I teach 3D animation and use Autodesk Maya, arguably the most popular, powerful, and complicated general purpose 3D modeling/animation/rendering application available. While there is a free and functionally complete student version, there is an investment of another kind – countless hours of frustration – that confronts the newbie. And if you want to use it commercially, the cost is in the thousands of US dollars.
Simple, cheap, but powerful.
There are of course simpler 3D applications, and ones that are dramatically more affordable. But I just came across one that is perhaps the perfect starting place for new 3D animators. It is a modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering application only, and does not have animation capabilities.
It’s a significantly scaled down version of an application that is in itself surprisingly easy to learn, despite its wide span of capabilities, Strata Design 3D CX. While the full product runs about $700, the cheaper version is $50, and is called Strata Design 3D SE.
The SE version has a solid set of 3D polygon (straight line) modeling constructs, as well as Bezier (curved line) modeling primitives. It also has a very good renderer and a nice set of materials that can be applied to models. It is true, though, that some of the modeling, lighting, and rendering – and all of the animation – constructs of Strata Design 3D CX have been removed.
A crisp, clean interface.
Most importantly, its interface is very non-intimidating. Its design was apparently highly influenced by the interface to Adobe Photoshop. (The larger product, Strata Design 3D CX, has been built to interoperate tightly with Photoshop.)
Strata Design 3D SE is perhaps the best compromise between power and simplicity. It is a great place to start learning 3D modeling and rendering. It is scaled down enough to learn relatively quickly, but can be used to create professional-looking models and renderings. It is a lot of application to get for $50.
I should note, however, that while the larger commercial product comes in both Mac and Windows versions, I couldn’t tell if there is a Windows version of SE. (The Mac version can be bought at the Mac App store.)
If you are interested, my Maya class website is: wordsbybuzz.com