So you want to be a 3D artist, but you don’t know which software to choose? Whether you’re a newcomer to art programs or incredibly experienced, here are the first 10 3D modeling programs you should check out and consider using:
LightWave 3D (NewTek) As sort of the odd ball in the bunch, LightWave 3D comes as two separate programs: Modeler and Layout. The first has a wide array of modeling options, and Layout allows users to animate and render. Its hypervoxel particle system and shaders have been advanced enough in the past to be used in several Hollywood films, although in recent years it has lost some of its popularity in the industry.
Blender (The Blender Foundation) - Most product packages on this list allow users to model, unwrap, texture, skin, rig, animate, render, and even simulate physics and particle effects. Blender does all of that as well, but unlike the rest, it’s completely free! Its install is also dramatically smaller than its competition, and it even has hundreds of free classes and tutorials available online for its community. If you’re a newcomer to 3D graphics software, you’d be foolish to not start here.
3ds Max (Autodesk) - All experienced 3D artists owe it to themselves to try 3D Studio Max, and a large portion of the industry’s veterans agree that no other 3D package is more robust and impressive. It’s capable of just about every feature and niche artists will ever need, and in ways that most software can’t compete with. Autodesk knows it, too, which is why its one flaw is its high price tag, but for top tier professionals it’s worth every penny and pixel.
Maya (Autodesk) - What was once 3ds Max’s leading competitor, Maya was bought by Autodesk in 2005 and the two have been like dueling twins ever since. It was originally thought that Max would be the leading 3D design software for games, and Maya would be the leader for the film industry, but each is still currently ubiquitous in both industries. Many believe that 3D Studio Max is more robust for modeling and lighting, and that Maya simplifies animation in more enjoyable ways for artists.
Cinema 4D (Maxon) - Cinema 4D has been gaining more and more momentum each year and is starting to creep up on the top names in the industry. Its gigantic features list proves that it’s a 3D software package that’s every bit as extensive as 3ds Max or Maya. It continues to grow more popular in the movie industry each year, with dozens of big budget titles listing Cinema 4D in their credits.
Softimage (Autodesk) - After being initiated in 2000, its runaway success led to it being bought by Autodesk in 2008. Since then, Softimage has evolved to come with content pipeline support for major game engines including Crytek's CryENGINE 2, Valve Source, Emergent GameBryo, Microsoft XNA, and Epic Unreal Technology 3. That, combined with its advanced facial animation toolset, FaceRobot, is why dozens of next gen game titles have utilized it in recent years.
ZBrush (Pixologic) - All the others on the list thus far have been software that come as complete packages that try to fill all the 3D artist’s needs, but ZBrush instead tries to cater entirely to those who only want to model and texture extremely detailed high poly 3D art. The program focuses on a “sculpting” approach that gives artists the feeling that they’re working with digital clay, which allows for impressive renders to be created very quickly.
Mudbox (Autodesk) - Next generation game consoles have pumped up the demand for higher polygon counts, but normal maps still need to be placed on low poly models. This 3D sculpting software was founded by former Weta Digital artists and was incredibly low maintenance and efficient. In an effort to compete with Pixologic’s ZBrush, Autodesk acquired Mudbox from Skymatter in 2006, and has improved it since then.
Modo (Luxology) - Made by many of those who were responsible for the birth of LightWave 3D, Modo started after a disagreement on how to continue to develop software at NewTek. Luxology was created, and then all the code was rewritten from scratch for a different approach to memory management and mesh manipulation options. Just like ZBrush, Modo users can paint textures right onto their 3D models.
Schools to Consider: