The animation industry has countless styles and demands in both the 2D and 3D industry each year. If you have a deep understanding of animation principles, then each piece of software can be viewed as merely a different tool for accomplishing what you need, but there’s no denying that each program has its own perks that are unique from the rest. Most animators will be challenged to learn whatever software their studio chooses, but if you have the option of picking your own, then this is a great place to start before making a choice.
For creating 2D animation of any kind, Flash and FlipBook should be the very first two programs you consider. DigiCel’s FlipBook animation software does it all, from scanning to digital painting to mattes to lighting and any other novice or veteran trick you might need. While most companies boast their software is perfection one year, and then curiously have a long list of new features in their yearly update, FlipBook instead has remained mostly unchanged in 15 years because it already has everything it needs. If you’re a 2D animator who wants minimal computer involvement, then FlipBook is a must.
If you want to make Web animations but don’t want to do it on paper and scan it all in, or if you’re an amateur who just wants to make something quick without having to tween frames yourself, or even if you’re a professional animation studio who wants to reach a large audience on the Web, then Flash is a great low budget easy solution with a lot of options. It’s rarely used to create films or long animations, but for something like a short commercial or public service announcement, it’s perfect. Google and other huge companies still use it from time to time when showcasing their new product releases.
Blender (The Blender Foundation)
Did you love Flash, but now need an “easy to learn and use” equivalent for 3D animation software? If so, then you should start here. Not only is it small and not processor demanding, but it’s also free and comes with a Web community that offers hundreds of free classes and tutorials on its site. It’s also been used to make award winning short films and has plenty of advanced features that are worth checking out.
Poser (Smith Micro Software)
If your job is to just 3D model, skin, rig, scene light, texture, or any other 3D specialty, then you’re the unsung hero on AnimationCareerReview, and you have our staff’s respect! However, if you just exclusively want to work on animation, and showcase purely your animation skills, then why bother with the rest? If that describes you, then Poser should be high on your consideration list since it comes with a free library of base human and animal 3D meshes that will save you large amounts of time. Yes, it can do other things as well, but not as well as the others on this list.
3ds Max (Autodesk)
Arguably the iPhone equivalent of the 3D animation industry, it has been – and still is – impressively ubiquitous in all 3D markets, and is arguably still the king of the competition. There’s almost nothing it can’t do that any other software on the market can accomplish, and if you can afford its high price tag then you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Even though Autodesk acquired Maya in 2005, they’re still in competition with one another, and slightly catered toward different needs. It depends on what person or studio you talk to, but often the answer you’ll get is that Maya is friendlier to animators’ specific needs than 3ds Max is, but they’re both still exceptional programs that everyone should consider. Chances are good that over the span of your career you’ll eventually need to learn both, so you may as well get a head start!
Cinema 4D (Maxon)
There are plenty of other animation software packages out there that compete with one another, but the one that stands out to me as gaining the most momentum in the past five years is Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It may not be as rampant in the 3D gaming industry, but it’s seen an abundance of use in the film industry for dozens of high budget box office hits, and because its popularity is newer by comparison, knowing it might give your career an edge as its demand rises.
Schools with Computer Animation training programs: