nick, by the way, my son was in Chicago last week and he came back very excited about the city, he went to Lollapoloza, was in downtown, also was in the transparent cube in the Sears Tower, etc. He took a lot of photos, you have a very nice city over there. I am die hard fan of your blog, and I use it with my students, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge

    • Hi, Hugo. Chicago is a great city. So glad he liked his trip. Thanks for watching GSG and especially for sharing with your students. Let me know how I can help. Cheers!

  26. Awesome Nick!! But a stupid question, was it 3D in the Original Movie or a Real totem?

  27. kamykazee

    This isn’t really related to this tutorial, but i don’t really understand what the Cappuccino module does. It records keyframes as you move an object with your mouse, but wouldnt that be the same thing as using auto keyframing? Could someone explain the module a bit more?

    • christopher

      Look great… don’t be so hard on yourself.
      Keep playing around with textures and learning as much as you can… It’s my weak spot too…

  28. Hi Nick,
    Kept refreshing to see some After Effects tricks in part 2, but it’s not up yet.
    So, went in myself and played a little.

    Ow, dynamics is cool! I used a spline morph and the totem actually jumped up because the weight point changed, how cool!

  29. kamykazee

    I know i’m probably going overboard by asking this, but could you do a tutorial showing the way YOU (Nick Campbell) do character animation (moving, dancing a bit, i guess, general character animation). It’s the creation of the skeleton joints and then keyframing them, efficiently, that is a over my head at the moment.


    • I know absolutely nothing about character animation, actually. You may have to visit some other sites to learn that stuff. I’m into more broadcast graphical stuff. Sorry.

  30. i think ive got a scale issue, i cant get the lighting right, its way too dark for me. Too bad I cant just touch the screen and absorb your knowledge through osmosis… hehe

    • mediengestalt

      Nice idea!
      Unfortunately osmosis balances levels until a state of dynamic equilibrium is reached. So if I’d take from Nick through osmosis I’d probably dry him out =)

  31. mediengestalt

    On that axis rotation thing on 12:00:
    as Nicklas already mentioned – rotation uses HPB (Heading, Pitch, Bank) aviation terms.

    It’s easy to remember if you think of an airplane flying into z-direction.
    Heading=rotation around vertical axis aka direction
    Pitch=Pulling/Pushing the yoke
    Bank=Rolling to either side

    But why HPB?
    Because HPB makes rotation commutative. It does not matter what you do first. Rotate H 90Β° and P 90Β° afterwards or vice-versa gets you the same results.

    Rotation around an axis isn’t commutative.
    Imagine (or test) a red cube with a red polygon on top.
    If you rotate all vertices in point mode the axis never changes.

    Rotate 90Β° around X axis, afterwards 90Β° around Z axis:
    red polygon is front side

    restart with red on top and do it vice-versa:
    Rotate 90Β° around Z axis, afterwards 90Β° around X axis:
    red is on right side

    Wordy but that’s why a different system (HPB) is used for rotation =)

  32. nipper

    hello, I’m from china. Frist,i want to thank you for to teach me many things in cinema 4d and ae .You know,for some reason in china,we can’t watch the video on vimeo&youtube. can you give me another link to see your tutorials.or ,you can send your video files to me. i will Upload it to the blog we i see it. my msn . my english is so,if you have time .all the chinese cinema 4D user will thank you.

  33. Steve

    Nice, your tut inspired me to make a slow spinning object with a lot of precession (the wobble in the direction of the axis of rotation). And without it tipping over.Finally I managed.No Keyframing, all Mograph See the result at Vimeo:, but it is still processing (give it an hour)

  34. Nick: when i put physics on my top it doesn’t meet up with my plane.. it is hovering above the ground alittle bit.. how can i fix that?

  35. Alflud

    Nick, or anyone that might be able to help me, I’ve got a weird issue going on here. I set my units to cm and made a top that’s 3cm high which seems about right from the watching the movie. Anyway, seems this small size is giving rise to some dynamics issues. When it falls it sort of falls through the plane a little bit and won’t settle. Instead it continues on interacting with the plane and rolling all over the place. It jumps a little bit too. When I scale it up a little to maybe 10cm it plops down and falls over just like in the tut. If anyone can shed some light on what’s going on here and maybe provide a fix I’d really appreciate it. I’m moving onwards with the tut using the larger scale top but still – this is bugging the hell outta me πŸ˜€

  36. Alflud

    Sorry for the double post but I forgot to thank you Nick. Thanks man. Awesome tutorial dude.

