When it comes to 3D animation we all know that we have to be sat at a desktop to actually create – its just the nature of things. It can lead to a complex and interesting hobby designing assets and artwork for short films, art projects, or even games when done right – so let’s have a look into some of the best 3D animation software available right now, starting with one that’s great for beginners.
The chances are that you have already heard of Blender – it’s a massively popular 3D modeling software that has been open-source (and free) since 2002.
Basically, Blender is a great introduction point to all things 3D animation. That includes concepts such as rigidity, simulation, motion tracking, rendering – everything you might expect from a top-notch modern-day 3D animation software program.
And if that sounds like it might be overwhelming to a beginner, don’t worry. I said before that Blender was popular, and that popularity has led to years upon years of online tutorial content being uploaded to YouTube and other online learning facilities. Basically, as long as you are using Blender, you are never going to be short of a tutorial.
Now, what can you actually do with Blender? Well, to start with you can actually design different assets for use in video games. 3D modeling sprites, locations and other assets for a game might sound like a difficult pastime, but with Blender, it’s all made simple, with its finalized file types compatible with a whole host of different video game engines, so you are off to a great start if video game art design is something you want to explore.
Now, if you are looking to create 3D models based on animation alone, either for movies or cartoons you are going to be in luck, as Blender allows for scripted animation within its own software – this all boils down to a less intensive version of a video game asset working on its own, but it is possible. Combine that animation with the likes of a background animation, coherent art style, and a cohesive audio integration and you will have yourself the beginnings of a 3D cartoon on your hands.
Obviously, all of this seems like a lot to a beginner, but the only difference between Blender and flash-based animation is that Blender is modeled in a 3D space. Once you have wrapped your head around the kind of art direction and styles you are going to have to undertake in order to make a good looking Blender animation, you will understand that the only difference between 3D and 2D animation is the art style, and the hours you put in.
Now, when it comes to a more professional grade of 3D animation, there are a lot of different choices out there that offer movie and AAA level grades of animation level. The thing is, this different animation software can be priced well above what a hobbyist might be prepared to pay, so when I say that Cinema 4D is around $700 for the base version, and is still at the very low end of the pricing structure of pro-3D animation software, you might get an idea of the numbers I am talking about.
Regardless, Cinema 4D is a great software for professionals and beginners alike, with a simple UI and learning curve that can set even amateurs up in creating some astounding 3D animations. If you are wondering how, before you even boot up the software you can visit the Cineversity – Cinema 4D’s very own online tutorial which has a wealth of knowledge and lessons on the software for its users to explore. And if that isn’t enough, YouTube is packed with additional tutorials that help along the learning process.
Speaking of third party involvement, Cinema 4D is renowned for its inclusion and support of plugins within its software. This means that if you are having trouble with particular elements of your animations or modeling that there is more than likely a plugin out there designed to help you fix the issue. Struggling to keep your flat surfaces smooth for example? Install RealFlow, and you will get a much better looking smooth surface instantly.
The support of plugins aside, Real Cinema has been praised for its minimalistic UI that keeps things simple, which works alongside an in-depth and detailed modeling and animation program. It’s here that Real Cinema sets itself apart from the likes of Blender, as its animations are (by their nature) designed for use in real media that is meant to be seen by the world. Basically, your assets are going to be of higher quality, there will be more versatility in your designs and their behaviors will be much easier to manage.
In short: if you are on the precipice of becoming somewhat professional at 3D modeling, and you are looking for the best animation software to facilitate your at-home hobby without having to take out a loan, then Real Cinema is going to be the way to go. Even if you are a professional, you aren’t going to be disappointed with the level of detail and plugin support the software offers, though it might be dwarfed by the likes of Maya.
This is pretty much the computer animations software of choice, and is employed by all kinds of animation studios around the world to create outstanding 3D animations for their various projects – think Pixar and ILM level of professional.
If you were wondering what kind of 3D animation tools you might be able to expect to use within Maya, then the short answer would be al. All of the tools. Basically, if you can think of it, if you can imagine any possible digital tool that might make your animations easier to produce, or more expertly refined, then it lives within Maya.
You are going to have an insane level of control over various details such as lighting, shadow behavior, hair, cloth, solid body, water – basically anything you can think of in term of assets, there is going to be support within Maya to make it behave either as realistically or cartoonishly as you want it to.
This might all sound complicated – and it is. For once on this list, I’m not going to talk about how easy the program is to learn, or about how there are tonnes of online tutorials (which there are), but instead, I’m going to tell you that as this is the highest echelon in computer animation software, that it’s accompanied by a steep learning curve. This is software designed only for those who are totally serious about their work, and only those who can afford it (you’re scraping $2000 a year just to run the software).
Outside of that scary little talk, you are going to find the most complex, intricate, detail orientated 3D animation software within Maya, which is going to allow you to produce unrivaled work in terms of quality and complexity – so if you are looking for an answer to the question ‘What is the best computer animation software’, then Maya is probably your answer.
And that’s our list of the best computer animation software on the market today. If you have any questions, stick them in the comments below – and do the same with any suggestions or additions, we are always happy to read them and add them in if they are worthwhile!