3d is one of the most popular things we have today. We can see 3d graphics and animations in movies, games, commercials, mobile devices etc. If we talk about entertainment industry, 3d is been there for a while now but in recent years, it has expanded its roots in 3d printing for prosthetics and sculptures.
As a result of this great evolution of 3d industry, today we have so many applications that we can use to create 3d graphics, animation and simulations without going through the complex algorithms behind them. These software programs are easy to understand and you don’t have to be the some sort of technician in order to operate them. However, some folks may find 3d pretty confusing at first. In that case you can take advantage of internet which is stuffed with countless helpful videos and text tutorial from beginner to advanced level.
Below is the list of the most popular 3d software applications you can choose from and if you are already using one, feel free to tell us your experience with it.
Autodesk Maya is one of the most popular software applications used in Films and Game production. Maya has been used by many well-known Studios such as Disney and DreamWorks. Maya offers some wonderful tools for 3d artists such as Paint Effects that allow users to paint in 2d and 3d.
Maya has its own scripting language called MELscript and supports Python which can be used to automate many complex processes. A brand new sculpting tool set has been introduced into Maya that can be used to sculpt morph targets without any hassle. It has XGen feature which is a geometry instancer that can be used to scatter objects in large scale.
You can also create hair and fur with the help of XGen’s groomable splines and grooming brushes. It provides some robust rigging tools such as nMuscle muscle system which makes it possible to create rigs with believable deformations. In previous releases, some new tools like Geodesic Voxel Binding and Delta Mush have been added to make skinning job much easier and faster than before.
Maya is available for Widows OS (7.0- SP1, 10), Mac OS X 10.10.5 and 10.11.x, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 & 7.2 WS, CentOS 6.5 & 7.2 Linux Operating System.
Autodesk 3ds max is one of the major software applications that have been used by industry professionals for films, games and commercials. It has an amazing set of tools that artists can use to model, texture and animate believable 3d characters and assets. It offers flexible tools for poly modeling and retopologizing such as Graphite modeling tools and tons of great modifiers that you can use to model and animate stuff.
Its texture editor has some awesome features that come in handy while unwrapping complex objects. You can easily paint textures over the 3d models with the help of Viewport Canvas. You can organize your textures through layers and manipulate them with the tools provided by Viewport Canvas that are pretty much similar to that of Photoshop (Smudge, Clone, Blur & Sharpen, Dodge & Burn etc.)
As rendering and texturing artist, you can take advantage of 3ds Max’s huge material library that contains tons of physically based materials and create your own real-time shaders with Shader FX.
3ds max provides Character Animation Toolkit, Bipeds and Bones with awesome rigging tools that help user to create amazing and flexible rigs.
3ds Max supports Python and has an in-built programming language called MaxScript that you can use to automate complex tasks and create advance rigs. In the latest release, one of the biggest features, Max Creation Graph or MCG has been introduced into 3ds max. MCG is a node based visual programming environment that you can use to create your own tools and modifiers. 3ds Max is an ultimate package for creating professional looking 3d content. This appliction is available for Windows (7, 8.0, 8.1, 10) operating system.
This great software is developed by Maxon company and has so many innovative features that help artists create stunning 3d art. It has a fully customizable user interface that you can rearrange according to your comfort. Its modeling toolset includes Knife tool for slicing geometry with multiple cutting styles.
Through its Polygon Pen, you can easily create polygons, draw poly rows, create extrusions, rotate & snap edges together and perform other mesh operations easily. You can also use splines and Generator tool for modeling complex 3d models.
Cinema4d’s awesome sculpting toolset has tons of great tools for creating highly detailed sculptures. Sculpting details can be organized with the help of sculpt layers. The Xpresso tool allows user create cool looking procedural animations. It has number of presets that you can look into.
You can also create your own animation libraries, blend, re-time, loop them and apply them to different characters and objects. CMotion adds cyclic motion to any parameter of the rig and can be used for creating parametric walk cycles. Custom walk cycles or presets can be easily applied to a character rig.
Through Pose morph animators can declare the different states of character animation and blend between various types of animation data. MoGraph, a parametric tool can be used for creating stunning motion graphics. Cinema4d offers variety of lights for creating complex lighting setups. There are lots of light parameters that you can play with such as density, color, brightness, lens reflexes and other light properties to create a realistic setup for your 3d scenes.
You can also create 2d, 3d and stereoscopic images. You can render different render passes within cinema4d and export the directly to the different compositing applications like After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Fusion, Nuke etc. Cinema4d is available for Windows (7, 8, 8.1, 10) 64 bit and Mac OS X 10.9.5 or higher with 64-bit processor running on Intel-based Apple Macintosh.