  37. mediengestalt

    If you find it hard to adjust the “wobbly thing” you could also add an invisible, crumpled plane below the top (eg. subdivided 10×10, y-axis crumpled by 0.05m) and adjust the rotational mass. Or subdivide your existing floor in the right areas and crumple it there. It looks as if the top catches scratches and imperfections in the floor and wobbles even nicer.

  38. Rodrigo Pimentel

    Hey Nick, i donΒ΄t have Cinema 4D 11.5. IΒ΄m still 11.0, so i donΒ΄t have the rigid body tag from the mograph tags. Is there another tool to easily give weight to objects (iΒ΄m a beginner, as you see). Greetings from Venezuela and thank u very much for your gorgeous work!

    • No, unfortunately, the ridged body tag is the best way to do it. There is an old dynamics, but it’s tough to deal with. Now is a good time to upgrade. There are some deals going on.

  39. Thomas

    Thanks a lot for this tutorial, Nick. I really enjoyed it, and also “part 2” πŸ™‚ Great stuff; I love it.

    Please keep it up! Kudos from Norway!

  40. bildebool

    Hello, thanks for all your tutorials !

    I’ve got a little problem, like Alflud :
    – when the totem falls on the ground, it never really stop… Well, it accelerate…..

    Any idea to stop completely the fall totem ?

    • Same here!

      it never stops moving (R13) – even with no velocity and hight friction and no noise!

  41. First of all thank you very much for this great tutoral, Nick. Here is what I came up with:

    I have a question about the plugin Lensecare which you suggested here. I tried it out and it is really great the only thing I still can’t figure out is how to make that alpha map more precise. I read the manual and it is told there to render the DEPTH channel twice as big as the original animation and then scale it down in after effects so the anti-alising effects appears for that alpha channel and it becomes more precise. Have anyone tried it and maye some other suggestions on how to make it look better. Thank you in advance.
    Best of luck.

  42. Having one issue with the Totem Tut..Using R12 the depth is not rendering? Thanks in advance.

  43. kuunami

    In version R12 setting my shape option to moving mesh in the collision settings of the dynamics body tag is what made my wobble appear. You also have to adjust your initial angular velocity because it will vary depending on the scale of our object.

  44. Basem

    hello nick, that was hell of a good tutorial and i gotta tell you.. you talk too much till i had a headache.. but i suppose your way is far too better than other people whose tutorials are full of silence and mouse clicks only… that was a joke!
    i’ve been trying to render a small scene with 300 frames “29.97 fps” without a multipass one light with a soft shadow and basic materials just for the sake of testing the rigid body tags and its taking it hell of a long time.. i dont know how is it possible to skip the long time processing although i know that it should take a long time, in other words, how to trim the edges and make the render runs a little faster..

    • There are so many things you can do to make it faster. Less frames, smaller size, turn off area shadows, turn down antialiasing, get a faster computer. Give those a shot. Experiment and see what makes the most difference.

  45. Hi Nick, I’m using Cinema R12, and I’m having a few problems, one of those is that the top’s shadow in the ground is not appearing!

    Do you have any idea why? Thanks a lot for the help


  46. Daniel

    Saludos desde Colombia, increible tutorial, me quedo casi perfecto, te feliciito, sigue subiendo tutoriales, amazing job man!!! Exitos desde colombia, thanks!

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  48. Hey Nick, awesome Tutorials you put out there!
    Im encountering a kind of grain on my c4d render, both on the totem and on the floor.
    i think it has to do with the noise shaders on these textures.
    However it is only visible by comparing different frames (or watching the rendered scene) it just looks like a lowfi camera with too little light on a still scene.

    ive tried different anti alias settings, and turning off ambient occlusion, still same result.
    Any ideas what im missing?

  49. mridul

    anyone else having a problem in opening this video? :/

  50. Hi guys, I have a problem. I’m using cinema 4d R15 and in camera options I don’t have “Depth of Filed” bar. Can anyone help ? Thanks πŸ™‚

    • It has to do with what package of C4D you have. We use “Studio” for all our tutorials. You will need that as well.


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Comment Rules

This is a friendly community. Please treat everyone with respect. We don't all have to agree, but we do have to be nice. Criticism is fine, but rude comments and name calling will be deleted. Use your real name and don't be spammy. Thanks for adding to the conversation.