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Which 3D Rendering Package Do You Recommend? 322

Posted by Cliff
from the renderers-modellers-and-shaders-oh-my! dept.
schvenk asks: "I find myself overwhelmed by the decision about which 3D rendering package to get, and thought perhaps Slashdot readers could help me out. While I took a computer science course on computer graphics in college and am proficient in Photoshop, I'm otherwise new to working with 3D modeling, rendering, or animation tools. I tried Blender, and at least the Mac version is just too buggy and slow at this point. In addition the renderer doesn't seem quite as good as some of the commercial ones out there. There are other free apps but I have to wonder if like Blender, they won't quite stack up to the big boys in terms of UI, features, and render quality. I've read tons of reviews, but few are up to date and many aren't as helpful as I'd like. I don't have a lot of prior experience with 3D modeling (I'm a UI Designer by trade) but need it periodically for graphic design purposes, and in addition am interested in getting into it more. While animation interests me, still images are more of a priority, so the greatest emphasis should probably be on rendering quality, and modeling capability (as well as usability and speed). I'd be using it in Mac OS X."

"The packages that have been recommended to me for having really good quality rendering (I'm looking for something that can generate photorealistic images) and good modeling tools are Lightwave 7.5, Maya Complete 4.5, ElectricImage Universe 5, and Cinema 4D. There are lots of other apps out there but these are the ones that have been suggested. There's a pretty wide range of prices among those 4 apps, but at least for now I'm mostly setting price aside in my comparison, especially since the cost of learning an app is so astronomical that I'd rather just do it once.

So far what I've determined is as follows:

I haven't tried Lightwave yet (there's a demo in the mail), but lots of people seem to think it's good. I've been told -- and images I've seen on the Web bear this out -- that it's got a really good rendering engine, and sounds like it might be able to keep up with Maya on everything except animation, and it less expensive. It got Macworld's Editor's Choice award last year for version 7b. (The latest is 7.5.)

Some say that Maya is the top of the line. I'm not sure, and I don't think everyone agrees on it. With the inclusion of a rendering plug-in called Mental Ray with the latest version, its rendering engine is supposedly now as good as Lightwave's (it wasn't before). It was a runner-up in the Editor's Choice awards last year for v3.5. However, a number of the problems people had (both Macworld and others) with earlier versions have been addressed in the current v4.5. I played around with the demo version of Maya and liked its UI: it uses OS X standard widgets, which I appreciate, and its tutorials were well-designed and got me going quickly.

A lot of people seem to like ElectricImage Universe, and there is a version from a place called DVGarage that's stripped down and only $200, though I don't know what's missing. Fans say it's really intuitive, though that wasn't my experience downloading the demo. It's made up of several programs for the different pieces of the process (Lightwave is apparently the same way), and I wasn't really sure where to start. I also didn't like the modeling environment as much, though Universe users tell me that some of my problems (such as objects turning into boxes while you rotate the scene) can be solved by changing preferences. But I was unimpressed with the included tutorials: The task of creating a simple scene and rendering it is not something I've been able to figure out how to do, either through the tutorials or through experimentation. That said, it's worth noting that initial ease of use for such advanced tools is less important than ease and speed of use for experienced users. Even so, Maya, which is clearly no slouch in terms of being for advanced users, just seemed easier to figure out. The images I see on the Web (and there are fewer than I find for some of the other apps) seem less photorealistic overall than for some of the other apps, but again that's hardly a scientific method of evaluation.

Maxon Cinema 4D was also a 2001 Editor's Choice runner-up (v7.1; the current version is 8). It uses OS X-standard widgets for its UI. Beyond that I know little about it and have received the least amount of info from forums and Web searches. I've just downloaded the demo and will see what I can learn from that. The Web galleries I've looked at have contained some fairly photorealistic images, though Lightwave's still seem a bit more impressive to me, for what it's worth. I'm hoping someone can shed some light on this app especially. There are two levels: A cheaper version with some features missing, and a more expensive one (and actually an even higher-end option than that that I probably don't need to consider). It looks from Maxon's site like for photorealistic rendering the more expensive (XL) version is necessary, but I wouldn't swear to it.

And that's what I know so far. Beyond the big "Which is best?" question, a lot of questions remain. What's the best renderer? How different is the best app from the worst? What are the differences in modeling tools? Some of these apps have curved surfaces called NURBS, which seems to be a standard technology. Others have their own variants or substitutes. I don't really know what difference that makes. Maya has a neat tool that lets you sculpt a surface like clay, smoothly pushing and pulling at it to make organic objects like faces; I don't know what equivalents exist in the other apps. Ultimately, I'm definitely interested in animation but more interested in a wide array of modeling tools and top-notch rendering. Decent speed, ease of use, good docs, and ideally some OS X UI compliance would be good too.

Anyway, I'm going to continue investigating. I'm posting this partly to share what information I do have, and mostly to get discussion going that might shed some more light on this subject for people who, like me, want to get into this but can't afford the time and money required to do a personal, extensive comparison of all the major apps. I apologize if any of my information is inaccurate, and hope someone will correct it. Beyond that, any and all help is greatly appreciated :-)."

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Which 3D Rendering Package Do You Recommend?

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  • by carambola5 (456983) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:32PM (#4639182) Homepage
    Microsoft Excel. When your 3D rendering needs require an absolutely positively... something something.
    • absolutely positively... something something

      Go crazy?
    • by johnrpenner (40054) on Monday November 11, 2002 @01:23AM (#4640615) Homepage

      the first major high-end 3D package to be comercially ported to LINUX was HOUDINI [sidefx.com] from sidefx. alias' maya and sidefx Houdini are like the pepsi-coke of high-end 3D.

      they've also got a free 'Houdini Apprentice' programme, so you can try it - works on Linux!

      they used Houdini to animate gandalf's fireworks, and animate the rushing river horses in lord of the rings. they've used it in the star trek movies, Terminator 3D, and just about every sci-fi effects flick out there - check it out:

      www.sidefx.com [sidefx.com]

      a lot of the most interesting highend 3D technologies started with HOUDINI - Procedural Motion and Graphics OP networks were invented by
      the Programmers at Side Effects.

      some of the things you can do with their 3D animation
      software (Houdini 5.5) are:

      - In-Viewport editing generates procedural 'memory' of construction history.
      - Support of multiple geometry types: 3D NURBS, Bezier, Mesh, Poly, L-systems (itterative geometry), and Metaballs.
      - Procedural 3D Surface Modelling (SOPs > "Noun").
      - Procedural Waveform/Motion, Audio, and Channel Editing (CHOPs > "Verb").
      - Procedural Particle Systems (POPs) for simulating Smoke, Fire, and Gases.
      - Procedural Shader generation (SHOPs).
      - Procedural 2D Compositing (COPs).
      - Softbody Inverse Kinematics & Character / Facial Animation capabilities.
      - Organic modelling of plant growth over time via L-systems algorithms.
      - Integrated Metabolic, NURBS, and Polygonal Sub-Division Surface modelling.
      - Integrated VEX RenderMan-like shading language for mantra Renderer.
      - Integrated Scripting and Expression Languages.
      - Integrated RenderFarm capabilities.
      - Extensive Scripting support in: hscript, tcl, etc.

      they've also got an offshoot for doing cool realtime 3D graphics ('TOUCH' - used on the RUSH tour this summer) at:

      www.derivativeinc.com [derivativeinc.com]

      cheers!

      john [earthlink.net].


      • btw - Houdini's renderer app ('mantra') was used for rendering the 'senator kelly' scene in x-men (where he turns to water) -- to give you some idea of the renderer that comes with the package. apparently, writing your own shaders (like RenderMan), and it supports a hybrid of scanline rendering and raytracing.

        mantra is a bit better than mental ray (features/quality/speed), and on par with renderman - industrial strength.

  • It depends (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Apreche (239272) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:34PM (#4639194) Homepage Journal
    It depends on what you are using it for. I mean if you are doing 3d modeling of a house, then AutoCAD is probably your best bet. If you are doing a model of an internal combustion engine, mechanical desktop is a good choice. If you are making characters for say a video game, character studio or 3d studio max (the newest version) is excellent. It's also good for making short scenes and animating things. Bryce, while it's interface is really crummy is amazing at texturing and terrain. If you want to draw a giant landscape bryce is where it's at. Maya is a very high quality all around awesome program. It's what they teach the film + animation majors at my school.
    I don't have much experience with some of the other tools available, but they all have their uses. Pretty much depending on what type of project you are looking to do, what level of detail you are trying to achieve, whether you need to animate or not, and your personal preferences all determine which which one will be best for you.
    • Re:It depends (Score:2, Informative)

      by DumbBlonde (552142)
      On Bryce...

      Before investing in Bryce, one should know it's always been (as far as I've seen) very bad at interoperating with other 3D applications. You can export terrains as OBJ files but most other objects you create in Bryce can only be exported as OBP which no other 3D application I've encountered will import. It locks you into rendering in Bryce, where the current Max and Maya engines are superior (in my opinion of course).

      World Builder is probably more where it's at for landscapes. It's plays nice with most other 3D apps and the output is much nicer than alot of what you can get out of Bryce. I have to admit that Bryce's interface drives me mental so I'm somewhat biased against ;)
      World Builder link: http://www.digi-element.com

    • If you're doing 3d work for a home and don't need all the technical specs for the industry I'd suggest trying http://www.sketchup.com/

      It's amazingly simple and quick to use.
      Animations between views (and cross sections)
      are simple as well.

  • by puppet10 (84610) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:35PM (#4639200)
    to do with the software, but most high end 3d stuff costs an arm and a leg.

    One reasonably priced well spoken of modeller you didn't mention is Rhino [rhino3d.com].

    Maya is nice, but if you aren't animating you're only using a very small portion of its abilities.
    • Rhino, while a very nice package, doesn't run on MacOS X. Of course, a lot of the stuff people are suggesting in other posts doesn't run under MacOS (any version, including X) either.

      Obviously people don't even read the articles anymore, let alone the links in the articles..

      At any rate, I'd say the original poster should go with Maya. The UI is great, it is well supported under different operating systems and the renderer has been much improved if you get a recent version...Also, if the renderer isn't up to snuff for what you want, there are various free alternative renderers that are actually very good (POVray, the free Renderman clones (such as BMRT), etc) which Maya can export to using third party exporters.

  • by colonel.sys (525119) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:36PM (#4639205) Homepage
    I have taken a look at a few 3D Applications and found Carrara Studio 2 to be very nicely usable. It doesn't comply with Aqua but that's not a problem: it uses kind of a fullscreen UI which is extremely nice to use and doesn't interfere with your screen resolution.

    If you can't get far enough with Carrara, give Cinema 4D a try.

    Links:
    http://www.eovia.com (Carrara)
    http://www.maxon.de (Cinema 4D)
  • 3D studio and Poser (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rufusdufus (450462) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:38PM (#4639212)
    I have 3D studio max and it is very powerful. However, it is also very expensive and very very difficult to learn. I don't recommend it for the weak of heart.

    I also have Poser to do human and animal posing, and this program is great. It is easy to use and intuitive. For doing animation of 3d human models it is perfect.
    • "I also have Poser to do human and animal posing, and this program is great. It is easy to use and intuitive. For doing animation of 3d human models it is perfect."

      I have yet to see perfect human animation. Nor have I seen anybody who is anybody in animation using poser to animate humans.

      -Tim
      • Have you tried Poser?
        I mentioned it because it so much better than say Character studio. It so easy to use you can spend more time doing animation and less time messing around with the interface.
        And its cheap too.
        Maybe "anybody who is anybody" just hasn't tried it out yet?
        • Every studio that I know creates their own rigs and IK systems. If they use software, it is something that was written in house.

          Now my experience has been with feature work and videos, but other people may use if they have other requirements.

          -Tim
      • Poser is a big no no in the 3D biz.

        DIY rigging is the way to go.

        poser's only good for, shall i say, recreational rendering?

