What is the best 3D animation software to learn
The question: "what is the best 3d animation software?" is one that is asked repeatedly. Without a definitive answer. Because there isn't one.
A better question to ask, would be, what is the best 3D animation software for me? Based on my creation goals, my career objectives, the organisation I may potentially want to work for.
I started my 3D career learning Maya (owned by Alias at the time), back in around 2003/4. The reason I chose to learn Maya, was that there was a constant stream of learning materials, provided by the Gnomon Workshop. There weren't any degree courses/short courses on this subject (3D). It was bleeding edge, developing and changing at an exponential rate. In my opinion, it's still evolving just as fast. The other option was 3DSMax (owned by Discreet), where there wasn't as much learning material available.
This is the days before YouTube, became the go to place to learn anything 3D.
It's also about the same time that VRay came out. Maya ran on mental ray, that was terribly buggy, and slow, and didn't produce renders that were as nice as what people were getting with 3DSMax and VRay.
At that point in time, 3DSMax was cheaper than Maya, and as a result, alot more studios which were starting out, got on board with it. Bundled with Vray, it left Maya behind in terms of beautiful renders. In my opinion.
Maya has never had the best UI, compared to max, and is not as user friendly. It takes abit of fiddling to get things going. Where as in Max things are a one click job.
But here's the clincher. A piece of software will remain relevant as long as production houses have it in their pipeline. And pipelines are things that can't be changed at a whim. Once its established, it takes major change to move away. Reason being:
1. Artists are used to a certain workflow
2. technical processes are in place that support that particular software be they efficient or not.
Change is difficult.
As a result, Maya is still used and is still relevant.
Where Maya excels over Max, is its "parametric" nature. Each step is stored in history and you can go back and amend things. Max on the other hand works on the basis on a "modifier" stack. Each action, is editable there, but not to the level of granularity, that Maya enables.
Fast forward a few years, and the software landscape changes, and Autodesk, the makers of AutoCAD come along and buy up both Maya and 3DSMax. They both get development, but Max still remains more user-friendly at least in the renderer integration area. Maya gets improvements in the animation area, the fluid effects and particles.
Probably an attempt at market segmentation. In that Max is targeted at architects and visualisers. Maya at production/vfx houses. And the gap between them keeps getting smaller in terms of capabilities.
In the background we had software like Lightwave and a few others.. That basically disappeared from the top spot. What keeps a piece of software alive, is what studios take it on.
And there was a new kid on the block. Zbrush (Pixologic). It completely disrupted the market. No more pulling and pushing of polygons to make a model, all you needed to do was sculpt the digital clay, that they "created" and go up into millions of polygons, and create beautiful models that were un and intuitive to make. Like sculpting real clay. With the same toolset.
Alot of studios seeing the benefit of this, took it on and integrated it into their pipelines. If you've read things so far you know what that means..
Autodesk jumped on the band wagon with "Mudbox". A similar piece of software. But as we all know, first mover advantage goes a long way.
C4D has become the goto for motion graphics, it integrates directly with after effects, owned by Adobe, and is well supported. It had capabilities that neither Maya or max had, in terms of instancing objects as particles. Maya now has Mash, that does something similar. But C4D had a first mover advantage, and is ahead development wise (in my opinion). So remains the goto for motion graphics artists.
Blender: The open source 3d option. As with all things open source.. The UI was not great, but Blender is being developed at a pace unrivalled by the big players.. It's doing this and has functionality, that the big two do not currently have (Maya/Max). Its' definitely something to watch out for, and learn.
Houdini, has risen as the vfx go to for particle and fluid effects. Alot of studios have integrated it.
As the landscape of 3d modeling changes, as computing power increases, 3d can be more realistic than it ever was, without the need for low polygon models, for rendering purposes. For things like car rendering or hard surfaces. We can now work directly with CAD data. This is where I talk about one of my favourite bits of kit.
Rhino, or Rhinoceros. Rhino has to be one of the most intuitive nurbs, CAD modelers about, you can create almost anything. Great for rendering and creating models for 3d print. It allows for precision and creativity with flexibility. Its only drawback is that it lacks the parametric modeling capabilities of Solidworks. But this is more than compensated for through its flexibility.
To close, I'll talk briefly about Unreal studio, and Unity. These are the go to for all things games. More accessible to users than all the software mentioned above, excluding Blender. But you still need to model and animate your assets using one of the above before you take them into these packages.
To finally answer the question. Which 3D animation software is the best. This depends on:
1. What your goal is with learning the 3d. Do you want to, work in a studio?. Work for yourself and widen your repertoire?
2. What sort of work do you wish to do? Games, CAD modeling, dynamics, each piece of kit has its strengths
My advice would be to pick one, and master it. The principles across all of them are basically the same, only the workflow differs. If you understand how to get an outcome in one. It's just a question of learning the steps in the other.