Tracer Swarm Effect Tutorial in Cinema 4D

November 7, 2012

In this tutorial, I will show you how to use tracers, cloners, sweep nurbs and an animated random effector to create this swarm-line technique in Cinema 4D. This technique is simple to set up and fast to render, but creates completely different effects based on your custom settings and colors. Enjoy.

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  • GREAAAT! probably the best tutorial idea this year

  • Stunning….. getting straight on that tutorial….!

  • Is that the same principles as redgiants trapcode 2? Looks really good Nic ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Maybe the most creative and visually stunning tutorial produced by the gorilla.

  • good job ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Awsome nick.
    thank you for share1

  • This is a great tutorial! I tried a test like this awhile back with hair instead of sweep nurbs and got the same look! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • can you do this to an already animated mesh? i.e an animated face that has facial expressions? or import an Fbx? this would look amazing to an animated head where is screaming.

    • You should be able to put clones on any object and they should follow the surface/vertex of the object without any problem. So yes xD

  • awesome look. thx nick!

  • GREAT tutorial Nick … Thank youu….

  • Another great tutorial and the example was stunning. Can’t wait to try this one out!

  • is it possible to do in r13 also??

  • My render bugged for some reason so i got this result:
    But i kinda like it ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Now this is a nice idea.It got pontential and easier then thinking particles..

  • I want to spotify that first clip’s music. Ron Burgundy? Who? I liked it.

  • Can anyone tell me why mine looks diffrent in the view-port, render then in the picture render? I dot have any “red dots” checked in the view port which isent checked in the picture view or anything.

    • I have the same problem, It looks great in the picture viewer but it just doesn’t render correctly. I don’t understand why it doesn’t render the same, i cranked the numbers under project settings to give more steps per frame but that didn’t work either.

      Any solutions?

  • For more control over the tracer object, check out the Ubertracer plugin.

    • Are you on a Mac using vR13?
      If so, did you have any trouble w/ the plugin?

      Gene’s ( notes re: BUGS

      “Do not place anything in the UberTracer’s Trace Link box that uses the exact same UberTracer as its reference object if you are using Get Points From Elements. This will create a positive feedback loop and eventually cause a stack overflow error.”

  • Looks amazing and would look great as wallpapers and for promo videos ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Nick, I think this is the first time seeing you beardless. You’re a handsome man!

  • Fantastic Nick, I can’t wait to load this new tutorial, great work.

  • Hey dudes, If your preview player gets stuck… Hit the button called ESC. Problem Solved! Global Warming Next. Nice Tut

  • anyone here who draws creative comic sketches? I need some ideas. i am preparing for animation school entrance exam. prev yr question “draw 5 scenes with dialogue fight between shoe and slipper”. guys any ideas? also is there any good content in internet to improve comic/cartoon sketches and ideas?

  • perhaps the best tutorial yet ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Thanks Man !

  • Great tut as usual ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’d just add that instead of having to hide the cloned cubes you can use a matrix object which just create invisible clones.

  • Very nice idea. Iยดve been also been playing with tracer to create fake particle effects.
    This is much more faster than setting up and tweaking TP systems.

  • When using a tracer modifier you can quickly view the traces by applying a Hair texture. A sweep Nurbs is useful but takes a lot of rendertime when rendering.

  • Thank you for the tutorial, GreyscaleGorilla
    I actually just found this lovely site 5 days ago.. and have been watching tutorials, podcasts , interviews and those lovely 5 sec projects , … I am a 17 yr student and actually use 3ds max, and After Effects, n its only been 4-5 months, n I am loving it .. Thanks to that i came to this site after watching… those interviews.. ahh.. art of getting paid and audience building – of some festival.
    And … about this site. — I am loving the positivety of this site, I listened to some podcasts — those audio thing, and loved them. actually it was good that it was audio because if it was a video, I could have wasted 5-6 hours of time.. watching the guy.. mostly saying… well, dont take me wrong but, honestly.. somewhat ..he was out of focus.. and repeating things, but that really did not matter because. ,, he said what came out of his mind, things were of what he has experienced in his journey…n also said he was practicing… so it was very inspirational, helpful
    and i did not feel i am wasting my time … because it was like .. I am talking to a friend while working. Thank you for those words.. it really means a lot .. as I have just started my journey, and I am feeling lucky to have a good net connection, find these inspiring sites at an early age..
    because may be at his time, things weren’t as easy as it is now.. good time to be born…may be.
    I am loving that this site is also somewhat more about motion graphics… actually this site has many things, but I love motion graphics – this site has what i needed, the only problem is of the software, .. but it is also somewhat solved as in one of the audios, he was saying – like… students get afraid at early stages in matters like which software to choose… that audio had something that gave me strength like… i am only starting, n i should not worry much… because i have time to learn what i love the most. I will figure out a way, either i will try to translate the tutorials into 3ds max by finding tools.. or well .. start using cinema too…
    all in all… i just wanted to share what i felt this week… well this is a very nice site that doesnt only teach how to use the tools… but also things that come across this journey.
    So, just wanted to thank this site.. and .. the guy, Nick.
    So thank you so much.

  • Awesome tutorial. I have a question concerning the connections of the tracer. I have seen this done, but I am having a hard time tracing these vertices in grid fashion. How do I connect these?
    Anyone? Thanks

  • This is a GSG tutorial “always style”. I mean, very interesting, with which you learn a lot of things, and very very well explained (this last as always too). Thanx to Nick, who isn’t “the gorilla” but a teacher, real one.

  • Great tutorial but when i go to render it, it just comes out as the background and a few orange dots can anyone help?

    • Drop the tracer in a sweep nurb with another spline profile.

    • Hi Adan,
      i don’t know if this is still bugging you or current (it’s obvious some time ago since you asked this question) but i struggled with the same problem as you, and here’s what worked for me:

      As you i had followed the tutorial, and everything was fine, letting the animation run and then stop somewhere mid-animation and rendering the view worked also but as soon as i said: “add to render queue” and rendered just the one still-image, the outcome was just the background with some hints of the “heads”.

      So, i fumbled around a bit and came to the following solution (i’m using c4d R13):
      instead of just rendering one still-image i rendered the whole animation sequence (starting with frame 0) and then the tracer-tails appeared in the images (Go to your render settings in “Output” choose “All Frames” in “Frame Range” and in “Save” choose tif and some subfolder (otherwise your project folder will be cluttered with all the single tif images from the render).

      As an explanation i came to this conclusion:
      the tracer “traces” a movement from an object in an animation as long as it is in your construction view, there has been a movement before and you just render this single image with “render view” but as soon as you add one single frame to the render queue it “forgets” about any movement before, and a single frame has no movement, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ So you end up with just the dots and the background. But a sequence of frames to render gives you some movement which the tracer then can “trace” and therefore render.

      Well, this is just a guess from my side (maybe it’s more of a bug in R13, i don’t know) but this worked for me, and the output was 200frames with the tracer-tails in it.

      Hope this maybe works for you (or anyone who stumbles across this post ๐Ÿ˜‰ )


  • I added a gradient to the head so it blends nicely into the tail.

  • Love the effect, and the music too. Which is the title of the song?? ๐Ÿ™‚
    Hugs from spain ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • This is very inspirational!! A great idea, maybe i’ll start to do some weird animation from now on! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Great tutorial, thanks Nick!

    Here’s my first effort:
    …needs honing.

  • What seems to work in the viewport while rendering doesn’t seem to work in the picture viewer making the renders all dark!
    Tracer is sure buggy in 13!

    I know I fixed this with a workaround before when tried something similar but doesn’t remember how! I need to check into this one!

  • Great tutorial as always. Learned a few new little tricks. The only thing that REALLY annoyed me about this is that I was just experimenting with the same thing. Now everybody thinks my tests are based on this tutorial ๐Ÿ™ Annoying coincidence ๐Ÿ˜€ have a nice weekend!

  • I have tried this kind of thing many times and love tinkering with organic animation but never produced anything as interesting as these. Really thing the camera movement helps tons. Thanks for the tut Nick!

  • Great tutorial! It inspired me. So did the song. Who plays it?

  • I found a project from a german design studio that makes the most amazing C4D work, and they have some coloring that I have never seen before. They use several objects that have this fantastic gradiant look. Can somebody give me a tip on how to color multiple objects like this:

  • It’s been a week learning C4D and After Effects and your tutorials have indeed helped me a lot. Here is a heart animation I did using your technique.
    Link :
    gif preview :

  • Encore un grand merci, C’est clair et limpide

  • Tank you Nick!!!!! Fantastic Tutorial =)

  • Still looking for a good particle system like krakatoa for C4D, maybe this could get there?

  • Hey Nick!

    Nice tut.
    What song you are using for this.
    I like it ๐Ÿ˜‰



  • Awesome Nick!

    Just one question.. it’s possible to clone one emisor? i try but it’s not working…

  • Great tutorial!!!! What happened to the GSG intro???? I liked that!!!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Fantastic tutorial Nick, thank you, I did some stunning stuff with this.
    One problem I uncovered was that Net render produced jumps in the final movie where the tracers started over again (from nothing). It occurred to me that when net render divides up the frames into ranges, the first frame in each of these ranges has no ‘existing’ tracer tails rendered, so it starts tracing from nothing again. Any Idea how to get around this?

    Thank you sir !

  • thanks for the site, for the inspiring work, for the tutorials Nik.
    Thanks Tom for the music link.

  • I’m having some trouble. I’m trying to get the tracer to bounce off a floor. The emitter does, but the tracer follows the path it would if there were no tags, passing right through the floor while the object bounces. Any idea on how to fix this? Thanks!

  • Big thanks Tom!!!

    Greetings ben

  • Nice!! this tuts are back!! Tnxs Nick for share your creativity… ๐Ÿ˜€ I add some sound effect and a track not big deal but hope you like it…

    For the render problem, I figured out to making the tracer group editable (tail)….


  • nic one der. rely helpin me

  • Thank you for the tutorial, I haven’t left the site in 3 days, been learning alot!

  • Great tutorial as always Nick, thank you so much!

  • I added a light source at the tip, and a gradient along the sweep nurb:

  • Thanks for another brilliant tutorial Nick!

  • thanks for the tut! I used some trapcode shine on it.

  • Here is what i have tried with tracer in my composition for Diwali spot

  • Great tutorial, really an awesome look!
    I’m working on my own animation and I got it all set up and working but I have one problem… I’m trying to render a still image out of my animation but the traced lines are not showing up, all I see is the background. I set everything to show up in the Renderer. As I just started working with C4D I have no idea what the problem could be.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • thank you for this, this is lovely in combination with the sound effector ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hi, Nick! It looks great! Thanks for the lesson! Can I make a morph with that? From one that would form to another in the same effect.
    Can I append to this Sound effector?
    Sorry, I write through a translator.

  • Am a beginner wt C4D. Am having problem importing video clips. I will appreciate any help.

  • Thank you for this tutorial.
    I gave it a try and although your ones look way smarter it made a lot of fun anyway:

  • Great tutorial, so great I borrowed it for my company Christmas ecard this year, thanks Nick ๐Ÿ™‚

  • what was the name of your DOF plugin?
    Thanks! Looks awesome by the way!

  • Great tutorial and also a great site!

    Never has so much fun on watching a tutorial… It’s the perfect mix of educational and fun stuff…

    Keep up the great work! And thanks again!


  • HEY people I have a problem with the Render to Picture Viewer the Seep NURBS are not visible only in the fast viewer . Please help me I tride everything maybe somebody could help me.

