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List of 3D Software - Full 3D Suites

Choosing a 3D Production Package

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If you're wondering which 3D software application to choose, you've come to the right place.  We've created a list of the most important full 3D suites being used by today's top studios and 3D artists.  Like our list of production studios, this section will be fairly static at first, but we plan to continually add links to in-depth reviews for each piece of software.  Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter for updates, news, and freebies. 

Also, if you're looking for a little bit of background to help you choose the 3d application that's right for you, check out our article on the matter: How to choose a 3D software application.

And without further ado, here's the list:

Full 3D Production Suites

1. Autodesk Maya

 

Maya is the industry leading package for 3D animation, and boasts a comprehensive modeling, rigging, animation, and dynamics toolset.  The software is paired with Mental Ray for photo-realistic rendering, and can be customized and extended through the use of third party plugins developed in Python based MEL (Maya Embedded Language).

Maya is the top choice in the visual effects and film industry, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better solution for character animation. Because of it's market saturation, Maya skills are highly marketable (but also highly competitive). It's popularity carries another bonus—there are literally heaps of rock-solid training materials available for Maya.

     Developer: Autodesk, Inc.
     Price: $3495 (Free student/learning edition)

2. Autodesk 3ds Max

 

3ds Max does for the game industry what Maya does for film and visual-effects. Its animation toolset might not be as robust as Maya’s but it makes up for any shortcomings with state of the art modeling and texturing tools. 3ds Max is typically a first choice for game development houses, and you'll rarely see architectural visualization firms using anything else.  Although Mental Ray is bundled with 3ds Max, many Max users (especially in the arch-viz industry) render with V-Ray because of its material and lighting tools.

Like Maya, 3ds Max is tremendously popular which means there are both a large number of jobs and a large number of artists competing for them. Skills in 3ds Max translate easily to other 3D packages, and as a result it is probably the most popular first choice for beginning 3D artists/enthusiasts.

     Developer: Autodesk, Inc.
     Price: $3495 (Free student/learning edition)

3. Autodesk Softimage

 

Softimage boasts an impressive visual effects and game development toolset, and seamless integration with Autodesk's other software.  Softimage's greatest strengths are excellent facial rigging and animation tools, and a scalable dynamics solution called ICE (Integrated Creative Environment).

     Developer: Autodesk, Inc.
     Price: $2995 (Free learning edition)

4. NewTek LIghtwave

 

Lightwave is an industry leading modeling, animation, and rendering package used frequently for visual effects in commercial advertising, television and film.  Compared to Autodesk's ubiquitous presence in the film and games industry, Lightwave is popular among freelance artists and on smaller productions where three thousand dollar software licenses are impractical.  Lightwave's integrated tooset (compared to Maya's modularity) makes it easier to be a 3d generalist in Lightwave.

     Developer: NewTek
     Price: $895 (30 day free-trial, $195 student edition)

5. Modo

 

Modo is a full development suite, unique in the fact that it includes integrated sculpting and texture painting tools. Due to Luxology's unprecedented emphasis on usability, Modo initially built its reputation on one of the fastest modeling toolsets in the industry. Since then, Luxology has continued improving Modo's rendering and animation modulest, making the software an ideal low cost solution for product design, commercial advertising, and architectural visualization.

     Developer: Luxology
     Price: $995 (30 day evaluation kit - $25)

6. Maxon Cinema4D

On the surface, Cinema4D is a relatively standard 3D production suite. It does everything you want it to do—modeling, texturing, animation, rendering are all handled well, and although Cinema4D isn't as forward thinking as Houdini or as popular as 3ds Max, consider the value proposition:

Maxon's stroke of genius with Cinema 4D has been the inclusion of the Body Paint 3D module (which retails for over $800 dollars on its own)..  Body Paint might have The Foundry's Mari emerging as a competitor, but it's still an industry standard texturing application. Having multi-channel texture painting directly integrated into your 3D suite is invaluable, and something you certainly won't find in the Autodesk suites.

     Developer: Maxon
     Price: $995 (Prime license) - $3695 (Studio license). Free evaluative license available.

7. Side Effects Houdini

 

Houdini is the only major 3D suite designed around a wholly procedural development environment. The architecture lends itself well to particle and fluid dynamics simulations, and the software has been very popular in visual effects houses where rapid prototyping is essential. Procedural instructions known as nodes are easily re-usable, and can be ported to other scenes or projects and adapted as necessary.

Despite its hefty pricetag, Houdini's procedural system is capable of solutions that simply cannot be achieved in other 3D software suites.  It's uniqueness can also work to its detriment—don't expect many of your Houdini skills to carry over into other packages (Of course, this also means that a talented specialist is worth his weight in gold).

     Developer: Side Effects Software
     Price: $1995 (Basic License) - $6695 (Master License). Free non-commercial license.

8. Blender

 

The only piece of software on this list that's completely free, Blender might also possess the most extensive feature set. In addition to modeling, texturing, and animation tools, Blender has an integrated game development environment and a built in sculpting application. It's status as an open source project has meant that development on the software has been almost constant, and there isn't a single aspect of the graphics pipeline that Blender can't incorporate. However, at best the interface could be described as quirky, and Blender does lack the polish of other high end packages.

     Developer: Open Source
     Price: Free

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