How to build Joint Chains for Spiral Growth with Cinema 4D and Xpresso

June 23, 2010

I’m so excited to present the first tutorial from the hyper-talented Mike “The Monkey” Senften. Well, not a tutorial exactly, but 45 minutes of pure knowledge about how to use joints, hierarchies, and Xpresso to build natural structures that are great for spirals, curls and golden section goodness. This is definitely a bit more advanced then most of my tutorials, but you should be able to follow along. This is the first of what I’m hoping to be many more tutorials from Mike. The way that his work blends science heavy technical thinking and dead-sexy design chops makes him so perfect for this sort of thing. Plus, he is so passionate about this stuff isn’t he? Please leave any feedback you have about his presentation style or his hair cut or anything really in the comments.

Some words from Mike
“It’s 45mins of me geeking out on spiral growth. If that interests you then grab a whiskey and come along for the ride. The purpose of this video is not only to share some of the methods I use in my work, but also to gauge people’s reactions to the pace, focus, content, and style of the presentation… so please, feel free to comment.”

Joint Chain Examples From The Monkey

Update: Adam Swaab’s Batch Rename Plugins
Batch Rename Objects
Batch Rename Tags
Batch Rename Materials

Tutorial Focus:  , ,
Software:  ,

  • Simian-power activate!
    Mike great tutorial! Love the format. Nick thank you for sharing this on your site.
    Also Thanks for Posting the Batch Renaming plugins..

    Things I liked.
    -You showed us multiple ways to do the same tasks. First the “Oldshool” aka long-way. Then explained there was an easier way with Xpresso.
    – You weren’t trying to recreate something already done, you showed us the value of Joint Chains and left the creativity and use up to us.
    -Your Pace was moderate, and you explained things well, your personality shows through and you didn’t talk down to the audience. (this was a little fast for me. But don’t stop.. I’ll just go back and re-watch this as many times as I have too)

    Things I didnt like:
    What took you soo long to make a tutorial? I’m positive your a busy dude. but you left this whole forum frothing at the mouth for more.. hehehe (granted Im very new to C4D just started learning it last Nov.) stumbled upon your Presentation at NAB this year, And Have been, learning as much as possible ever since.

    Question: (You knew there had to be some..)

    In your project layout. Are those nulls set up as your default start up? the +======+, Lights, Scene, Library. stuff?

    Also how did you get the object icon to be on the far right of the object menu?

    Xpresso — is there any reference material out there? where can I learn the basics? You seem so adept at creating expressions its frightening. 8)

    Whens the next one? Thank you..

    I stopped the movie and had to try out some stuff when you got to the golden ratio portion..

    Just a quick test. my blocky scorpion.

  • hey…dude, you rock. I really dig tutoriales that are not so start to finish product. Tutoriales about really really specific funcions are cool…now its playtime.

  • Absolutely amazing stuff, thank you to Mike and Nick. I keep coming back excited, wondering whats next… Now this!

    But, a bit of help if you have time, I have a problem and cant work it out at all..

    When I convert the joints to a spline, the spline follows the movement just fine, but the end of the spline aligned with joint 13 stays locked to the original starting point of joint 13, so Im left with an ugly string tying the spiral end to the source point, like in this picture:

    Its driving me nuts as Im dying to render something out with this πŸ™‚

    Once again, thank you. In such an expensive industry, this site is a godsend.

    • Did you have joint 1 selected when you were doing everything at the start?

    • Nvm, possible something to do with the D And N in the Instance expresso, or perhaps you assigned the wrong joint to the instance

    • I worked it out – somehow I had added joint 1 as the reference for the hierarchy in the 2nd Xpresso table. Swapped it for the root, sorted.

      Thanks for trying to help Liam, much appreciated.

  • A small change to the logic: arithmetic progression in Scale, rather than geometric, helps for geometric patterns with equidistant rolls.
    Sample animation:
    I made Scale a function of Delta constant and the Index of a Joint: S = (1-i*d)/(1-(i-1)*d)
    Thus the lengths of joints would be, i.e. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
    In case of 90 degree angle, it would be squares, with constant distance of 2 between neighbor parallel segments.
    (Was just thinking of how to imitate a real carpet rolling in/out : )
    Thanks again Mike for inspiration and helping me to dig into XPresso!

  • Thats what tutorials should be like.
    Give me a “donate Bananas”-Button, i’ll hit it. Great. Thanks!

  • Thank you Monkey, I appreciate the joints.

  • Damn. I learned a lot just watching that, and hope to see more Simian Studies from that mad monkey. Just when i thought i was getting to know something in C4D….

  • great tut man! I would really be interested to see how you did the bullet effect with the curled bones and the debris on the sample animation. That shiznit was siznick!!

  • Way beyond my level of knowledge but fantastic all the same. I think this more open – eclectic – and challenging type of tutorial is much needed in a world of quick and goal orientated TUTS. Great site. Keep up the good work.

  • That was pretty dope. I waiting for long time tutorial like this. I even send an e-mail to Nick about this. Thanks you for that. And you are a really good teacher Mike. I can finally beginning to understand the logic behind bone and joints. But I have trouble with the how to use weight tools and how to apply properly to the character. I try to rig a car but I can’t. I’ve so much learn to do. But I can’t wait your next tutorials. Thanks again. Keep up to good work.

  • I just wanted to say that you are awesome, I think your speed is more than perfect in comparison to some other tutorials that goes slows just get me bored, you went straight to the point at all times, thanks for sharing your knowledge and this was beyond excellent! good job I love your work and you work flow.

    Thanks again for this

  • Hey thx monkey for sharing your technique!
    Very interesting stuff with joints… I guess that’s really a powerhorse I left aside for a long time.

    But only to share or whatever: There is another way in Mograph to bend like your joints do. My interface is in german, but I’ll give a try πŸ˜‰

    Just take a matrixobject and increase the “step-rotation”. Then change the input to “additive”.

    If u get that one in the tracer your really close to your result. The tracer feeds the splinewrap. So u can bend whatever u like to your spline.

    It’s not with that fine control, but a way u can get their fast.

    bests, JC

  • Now if there was only a plug in , some script that would simplify this whole process of Batch renaming, xpresso setup etc, and just leave us the juice it would’ve been great.

    Wish I could C.O.F.F.E.E

    • I’ll take problem solving over plugins any day (that’s where I think the juice is). πŸ˜‰

      That being said, a script has been made to do this and will be posted as soon as everybody gets the chance to do a little homework.

  • that was so far over my head but I loved it because of that. Thanks for that.

    You should make a DVD just on expresso. You would be rich. I would buy it.

  • o hell yeah, just rediscovered the mathgeek in me…….now i am gettin myself a single malt whiskey and freak out a bit….

    thanks for sharing mike!

  • Hi there, I know it’s a bit late to post a comment but I really need to thank you both for this great tut.

    It’s so easy to understand and so pleasant to hear somebody speaking about stuff like : golden ratio, etc.

    I’m very happy to come every day seeing what’s new and I can say 95% of all I learned about C4D comes from here.

    Thank’s a lot guys, we can say that this sharing will give a good level for designers, because I do think that we have to teach us each other to bring design better and better, the more we share the best graphic designers will be and so the more and more beautifull will be our cities, our tv’s our world…, it’s hard to explain my meaning in english but I’m sure youhave understand what I want to say.

    Thank’s !

  • I’m running 10.5 – there doesn’t seem to be a way to copy the User Data Interface (at 15:10 in the tutorial)? I don’t see that option, at least. Am I missing something, or is that an R11 thing? If so, uh, what are my options for 10.5?

  • Monkey> Where would you suggest learning more about espresso? You said you learned everything from Srek… I don’t know if that’s a joke, a school or etc.

  • Wow – this was very ummm… different.
    I have a couple of questions…

    1. Could you give a ran-down of some of the stuff you use in C4D to make your workflow more streamline/optimized. E.g I noticed a couple of plugins you had installed. The Xplode plugin that you mentioned last time (Artifaks)is pretty cool. Also, your scene seemed to have an “initial set-up” consisting of lights, a stage, etc. Please give us a small breakdown.

    2. What were your learning resources? School, mentors, tutorials, experimenting? Your stuff is seriously high level. I haven’t seen any other tuts on the interwebz delving into so much detail.

    3. What’s that you’re drinking? I think i need something like that to fry my brain-cells in preparation for your next awesome tut.

    Last, but not least. Thanks for this. It was def awesome. keep ’em coming!

  • THIS is awesome!!!! Thanks Mike!!

  • Sorry. I’m a little late to the party, but I had to post. EXCELLENT TUT!. I’ve been curious about joints and bones for a while now, and I’ev always felt intimidated by Xpresso, but you’ve really made the interface seem more user friendly. I’ll play around and maybe post something to the site. Again, GREAT JOB! Thanks guys.

  • Great tutorial. Don’t mind the fast pace, that’s what the pause and rewind buttons are for.

  • Great tut! looks like he had a few bong hits before the lesson

  • Great tutorial. I liked the fast pace, and even though I had no prior knwoledge of joints it actually made sense to me. Thanks a bunch…looking forward to the next one.

  • That was sick! I’ve never learned so much in such short time. I guess I’ll be watching this tut a few times more, so my slow brain could put everything at right places in my head.
    Thank you very much wise Monkey! Peace!

  • Whatta tutorial bwoy ! Now me nuh nuff to make a plant growin’…ahahah !!! you a de don inna modelin’ mike !!!

  • very very VERY nice bourbon. And a super-de-lux GREAT tutorial!

    thanx man!


  • Can I just fwd to the part where you remove the seeds and sticks?

  • Taught me a lot about joints. For the user data, I think one has to upgrade to R11 or above, because I couldn’t do it somehow to just click at the data rows and then make a group out of them. Anyway, this was a heck of fun to watch, giving me a new insight of things. More of this please. And the monkey rocks, very cool guy…cheers

  • I wholeheartedly agree with the last minute from Mike. Would love to see more of this in that sense!

  • Love the stuff on the Golden Ratio More Science!!! Professor! MORE SCIENCE!

  • AWESOME!!!! Nice to learn from a Genius like you!

  • perfect tutorial, thanx!!!

  • Thanks Nick! Thanks Mike!

    More. More. More.

  • Top tutorial! This gave a lot of new ideas to play around with. Hope to see some more of these from Mike… and from Nick also πŸ™‚

    Maybe a shower would do the trick β€” for the hair I mean πŸ˜‰

  • Donald McNicholl July 15, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Excellent stuff! So densely packed with solid information and tantalising hints.

  • Hey Mike,

    Really AWESOME stuff, man. Three thumbs up…
    I will try to use this concept in one of my current projects.

    Keep doin’ this stuff, man.

    Love your outtakes on Vimeo.

  • unbelievable. thank you so much.

  • What an excellent tutorial. You’re presentation style is fine Mike and the info is gold – pure gold. Off to watch part 2 and looking forward to it.

  • la verdad loco, es genial este tutorial, soy de PerΓΊ y esty comenzando a dominar el cinema 4d.. me da gusto que personas como tu, compartan un poco lo que saben, y personalmente u have a fan in PerΓΊ, now when u want to come, u have a new friend .. cheers

  • Great overview for someone like me who is new to cinema 4D but knows a bit about the fundamentals of 3D. I appreciated the re-iteration to look into things like golden ratios, and the point of knowing more over less is easily overlooked. Cheers!

  • Great tut mate. I would love to see modeling tutorials done by you. Also could you give me some advice or just a how would you do this: I have been using cinema for approx 3months. Modeling objects is a area I want to get into but after sniffing around youtube, greyscale etc haven’t gotten a work flow clear or tools clear. If I were to say for the next two months I want to get the concepts and hands dirty modeling in cinema, what would your program be.

    Project based, concept based? Maybe you could give me a two month program and I document the process and results for you to use online.

    Something I did:

    I love your math, physics brain behind the work and your explanations. Don’t ever feel that info is not listened to or needed. Just like your instructor said.

    Hope to hear from you. Thanks a bunch.

    • Thanks, Andelko! I’m not really into modeling, so don’t expect a tut any time soon. I’m not sure where good modeling tuts are either. Anyone else have a suggestion?

  • great stuff!!!!
    the monkey vs the gorilla πŸ˜›

  • Yup!

    Very nice addition to Nick’s already great tutorial series.
    This, perhaps more technical feel, brings another element to the table that teaches you a lot but above all makes you wanna go and learn all the other aspects of C4D that are still a bit hazy… perhaps not stuff you will necessarily use all the time but the point is you really wanna know now!

    Big ups to the new visitor on planet of the apes!


  • Mike, if you like a very neat movie about the golden spiral than check this out


  • hi, first of all, thax mike for this sharing. it help a lot.
    i would like to figure out somethng if you have time. my spline is ending up on a point that is not lead by the script, by the last joint.
    in other words the last point of my spline is anchored to something else and dont move with the rest of the joint…
    do you know by any chances what can cause this bug?

  • Such a great teacher… Iam a newbie and enjoyed that tutorial to the max, Thanks to the Monkey and the Gorilla u guys rock!!! I will be here now thats for sure! Peace everyone!

    From the Ethiopian Gelada

  • Okey I know its a late replay, but right now trying to recreate what your doing, its all pretty self explaining, but I’ve hit a wall so to say.
    At approximately 34 to 35 minutes in the vid, you change the coordinates of the “drag/scale/rotate-point” from the middle to the bottom left.

    Maybe its a stupid question, but “HOW?!?!?!?”

    If you read the above, i’m just in to C4D, using it now for about 3 to 4 weeks, but if it means anything; Great video, also watched part two before I started to recreate, and I’m digging it, love your “thinking”.

