3D Software Overview

I did quite a bit of research into 3d and support software in 2006. Here's a quick overview, as much for my own memory as for anyone else. As I am not a professional modeler (yet) I cannot give good info.

< Update: 2-25-07

I decided to go with Softimage XSI back in November and have been quite happy with it so far. I've used the polygon decimation quite a bit after converting solid geometries from BRL-CAD. I've recently gotten into using surface patches instead of subdivisions for models like boats and planes. So far, so good./td>

Professional Software

3D Studio Max
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering
Homepage: http://www.autodesk.com/3dsmax/
The old standard dating back to DOS days. 3dsmax is concidered the powerhouse of the 3d world and the only one that most graphics schools teach. I do find it rather difficult to use though.
64-bit support.
pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering
Homepage: http://www.autodesk.com/maya/
The most alike feeling of any two modelers are 3ds and maya, so it it interesting that they are now both owned by the same company. Maya is known to have the steepest learning curve of any modeler on the market. I met many professionals who use other software to model and only import into maya for final work.
64-bit support.
pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering
Homepage: http://www.softimage.com/
Probably number three in the market is XSI. Softimage has a reputation for attempting to design their software to the modeler's workflow. XSI is the only software I've sat down at and instantly knew how to use it. We'll see if the advanced features are as easy.
64-bit support.
pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, and animation (not sure about rendering)
Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Number four in popularity is probably Lightwave. It is also the only one of the major softwave vendors that doesn't seem to have a demo version, so I can't say much about it. It is clear that most people that use it are quite happy with it. pic here
Cinema 4D
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering
Homepage: http://www.maxon.com/
The last of the modelers that recieves major thirt-party support is Cinema 4D. There aren't any cases of Ciinema 4D's use in major productions that I'm aware of, however it is without doubt a capable modeler. It is also easier to learn than the average modeler as well.
64-bit support.
pic here

Second Tier Software

Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, and animation
Homepage: http://www.rhino3d.com/
Rhino advertises itsself as a NURBS modeler. It does not seem to fully support poligonal modeling and does not support subdivision surfaces at all. Rhino also uses a very different marketing style than most tools. Instead of a complete end-to-end solution, Rhino is the Modeler, Flamingo is the renderer, and Bongo is the main animation tool. This has interesting posibilities for production houses where the work is divided instead of a single person working a scene from start to finish. One last note for professionals: Rhino is Windows only. For the non-professionals, I've tried on several occasions to use Rhino, I just can't. pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, and animation
Homepage: http://www.izware.com/marai/
Mirai is a software package I would class as 'dead' except that several people in my branch use in on a daily basis. Mirai has not been in development in six years and has not had a maintainance release in five. That means there has not been a new version since Windows XP was released. The software crashes several times a day and does not seem to treat its resources effeciently. On the other hand, it has a very unique approch to creating models that cannot easily be immitated by other software. It isn't openly for sale and can only be bought by asking nicely. pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, and animation
Homepage: http://www.daz3d.com/program/hexagon/
Hexagon is a very low cost ($150) subdivision modeler for Windows. I thought about putting this in the 'toy' section, but it is used for some game and illustration work. As an interesting extra feature, it is attempting to support the use of pen tablets instead of (or in addition to) the mouse for much of the modeling process. "Carrara" is Daz's animation and rendering tool that pairs closely with Hexagon. pic here

Toy Software

Animation Master
Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering
Homepage: http://www.hash.com/products/am.asp/
A very low cost ($200-$300) end-to-end modeler, animatior, and renderer. Animation Master seems to only support spline based modeling. Splines, while very effective for organic shapes, in my experience, are very difficult to create models with. My mind just doesn't work that way. As for the product as a whole, you may never be able to create an ILM masterpiece, but for fun little cartoons, it might be all you ever need. pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling and texturing
Homepage: http://www.izware.com/nendo/index.htm/
Nendo is an entry level modeler that's really only meant as an introduction to modeling. For that it is fine. It's a simplified version of Mirai and only supports a few of it's features, but it is currently maintained and is probably a great deal more stable. At $50 it won't set you back much. pic here

Open Source Software

Purpose: 3d modeling, texturing, and animation
Homepage: http://blender.org/
Blender seems to be a perfectly usable 3D modeling application. It has menus that can be changed to suit the current context. It's layout and work flow are quite different from current commercial applications. pic here
Purpose: 3d modeling and texturing
Homepage: http://www.wings3d.org/
Wings3D is still in the alpha phase. It is a subdivision surface modeler that only supports modeling and texturing for now. It's imitating Mirai and Nendo, two modeling programs that are popular where I work. pic here
Purpose: Army solid geometry modeling and rendering
Homepage: http://www.brlcad.org/
BRL-CAD is a modeling and rendering software package from decades ago that is still often used by the US military for physics modeling. Models are not made of triangles or NURBS, but rather of solid geometric shapes such as spheres, cylinders, and cubes. Visualization is line vector while modeling and raytracing for the final result. The user interface needs a serious update to be usable by today's standards and there is no easy way to convert from polygon modelers to solid geometries, so the software may not be too useful in most applications. Then again, as the software is now open source, I include it here for those that are curious. pic here

Map and Terrain Software

Purpose: 3d map creation, animation, and model integration
Homepage: http://www.e-onsoftware.com/
This is an impressive looking tool for creating 3d terrain, populating the field with plants, and animating the effects of wind, rain, or vectored thrust vehicles. It comes as a stand alone or as a plug-in of any of the major 3d modelers. pic here
3D World Studio
Purpose: 3d map generation
Homepage: http://www.leadwerks.org/
I've only seen pictures. This is software focused at creating maps for games. pic here

Main Page