Liberty Global Spark

When a Little Nudge Makes a Big Impact

Two 3D artists, four weeks’ work and maximum creative freedom: these are the right working conditions for creating a VR simulation of a Rube Goldberg machine in Cinema 4D.

Liberty Global is a global media and telecommunications company and one of the world’s largest broadband providers, with more than 40,000 employees. Consumers are more familiar with subsidiaries such as Unitymedia. In 2011, Liberty Global embarked on a search to find out how they can expand their own innovative strength through more employee participation. They decided to create an innovation platform named Spark where employees could share and discuss their ideas with the entire company.

Liberty Global asked the motion design studio Kreukvrij to produce a promotional film for their informational events and Powerpoint presentations to make Spark more appealing to their staff. The only requirement was that the spot be innovative and finished within four weeks.

Kreukvrij’s Art Director Olaf Gremie and Executive Producer Martijn Gademan from Liberty Global worked together with 3D artist Lars Scholten to develop a creative idea for visualizing the idea behind Spark: Cinema 4D was used to animate a Rube Goldberg machine that uses complicated methods to solve simple tasks to illustrate how a little nudge can make a big impact. What’s special about this project is that it’s a physically correct simulation of the nonsense machine in VR that was created with almost no keyframe animation. To get the most out of VR, the team created the scene differently than for a traditional film. The viewer would have to rotate their angle of view in order to follow the entire chain reaction. This meant that the artists had to make the complete environment visually interesting for the viewer.

The project’s biggest challenge was to make the Dynamics simulation work in a single go. To achieve this very ambitious goal, the 3D artists broke the machine down into individual sections that were saved in separate scene files and added to the master scene using XRefs. They then varied the settings countless times in the Dynamics’ expert settings for each scene until the machine worked as desired in each section. As soon as they had the result they wanted they baked the simulation as an Alembic file to make sure the fruits of their endless labor were saved. This ensured that the animation would still work if the Dynamics cache was accidentally deleted, and also reduced the size of the master scene by more than 10 GB to a slim and trim 71 MB! Also, if the simulation had not been baked, even the smallest change to the scene would have caused Dynamics to behave unpredictably. “Alembic really saved our lives,” says Lars Scholten about the time-consuming work on the Dynamics simulation. The extensive use of XRefs made it possible for the 3D artists to reduce the scene’s complexity and achieve better performance for the simulation in the Viewport. This meant that they were able to work efficiently on the simulation and let the iterations run faster until the desired result was achieved.

To speed up the modeling process, the team used plans of various objects from the Internet for reference and used plant models from Turbosquid. They also observed each model’s distance from the camera to avoid modeling unnecessarily detailed objects.

Cinema 4D’s MoGraph toolset was also indispensible for the project whose Cloners were used to position numerous objects throughout the scene. Cloners were used to create the holes in the wooden calendar and position the colored discs with the help of a Random Effector. The MoGraph Cloners’ render instances were a great help for the CPU-intensive Dynamics simulation of the marbles, as Lars Scholten describes: “We have about 5,000 marbles in the scene that would have overburdened any computer without instancing.”

To speed up the calculation of Dynamics for complex objects such as the wooden airplane, the team used low-poly models that were added to the scene as invisible proxies.

“The project was good fun, because everything works just like a real Rube Goldberg machine and there were many variables that could completely mess up the entire animation,” says Lars Scholten looking back at his work for Liberty Global.

For him, Cinema 4D turned out to be the prefect tool for the project, which was completed in only four weeks: “Cinema 4D is a powerful tool for CG artists who want to accomplish fast and great-looking results, even with a very small team and limited time.”

Lars Scholten’s Website:
Liberty Global’s Website:

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