Honing your 3D skills starts at finding the right animation software that matches your style, skill level, and of course, your budget. For instance, if you’re a beginner who’s looking for a basic software, there’s absolutely no need to spend thousands of dollars for a program that’s designed specifically for a seasoned 3D pro. With that said, what’s the best 3D animation software on the market? What about compositing software, which one should you get?
We’re all spoiled with options as far as 3D animation and compositing software applications go but here are some of the best ones that we highly recommend:
Best 3D Animation Software
Maya is one of the best 3D animation software programs on the market for a reason. It’s incredibly powerful with its industrial-strength features for video, gaming, movie effects, etc. It’s also one of the most versatile 3D animation software in the business – use it for modeling, animating, texturing, lighting, and rendering – everything goes! Its comprehensive feature set includes:
- Character animation
- Fluid simulations
- Solid-body Physics
- Technical effects
- High-level Animation edits
And many more!
Of course, all that comprehensive toolset comes with a price. A year’s subscription costs $1,620. Also, it will take a while to master the software itself just because it has so many 3D tools and features.
Maya Indie, is available for $250/year.
Still, if you have the skills and the budget to invest in a pricy yet powerful 3D animation program, look no further.
Created by SideFX, Houdini is a procedural powerhouse used for 3D animation, visual effects in film and games, and game development. The beauty of using Houdini is its nodal workflow, it gives you all the power and control over the 3D imagery. This software lets you alter an entire model by generating complex geometries while changing individual parameters to retain the quality of the image. It’s also perfectly versatile thanks to its vast toolset. Some of Houdini’s features include:
- Stunning VFX simulations
- Traditional 3D animation tools
- Character animation
- Character effects: hair, fur, etc.
The caveat is that Houdini’s non-standard workflow isn’t for everyone. Yes, it has traditional tools for interacting with polygons onscreen but it will take some time before mastering the software.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on Houdini, it has a free version called “Apprentice,” which is designed for students, hobbyists, and artists on a budget. But the free version is only used for personal and non-commercial projects. As for the price of the full subscription, it depends on the package. The Core costs $1,995, the Indie $269 while Houdini FX costs an eye-watering $4,495.
If you’re on a budget, you will love Blender. It’s an open-source professional, open-source 3D animation and modeling software that offers a dizzying array of features for film and feature animation, visual effects, and video game effects as well as architectural visualizations.
Oh, and it’s totally free!
Just like all 3D animation software, Blender supports the entire 3D tree. You can use Blender for:
- Tracking Motion
Blender has CPU and GPU VR rendering support, customizable tools with Phyton scripting, and masking and textured brushes for 3D painting. Although Blender had a non-standard workflow, a new version solved most of the issues so it’s much easier to use now. The vast features and toolset, however, may overwhelm beginners so watch loads of tutorials first to familiarize yourself with Blender.
Got a Windows computer? 3D Studio Max, simply known as 3DS Max, is a 3D modeling software exclusive for PC users. This software program utilizes direct manipulation and procedural modeling techniques for a variety of applications, particularly for game development, visual effects production, and architectural visualization.
Its comprehensive feature set includes:
- Light simulation
- Fluid simulation
- Cloth simulation
- Particle simulation
- Character rigging
- 3D modeling
One of its most unique features is its two-character animation tools that could work with bipedal characters and rig/animate non-humanoid characters. 3DS Max also offers a massive modifiers library to make the modeling workflow easier for new artists. The only downside is that 3DS Max doesn’t come with a MAC version, it’s exclusively for PC users. Also, it’s pretty expensive at $1,545 per year.
3D Studio Max Indie is available for $250/year.
Known for its speed and stability, Cinema 4D by Maxon is one of the leading software for motion graphics, visualization, and illustration. It’s often compared with Autodesk Maya in terms of the features and toolset and though Cinema 4D does not offer all the 3D animation tools that Maya offers, it’s still one of the best programs for animation. Cinema 4D comes with:
- Volumetric modeling
- Bodypaint tool
- Character animation tools
- Forward and inverse kinematics
- Cyclical movements
- Muscle system
… and many more. This program lets you dissect complete scenes while also gaining access to a massive collection of preset scenes, material, and objects! Two things to keep in mind before getting the Cinema 4D is the shallow learning curve and the price. There are loads of tutorials online so be sure to check out those before using Cinema 4D if you’re using the program for the first time.
Cinema 4D does come with a free version but the features are very limited. The basic subscription will set you back $720 per year while the Cinema 4D + Redshift package costs under $1000 per year. A bit expensive but definitely the most affordable of all 3D software programs on this list.
Cascadeur is a Physics-based animated 3D software designed for creating keyframe animation for 3D characters, objects, humanoids, and other animations from scratch. The software could be used to improve mocap as well while giving you full control over your animations! Cascadeur is distinct because it lets you create physically accurate character animations without using motion capture.
- Easy to use features and tools
- Physics laws for optimal realism
- Animate humanoid and non-humanoid characters
- Rigging tool
- AI tool
- Seamless integration with other 3D animation programs
The best thing about Cascadeur is that it’s offered free of charge for freelance work and commercial work! Today, Cascadeur has been downloaded 500 million times and it’s used by more than 50K animators and animation studios around the world.
Best Compositing Software
If you’re all about speed and flexibility, you will love NUKE. NUKE is an industry-leading software for video compositing. It offers 2D and 3D compositing, massive editorial options, and a stable UI. Nuke also comes with a nodal toolset for creating immersive scenes. Some of Nuke’s winning features are:
- Deep image compositing
- Warp Effects
- Work in a 3D environment
- 3D camera tracker
- Depth generation tools
Nuke has a node-based workflow so you can alter your work anyway or anytime you like. The Rotoscoping is versatile yet easy to use, allowing you to animate with ease. It’s fully customizable so you can set your ideal workspace how ever you like. The only downside is the price, it’s one of the most expensive programs for compositing. The basic plan costs $4,528 while the “most complete” plan is priced at $9,000. If you’re on a budget, Foundry offers affordable versions of Nuke, including Student and Non-commercial versions.
**Academy of Animated Art also has a relationship with The Foundry where our enrolled students are able to get a discounted rate.
After Effects by Adobe is an industry-standard. This compositing program is designed to apply special effects to edited footage for mind-blowing results. With it, you can combine videos and images, choose a variety of amazing special effects, eliminate unwanted objects, and create the VR videos of your dreams. After Effects also come with these features:
- Chroma Key
- Rotoscoping feature
- Native 3D Depth Passes
- Advanced Puppet Pin Tool
- Color correction
- Color keying
- Climate and the environment
Overall, After Effects is a must-have for intermediate to professional artists but to get it, you have to be a registered Adobe user. That’s because After Effects is only available via Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
Some Considerations to Keep in Mind
Apart from choosing the right 3D animation or compositing software for you, you have to consider the following:
Disc Space: Be sure that your computer has enough memory and RAM to install the software. Most 3D software applications require at least 5GB of disc space to install. That excludes the memory needed for rendering.
Processor and Graphics Cards: If you want to step up your game, you need a computer with an excellent graphics card and processor so you can work faster and accept more projects. Working on a weak computer will only affect your productivity, there will be annoying lags when playing complex 3D scenes.