  • Thanks for showing up here with the Gorilla, the Monkey. You did well on your first time πŸ™‚ Also thanks for inviting the Monkey, the Gorilla πŸ˜€ Although the biggest lesson learned for me is that I have a looong way to go before C4D runs out of new features to offer πŸ™‚

    ? is a great number. Interesting stuff.

  • Thanks Mike,

    your tutorials are amazing. I’ve found myself using a lot of the techniques covered in many different aspects of my workflow. Thanks so much! I really prefer these types of tutorials much more than the usual straight forward ‘here’s a popular style and here’s how to make it’ ones (not knocking other tuts as they’re all incredibly handy, it’s just a personal preference).

    I’d love to know if you have any further tutorials planned for the future? Perhaps an extension of your NAB audio synching talk or further exploration of xpresso, perhaps thinking particles? I should really stop being so greedy!

    Anyway, just wanted to say a huge thanks!


  • I’m going through this site like backwards and forward again, and every time find something. This was total porn! Golden joints instantly on pentagons with some stuff on the rocks! Awesome! Thanks a lot!

  • so how do i get the spline to a geometry, if i dont want to do all the weighting? i mean no nurbs, i mean already existing geometry, like mike did with the “BIND” command in the animation menu. i want to apply that, for example, to an 1/8.shape of a sphere. how’s that working?
    thanks for replies!!

  • You are the GREAT !! YOU ARE THE MEN !!!! THX A LOT ! COOL !!!

  • sweet stuff


  • yo.. super awesome tips you got there..

    only problem is, that I’ve made the joint thingie twice, and each time I set the hierarchy reference to joint.01, there is no visible joints left except from in the center of the world – (I have scaled the Root null object to 1)

    therefore – is it possible for you to upload your source file, so I and everyone else can check it out to see what f*** is going on in there πŸ˜›



  • Do any of you guys have problems with animating the first joint in a joint chain? I get jitters when I try to animate ( mainly rotate ) joint root .. does anyone know how to get rid of this?

  • Hey monkey, great tut! I have one question…

    I would like to curl all the joints out, but one joint at a time. So lets say I start with a rotation of 60 degrees on the Y (so that all the joints are rotated wich makes a curl) and then want the first joint to rotate to 0 first, then the second, then the thirds, ect.

    I figured I should offset the rotation when it goes down one in the list. But how?

  • need moooooooooooooooooore

  • I’m having a very strange issue with this… see here

    If anyone can help… please do

  • Thnx, dude.
    I have been looking for tutorials which involve the golden ratio for ages.
    Would like to see a tutorial about proxies and baking in order to
    create high poly clones and fractals within c4d.

  • Super helpful. Thanks man!

  • Majoring in Computer Animation.
    Working on Student Films,
    Working at a Television Broadcast Company doing Motion Graphics.
    I have a ton to learn!

    • Whoops. Thought I was making some kind of profile – so I typed some stuff about me!
      On topic
      Thanks for somewhat explaining the math going on in C4D when it is calculating deformers and joint chains, this video was engaging and helpful.

  • Great tutorial, this is definitely the advanced way of bending things and a brilliant intro into joints and skinning. I just wanted to point out that you actually can make a spiral inwards with the bend modifier. If you give the modifier a slight rotation along the axis you are bending, then the bend will get smaller with each wrap around. You can also make different spirals similar to what is shown in the tutorial depending on which way you rotate the modifier.

  • You really rock, man!
    I’ve spent days searching for how to use joints.
    I experimented with them but couldn’t work around.
    You’ve blown my mind in a minute of tutorial.

  • I know this tutorial is old, so hopefully someone still sees this.
    Anybody have tips on time offsetting clones of this setup?

    I’ve recreated it and animated a simple plane curling up.
    I’d like to clone this plane and offset the time of the curl animation.
    So far I’ve tried using a Step Effector with Time Offset, but all the clones still animate at the same time.

    Do I need to bake this animation in somehow? Any help is appreciated.

  • Hey Mike, when I changed from Next to Down in my hierarchy all my joints disappeared from the view-port. Any idea why? I even try ctrl+z and they are still missing.

  • Wow thanks, I can’t believe I’ve missed this one for so long. It’s still very helpful and relevant 3 years later.

  • This tutorial is really help/useful THX!! But i stumbled across a problem. As i played around with what to put into the chain/Instances i realized, that i couldn’t hide the original reference (f.e. the original plane) when i start rendering things. Is there any clue/way how to fix it ?

    Thx again for all your work in C4D tuts!! And cheers.

  • why the Monkey doesn’t make any more tutorials?

  • Hey Mike, great tutorial-this should come in handy-very smooth in your voice over – oh and BTW, Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, good taste in spirits-Craig

  • Still relevant!!! Thanks for the tutorial dood !

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