Lightwave is yet another solution that provides tons of handy tools for vfx, games and films. It has intuitive modeling tools that allow users model complex geometries in less time. It offers two types of surfacing systems – Layer based system and Node based system. Layer based is quick and can be used for concept visualization. On the other hand, Node based system is more detailed and flexible system that can be used to achieve complex results.
Lightwave has an automatic joint influence fall off system through which you can automatically weight map the geometry in no time. It contains powerful procedural, nodal and keyframing tools for animating complicated scenes.
Its Viewport Preview renderer allows users to preview the scene with textures, volumes and lights directly in the viewport. It also supports stereoscopic rendering.
You can develop tools and automate lengthy tasks inside of Lightwave through Python scripting. Its interactive flocking system can be used to simulate flock of birds, school of fish and herd of animals with different crowd behaviors. Powerful HyperVoxels can be used to simulate cool looking explosions, flames, liquids and other volumetric effects.
It has Bullet physics engine for simulating explosions and other destruction effects. For creating cool looking hair and fur stuff, FibreFx is here. It includes pretty amazing tools that are just perfect for creating furs, feathers and hair. LightWave is available for Windows (64 & 32 Bit) and Mac OS (UB)
Houdini is a wonderful 3d application developed by Side effects software. It’s a complete package for modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting and compositing tasks. This awesome software allows you to work procedurally with its node based workflow. With this awesome feature, you can easily create complex 3d models procedurally without jumping back and forth into history states.
It offers Cloud FX for creating great volumetric effects and an inbuilt renderer Mantra to render volumes.
Its node based compositor is pretty easy to use and you can test out render passes before processing them into some other compositing application. It provides some great animator’s friendly tool like channel editor and dope sheet and some more advanced motion editing tools through which you can create compelling animations.
Houdini’s rigging toolset contains some awesome tools that are perfect for creating high quality rigs for movies and games.
You can create packages of your character, procedural props and effect, materials, lighting rigs with the help of Digital Asset so that other people can also use them without any problem. If you are more into creating particles effects and vfx you can upgrade to HoudiniFX. This software is available for Windows – 7 SP1, 8, 8.1, 10 (64 bit), Max OS X, Linux (Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (64 bit), Debian 7.0+, RHEL 6+, Fedora 16+, Open SUSE 12.1+, Cent OS 6+, Mint 13+) (64 bit)
Modo is one of the simplest and easy to use applications with wonderful toolset for artists. Its Mesh Fusion Boolean tools allow user to perform complex Boolean operations. It offers flexible modeling and sculpting toolset tightly integrated with the UV system so that you can easily work with UVs and make changes to the geometry any time without worrying about the UV layout.
Through Modo’s texture painting tools such as pressure-sensitive brushes, image-based stencils, curve snapping and masking tools, artists can now easily paint textures over 3d models just like in other sculpting and texturing applications. You can easily review and tweak your textures during the texture baking process. You can save the bake related attributes and reuse them with any model that you want.
It allows artists render stunning and lifelike images with the help of Modo’s physically-based renderer. Its nondestructive and node-based rigging toolset is ideal for creating complex production quality rigs. The animation toolset includes many useful key framing and curve tools that make a complex and time consuming process like animation much easier.
Modo has rule-based particles, rigid and soft body simulation system and procedural shattering that can be used to simulate breathtaking particle effects, cloth & soft bodies and destruction effects. Modo allows artists to manipulate hair, fur, grass and other fibre-based stuff as actual geometry that can be sculpted, shaded and rendered directly in the scene. This app is available for Windows 7, 8 and 10 (64 bit), Max OS X (10.9x, 10.10x, 10.11x) and Linux 64-bit OS (RHEL 5.4+)
If you can’t afford other expensive applications, I would highly recommend Blender as it is free-open source 3d app. Blender is a magnificent app that you can use to get your creative journey started. In my opinion, it has everything an artist would want in a 3d application.
It has a wide variety of tools that you can use to create awesome 3d art for games and films. Its node based rendering engine is perfect for creating complex shaders like transparent glass and SSS. Its Open Shading Language (OSL) allows user to code unique shaders.
Blender’s rigging tools support automatic skinning, easy weight painting and mirror functionality. User can easily organize the skeleton and controls using Bone Layers and Colored Groups feature. Its animation tool set includes Character animation pose editor, non-linear animation for independent animation, sound synchronization. You can also automate walk cycles along the paths with the help of these handy tools.
Blender also offers sculpting tool set with 20 different types of brushes and supports multi-res sculpting like other major sculpting software applications like Zbrush and Mudbox. Its Dynamic Topology sculpting feature automatically tessellates the geometry as you go.
You can render stunning art through its rendering engine Cycles. Cycles engine supports GPU & CPU rendering with realtime viewport preview. Blender also has an in-built game engine that you can use to create your own games with the help of Python scripting API. It supports OpenGL dynamic lighting, toon shading, animated materials, normal mapping and parallax mapping. You can easily playback your game without any pre-processing or compiling.
Moreover, Blender also has video editing and compositing capabilities so that you can easily edit and composite your animation within this amazing program. Blender is available for Windows (Vista,7,8,10), Linux & Mac OS X 10.6+
Maya LT is a mini version of the Maya with limited set of tools specifically made for the Indie game developers. Some of the features like paint effects, PSD file support, transfer maps, unlimited animation layers, ATOM animation file save and load, constraints (scale, geometry, normal and tangent), Maya muscle system, Deformers (wrinkle, wrap, sculpt, soft modification, cluster, wire and jiggle), camera sequencer, Arnold renderer, render setup, vector renderer, hardware renderer window, Interactive photorealistic renderer(IPR), toon shader, third-party viewport renderer override, Bifrost, XGen, Maya Fluids, Fur, nHair, nCloth, nParticles, rigid and soft body dynamics, Bullet physics etc. are absent in MayaLT. This software is available for Windows and Mac OS X.
Cheetah3d has some great tools for polygon, subdivision surface and spline modeling. Its animation system gives you freedom to animate almost every property of the object. It offers powerful Bullet physics engine for creating accurate rigid and soft body simulations.
MessiahStudio is an amazing animation & rendering package with promising production quality. It has been used in many feature films, commercials, games and music videos. It has a powerful render and shader system with dynamic rendering support. It offers some great animation tools and scripts that allow your characters interact with other scene objects.
Its amazing deformers act in real-time so that users can easily get the updated feedback on playback. Messiah Point Animation tool allows users to tweak the pose of the character on any frame with the help of some cool sculpting brushes. MessiahStudio has awesome hair creation tools with real-time dynamics support.
Its Auto Rig feature can be used to create professional rigs within no time. It also offers some handy display modes such as Stereoscopic 3d and silhouette that you can use anytime. You can automate the several tasks with the help of Messiah SDK that allows you to access every node of the application. This application is available for Windows and Mac OS.
Strata Design 3D CX 7.5
Another powerful and easy to learn 3d software with powerful abilities to model, texture and animate 3d stuff. The new version has got some cool features and improvements such as defining seam for flattening UV textures. It offers tight integration with Adobe Photoshop so that you can work more efficiently with PSD files.
You can now define the seams before unwrapping the model. Its Least Squares Conformal Maps help reduce the texture distortion during the texturing process. It offers an ultimate, award winning rendering system for rendering life like images. Strata Design 3D CX 7.5 now has ability to import CAD models and export STL files for 3d printing.
Textures, edge and vertex hardness, UV seams and face sets can be retained during the conversion of poly meshes. You can easily reduce the number of polygons in a high density mesh using Decimate feature.
Silo3d is simple yet so powerful application used by artists for creating 3d models. It provides a great uncluttered environment with its focused 3d modeling tools that are suitable for sculpting organic models and hard surface objects.
It has a wonderful set of retopology tools for artists that mostly work with high poly geometries. You can easily draw polygons over the high density mesh and the snap function makes the polygons correctly sit over the high res geometry. Silo Supports import for .obj, .3ds, .dfx, .sia, .sib, and .fac and export for .stl, .pov and .rib.
Silo offers multiple types of unwrapping styles such as LSCM, planar, per face, by neighbors etc. Silo has the ability to preserve UVs so whenever you make any changes to your model, you don’t have to go through the unwrapping process again. You can easily edit UVs of an object with the help of tools like Merge, Break, Tweak, Slide and Soft Selection. It has sticky key function is a big time saver and helps speeding up the workflow during modeling and UV editing. This Software is available for Windows 7 or newer, Mac OS 10.8 or newer 64-bit and Linux CentOS 6+, Fedora 16+ orUbuntu 14.04+
Rhino3d offers robust tools for creating wonderful 3d assets. It is compatible with design, engineering, analysis, CAM, rendering and illustration software applications you use.
Rhino3d can easily read and repair meshes & IGES files and unlike other super heavy 3d apps, Rhino3d is so fast that you can run it on a normal machine with no special memory need.
Rhino renderer allows users to preview the render in real time and supports many common file formats used by different renderers. It also offers support for rendering plugin (windows only). Rhino3d is compatible with many different CAD, CAM, CAE, animation and rendering applications. Rhino3d is available for Windows And Mac OS
I hope you’ve enjoyed the list and if you think I missed something that should be in the list, feel free to comment it down below. Thanks!