  • great tutorial!

  • Enjoyed this tutorial ALOT!
    Thanks GG ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hello

    Very nice tutorial
    It is very close to what I am looking for
    I would like to do this kind of animation
    With a Formula 1 I modeled

    Any idea on how to do it?

  • Hi Nick
    Maybe this is not important, but I’ve noticed it there is no Specular Color button in your material editor ; but instead you put the Specular Color tab jnto the Specular tab/section. How did you modify it?
    And did you noticed that in Mike the monkey Object Manager, the icon of the object is on the right side not on the left side?

  • C4D mates, how can u place the certain pivot point of a model without rotating it? please anyone Helpppppp ..

  • New-ish to C4d and I want the Tracer swarm to activate midway through animation and appear to burst out of a sphere. I have tried to do this by key framing the randomizer strength to 0% right before the burst and then keyframing it at 200% right after the burst. It seems to work fine the first time I run through the animation. However, when I backtrack in the timeline the tails don’t go away and start from the beginning again. There is a lot going on in the scene and it may just be lagging, but is there something I’m doing wrong or is there a more effective way to activate the swarm?

  • Great tutorial and also a great site!

  • THanks for the great tutorial!
    I have one question regarding the camera. Is there any way to fix the camera as if it riding on one of the tentacles?

  • You also can use 2 (or more) different objects and let the lines tranform into an other shape.
    I used Expresso to switch the object selection (a small cube and a large torus).
    A delay effector make a nice and smooth transition.
    You have to place the random effector under the delay effector (in the effector tab of the
    cloner object) otherwise it will be effected too.
    I used a high strength (95%) for the delay. It looks like a swarm of worms that attack an flee.

    P.S. great work!

  • Awesome tut, just need some advice for one thing thought. If you have rendered a still image and you export it to Photoshop then you do all you adjustments and stuff. What file format do you save it as for the final copy, for best quality?
    Thanks in advanced if you do reply ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Thx for this great tutorial!! This is my result:

  • Hi Gorilla,

    Iยดm mostly thankfull for all your marvellous tutorials! I have done almost half of them ๐Ÿ˜‰
    The music of this example is lovely. Where could I find it?

    Best regard,

  • Good afternoon, I visit your site very often’m from Mexico, I admire your work, I came across a question, to make the effect of tracer, everything works fine until I do the render in which the lines are not only organic are straight lines, which I have badly configured PC can not render right???

  • Can you place an object amongst the tracer paths and have them avoid( move around them or bounce off them dynamically?..asking too much?


  • Where do i download the model pack from?. Really nice tutorial by the way.

  • Very inspiring tutorial! When increasing the number of clones over time in the animation, how would I create the effect of each new cloned object slowly fading in rather than just popping up from one frame to the next?


  • Thanks so much! I m trying to learn c4d, and your tutorials are a great learning path. This tutorial is great. Thanks Nick.

  • Hi, Nick. Thanks a lot for very nice tuttorial!
    But I have trouble with it, actually.
    Render View and Render to Picture Viewer give completely different results (see links below) and I don’t know how to solve this.

    If anyone has any idea, please reply to this comment.


    5th image.

    Hello Nick,
    I love your site and ur tutorials.
    Please can u just break down the 5th image in a tutorial. It would be of great help.

  • Hello Nick. Great tutorial. Thank you!

    I tried to follow and faced one problem: in viewport when i render it looks good and works. but in picture viewer render it renders very strange ๐Ÿ™ can you tell what might be reason?
    picture viewer:

  • Thank you for a great tutorial. Is there any way to create a rounded head on the end of the ‘head’ rather than a flat one? Like a capsule.

    Also my seamless floor within HDRI studio rig is not rendering within after effects. Any idea where I am going wrong here – I’m assuming it’s a check box I haven’t found yet or something.

    Thank you!

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