Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting started in 3D

I originally posted this in response to a question on a forum on Dreamstime, but I thought it might be useful to the general public, so I'm reposting it here.

Let's say that you're interested in getting started with 3D... which software do you choose?

Well, the good things about choosing a piece of 3D software these days is that 1) you have a lot of options, 2) almost all of them have downloadable demos you can try out and 3) there's a lot of learning materials for all of them.

I've been working with 3D software since the mid 90's and here's my advice for someone who hasn't done 3D before....

Maya: Stay away from it. It's not new-user friendly (heck, it's not really user friendly), it's not particularly easy to learn, it's fairly expensive and by the time you learn it well enough to get your money's worth from it, they'll probably have 2 or 3 revisions out by then. Maya is amazing, but you're likely to get turned off from 3D altogether if this is your first experience.

3D Studio Max: Not a bad program, but very dated, and by many accounts, nearing the end of it's lifecycle. Everyone expects some new beast to come out from Autodesk in the next few years that'll replace it. Also, it's Windows only.

Modo: A new player to the game, but a pretty full-featured one and not a bad price. I'd elaborate on it more, but my experience with it has been limited. They're constantly adding new features, though, and it's quite a nice package for the money.

Lightwave: Used to be great, but has really fallen behind the times. I don't recommend it for a new user, either.

Cinema 4D: This is my personal favorite... It's very user friendly, it's very easy to start up and play with and get a feel for it, it's not terribly intimidating, it runs on Windows, OS X and Linux (though that's only for studios and hasn't been publicly released), there's a great user base and there's a non-time limited, full featured demo (except for saving out files, but you can do full size, non watermarked renders with it) and the company that makes it is constantly listening to the user and coming out with new things. A new version may well be announced at siggraph in a few months.

Blender: Blender is a super program, and I've used it off and on for years as well, but it's not the easiest to pick up right off the bat. It's open source, though, so the UI is constantly changing for the better. It can do quite a bit, and is a great place to start learning, if you want to take the time to learn it. It's also free, which is a big plus.

My suggestion would be if you have a little bit of money, go for Cinema 4D or Modo, but first try out the demos. I think modo's is fully featured (even saving files and renders) but only 30 days. Cinema 4D's demo can't save anything, but you can load and render any existing c4d file you can find, and it's not time limited, so you can really spend some time playing with it to see if you like it. If you don't want to spend money right now and are willing to learn an unusual workflow, go with Blender. For someone brand new to 3D, I'd stay away from the rest. I think Cinema 4D is probably the most user (and artist) friendly, followed by Modo -- but both of those applications still contains an immense amount of power, and you can get into either one for under $1000, but if you want to do everything that Cinema does, you'll need the studio bundle, but again, I'd wait until you needed it...

Like all the other opinions, you can take or leave them, but I've been doing this a while... I started with 3D Studio R2 (back in the mid 90's) and then Truespace, Hash's Animation Master, etc... then I did tech support for 3D Studio Max reseller for several years and learned lightwave to the point where I knew I didn't want to work with it, I found Cinema 4D. And love it.

Those are my thoughts, hope they're helpful to someone.