There are hundreds of 3D animation software options to choose from, so where should you start? The answer depends on how much technological background you have, as well as what kind of 3D needs you have. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, here are the first 10 3D modeling programs you should check out and consider using:
Bryce (DAZ 3D) - What began as a hot fractal geometry program back in 1994 has continued to be updated over all these years, with the newest version released in 2010. Most have forgotten all about the once popular software, but it’s become more than just a robust outdoor environment modeling program. It now includes animation features as well, while still having a beginner friendly interface and render setup. It doesn’t get much easier than Bryce for beginners, but it offers very little to advanced animators.
Blender (The Blender Foundation) - I talked about Blender at length here, and I still can’t get over how cool it is. While Bryce is for an extreme novice, Blender is the perfect introduction to all that 3D software has to offer animators. Not only is it capable of most of the features the top of the line products boast on their bullet point lists, but it’s 100% free. It’s also small in size by comparison to its competitors, and its gigantic online community has hundreds of courses and tutorials available publicly, which are also all free.
Poser (Smith Micro Software) - In the mid to late 90s, Poser was quite ahead of its time in 3D graphics. Currently, it can’t compete with most programs when it comes to fully fleshed out feature lists, but if you just want a program that will help you easily animate 3D characters, then Poser and its free library of base human and animal meshes is still something worth having in your back pocket at all times, even if you eventually move on to more complex 3D software in the future.
Maya (Autodesk) - Alias’s Maya was acquired by Autodesk in 2005, and while it was originally rumored that Maya would be the leading animation software in the movie industry, with 3D Studio Max leading animation software in the gaming industry, that simply didn’t become the truth. They both co-exist in both markets to this day, with Max containing many perks that Maya does not, but when it comes to animation Maya is arguably the better of the two. Many prefer its interface, and it has a cloth and particle physics engine for all your simulation needs. However, the icing on the cake is Maya Live’s motion tracking tools.
3ds Max (Autodesk) - Possibly the most respected 3D modeling software in the world when all things are considered, but certainly not the definitive animation software. Its Havok physics engine, particle effects, fur effects, character studio, and facial morphs were once vastly impressive, but in recent years its competition has somewhat caught up. If you want a program solely for animation it may not be the best choice, but for an all encompassing 3D software package it’s still arguably the best complete kit on the market. In recent years it’s also seen huge strides in compositing software that can come bundled with it.
Cinema 4D (Maxon) - Cinema 4D Studio has seen use by a long list of huge budget box office hits in the past few years, and when you look at all the features that the software is capable of, it shouldn’t be a surprise. While some of the 3D industry is moving in specialized smaller directions, Maxon’s directly taking on 3ds Max by offering a complete 3D art package that can do just about anything.
RealFlow (Next Limit Technologies) - So you don’t want to animate a character or an animal, but instead have to deal with incredibly complex environmental or physics animations. RealFlow is the answer. Excluding explosions, think of any elaborate and jaw dropping natural disaster possible, and RealFlow can handle it. If there’s been an insane fluids special effect in any show or movie you’ve seen in recent years, and you’ve wondered how it was made, RealFlow is probably responsible. If it’s not, then it probably would have been even more amazing if the studio went with the RealFlow software instead. Don’t believe me? Just watch this video as evidence of how powerful it truly is.
Animation Schools to Consider: