One of the most asked question by those interested in starting 3D modeling is What's the best modeling software for me?
In this short feature I will describe and compare 10 of the most popular packages out there.
3DS MAXCompany: AutodeskPrice: $3,495Site: https://usa.autodesk.com/3ds-max/
3DS MAX is perhaps the most well known 3D modeling software out there. Made by Autodesk, it's become the standard in the professional world. Many studios use it, and it has a long history behind it, making it one of the most full-featured and complete package you could want.
The modeling features are quite complete, with support for polygon, NURBS, and surface modeling. It has full animation support, an extensive texturing editor, a physics engine, scripting called MAXScript, and more. Also, on top of the default Scanline rendering, there are lots of popular rendering plugins for 3DS MAX like VRay, Mental Ray, RenderMan, FinalRender, and more. Finally, because it's such a popular program, there are many plugins out there for it.
BlenderCompany: None, open source softwarePrice: FreeSite: https://www.blender.org/
Blender is a free, open-source software that was created as an alternative to the expensive packages out there. It's been under development for many years and has now become an impressive product, providing much of the features of something like 3DS MAX including polygon, NURBS and spline modeling, bone rigging, animation, texturing, shading, and so on. They even have a real-time game engine.
One of the negative is that Blender has always had a reputation of having a steep learning curve. The UI is unlike most other software out there. Recently they released version 2.5 which includes a modified interface and makes it a bit less painful to learn. The amount of industry support as far as extra plugins or renderers is more limited than professional software, because Blender is just not used by many studios, but it is a good choice for beginners who don't want to spend any money.
MayaCompany: AutodeskPrice: $3,495Site: https://usa.autodesk.com/maya/
Maya is like the brother or cousin of 3DS MAX. It's very similar in many ways, down to the actual price. The interface is slightly different, so the workflow that one must learn is also different, but otherwise the features are fairly close. In Maya you can do modeling, animation, texturing, and so on.
While many studios use 3DS MAX for modeling, Maya tends to be used more for animation. Which package you learn, assuming you want to go for an Autodesk solution, therefore depends on whether you want to concentrate mostly on modeling or on animation.
HexagonCompany: DAZ 3DPrice: $104.97Site: https://www.daz3d.com/i/software/hexagon
Hexagon is an interesting little program, and a personal favorite of mine. First, unlike the previous packages, this one is purely a modeling program. It offers all the modeling options you may want, and can do UV mapping and basic texturing. But it includes no renderer, no animation and no physics engine. Also, the development of the software hasn't been going very fast over the past couple of years.
But on the plus side, Hexagon is very intuitive and easy to learn, and is of course a lot less expensive than the more full featured packages. It's a good choice if you need to make models but don't need other features.
SketchupCompany: GooglePrice: Free / $495Site: https://sketchup.google.com/
If Hexagon is easy to learn, Sketchup is trivial. This software is a breeze to learn and use. It uses a different workflow than a traditional modeling program, which makes it very intuitive and easy to model things. Also, it comes with a free version that allows you to access all the features of the software except for export functions, with the Pro version adding those features.
However it is much more limited than the previous options. It's only for modeling, and has no renderer, although there are commercial plugins out there for Sketchup. Also it's mostly made for architecture modeling, and it would be hard to do organic modeling.
CarraraCompany: DAZ 3DPrice: $149 / $549Site: https://www.daz3d.com/i/software/carrara
Carrara is made by the same company as Hexagon. It's their fully featured package, which includes not only modeling but animation, physics, rendering, and so on. It's a fairly young product, and when compared with something like 3DS MAX, it's just not on the same level, although development is happening quite fast on Carrara. The learning curve is also steeper than Hexagon.
One advantage of Carrara is it's made by the same company as DAZ Studio, so if you wish to create scenes using pre-made meshes from DAZ it's easy to integrate into your workflow. Outside of this niche however, it's just not used by many studios out there.
Cinema4DCompany: MAXONPrice: $959 / $3,695Site: https://www.maxon.net/products/cinema-4d-prime/who-should-use-it.html
Cinema4D is another high-end, expensive, professional package. Like the Autodesk options, it includes everything from modeling, animation, rigging, rendering, and so on. In contrast to previous programs however, Cinema4D is split into many different modules. People can buy the modules they want, like the Studio, Visualize versions or BodyPaint 3D.
Cinema4D is used a lot in the movie and TV industry, and should you be going in that direction, this may be a good choice for you.
LightWave 3DCompany: NewTekPrice: $895Site: https://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
LightWave 3D is another professional package, including both modeling and everything else like texturing, rigging, animation and so on. The main advantage is the reduced price compared with some of the other high-end packages. The workflow is also different, and it has a very dedicated user base.
While it's used in less studios than some of the previous choices, it's a tool of choice for some film makers and has been used in some blockbuster movies.
SiloCompany: NeverCenterPrice: $159Site: https://www.nevercenter.com/silo/
Silo is in many ways similar to Hexagon. It's a modeling only program, without any of the extra features like animation or even rendering. One of the interesting feature of Silo is its incredible customizable interface. Like many other produts out there, it has its loyal user base.
ZBrushCompany: PixologicPrice: $595Site: https://www.pixologic.com/
The last program, ZBrush, is unlike any of the previous choices. Instead of doing polygon or NURBS modeling, ZBrush offers clay like modeling, where you sculpt a mesh. It's a very different way to work, but has become extremely popular is recent years. The interface is also unlike any other programs and can be difficult to adapt yourself to. However, it's become the de facto standard and almost every studio out there uses it.
While many of the previous packages actually have sculpting functions built in, ZBrush is specialized in sculpting and painting, and is a superior choice if you wish to specialize yourself in this type of modeling.