    • Unfortunately, Discrete has yet to make an OS X version of Max... and Cliff seems to be looking for a Mac solution. As I recall, Max is Windows only.

      Cliff should look at the Lightwave and MayaPLE demos.

      And as for Poser. I agree, Poser is rad; yet it is still being ported to OS X... which sucks. One might be able to run it in classic; however I'd look for other OS X character modeling solutions. Searching versiontracker.com for OS X software will yield quite few results.
  • Discreet's 3dsmax (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ayeco (301053) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:40PM (#4639225)
    You're question, unfortunately, will spawn a bunch of personal opinions and elitist responses.

    I've been using Discreet's 3dstudio max [discreet.com] since it was a DOS app (then autodesk's 3ds studio made by the Yost group). I've been teaching it since Max r1 came around. I find it interesting that your question doesn't mention it.

    Obviously I'm a big fan of it. I highly recommend it - it is very easy to use, has plently of free pluggins as well as commercial ones, open architecture for programming and scripting and its default scanline rendering engine is very fast. Some people will argue that its rendering quality is inferior to, say, Maya, but I beg to differ.

    Look into it.
    • Some people will argue that its rendering quality is inferior to, say, Maya, but I beg to differ.

      My own experience with both Maya and Max left me with the impression that both renderers create almost perfect images though I found Maya preferable. Max always seemed to produce something ever so slightly harsher than Maya, though I have friends who argue exactly the same thing from the opposite side.

      Maya is best for me (inevitably what people really mean when they claim something is 'best')
      • Re:Discreet's 3dsmax (Score:3, Informative)

        by tolldog (1571)
        I agree with you on this.

        Maya is the best for me as well but for many other reasons...

        Such as the free renderer license (which does nicely with 1000 procs to render)
        MEL
        The Maya ASCII file format.

        But none of these have to do with the quality of the renderer (which has gotten much much better in 4.x)

        -Tim
    • Re:Discreet's 3dsmax (Score:5, Informative)

      by rworne (538610) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:14PM (#4639391) Homepage
      I've been using Discreet's 3dstudio max [discreet.com] since it was a DOS app (then autodesk's 3ds studio made by the Yost group). I've been teaching it since Max r1 came around. I find it interesting that your question doesn't mention it.

      Quite possibly its because he/they were looking for Mac OS X rendering packages. 3DS Max is Windows-only. I would think running it in Virual PC would be wasteful, slow and painful.
  • by Arrghman (172552) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:41PM (#4639230)
    The only real way to choose a 3D program to use is by actually trying them out to see which you're the most comfortable with.

    If you go anywhere and ask this question you'll get many different answers... some will say LightWave's interface is the easiest there is while others can't make heads or tails of it. Some won't like the modeler functions in Maya some will. Etc, etc and so forth.

    What it comes down to is eash program has its own approch to 3D. What is important is finding which approch suits you the best and using that one. You can get great results out of any of these programs if you know what you're doing, but if you can't work with the interface, with the methodology behind each program, you won't be able to get that far without struggling.

    So my suggest is, wait for those demo CDs and play around with everything you can. Find which one you like the best and go for that one. You won't be dissapointed!
    • by GriffX (130554)
      Arrghman points out above that you should see what appeals to you, and I certainly agree. As said, Lightwave's interface is the subject of some debate - I certainly agree with this, but having a number of year's experience with it under my belt, I'll weigh in - play with the demo you have, and see what you think.

      IMHO, Lightwave's interface is designed *not* to get started quickly with, but to *work* quickly once you have a bit of experience with it. All command buttons are text and nothing but - I've played with 3DSMAX, and after using Lightwave, I find it incredibly frustrating. Um, which of those tiny icons that look like cubes do I hit to make a cube? Oh, that icon with the shaft of light pouring down, does that mean lighting options, volumetric lighting, or what?

      I haven't had an opportunity to play much with Maya, but what I've seen gives me the impression that it has the same sort of problem. Lightwave (can you tell what I'm recommending here?) Is a very transparent interface... which I hardly use anymore. One hand on the keyboard, and the other on the mouse or tablet, and I can turn out models and animate very quickly indeed. For me, at least, it feels more like working on an art project, and less like futzing around with a computer program. And, as you said, the renderer is fantastic.
  • From a pure rendering standpoint, I would suggest renderman or Mental Ray. Maya has a good renderer that has gotten a bad reputation, but it does a good job.

    If you are looking for a package that does more than just render, using Maya plus plugins would be good. The downside to this is that with most of the plugins you have to redo the shaders for the renderer. This can take some work.

    I would suggest looking at Maya's Personal Learning Edition to see if it can provide your needed quality. PLE is a nice, free learning edition of Maya, but it is not compatible with Maya's for purchase software. If the renderer doesn't do all that you need, look at using Weta's Liquid or Pixar's MTOR to go to renderman OR look at the MentalRay plugin.

    -Tim
  • You forgot.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by TekkonKinkreet (237518) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:47PM (#4639272) Homepage
    ...Softimage XSI, Discreet (or whatever they call themselves this month) 3DSMax, Hash Animation Master. I always start out people new to 3D on Hash, it's cheap, full-featured, and has everything you need to learn the 3D animation trade (of which rendering is the least part), basically it kicks butt.

    I've used 'em all, and personally I like the way Maya and SoftImage renderings look best, but far more important than the renderer is how good you are at lighting and texturing. If you take the time to build the material correctly and light it well, any of these tools will give you good results. Most of them are coming on, what, ten years old now?

    IMO, the rendering engine comes into play when you really want photorealistic effects like global illumination or radiosity (and then only subtly), or special effects, like a plugin toon renderer...stuff you will no doubt have fun playing with, but aren't likely to impact your UI work much. Choose an interface and modeling tools you like, or spare your wallet, would be the criteria I'd recommend.
    • Also, Maya and Hash Animation Master both have free (or real cheap with a book) intro versions. No idea if they're only PC, tho.

      I don't use the programs myself, but to my *eye*, Maya seems to produce a more realistic illusion of depth (at least in the samples I've seen).

    • I have Hash animation Master myself. I agree it is the BEST place to start out, and many just don't venter any further because its fully capable. People are scared of it because its only $300. They think it must not be too good or it would be $1000 like the rest. This is totally untrue and I would recomment AM to anyone.

      The post above illustrates one of my points. He says AM has a striped down version available. He thinks this because somewhere he likely saw the price for $300. But he is wrong because this is the FULL version.

      AM is often regarded as the best modeller and definitely has the best modelling technology.

      It uses hash patches which are beautiful for smooth images. Frustrating for sharper images though so I use TurboCad and import those(though you can do them inside AM). Many dont use AM if you are going to import into a polygon/triangle based game engine.

      Also its not known for the BEST renderer. In otherwords it can produce the images of the highest quality, just takes more tweaking and render time. but once you get use to it its good.

      I firmly recommend AM. Besides if you dont like it sell it. Now check on ebay to see how many are for sale ;)
  • Emacs (Score:3, Funny)

    by Billly Gates (198444) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:48PM (#4639274) Journal
    Just maker sure you enable large memory support in the kernel before use.

  • Best. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by torre (620087) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:50PM (#4639293)
    Hi, To answer your question... there isn't any one best. And you shouldn't attempt to measure it as such. Each package has its strong points and weaknesses. You must judge them according to your needs and your workflow... There's no need in spending thousands of dollars on the software and training on the more expensive packages if all you need is modeling to do web graphics.

    Also, stay away from the marketing hype and common misconceptions that one renderer is better than another...Every commercial render out there is capable of doing a good job. Each renderer has it's own personality that you must learn to work with. Some like Mental Ray or Lightwave have some easy default provided by some company like Newtech, Alias Wavefront, Avid, or even Discreet. (BTW don't be fooled by renders like Mental ray or Renderman, the true power of these renders come out when you write your own shaders - a non trivial not for novice task- and not using the defaults) Others like the Maya default render require you become more personal with how the render works to achieve the same results. It all depends on what you need to achieve your goals. There's no need to spend more money if you'll never use some of the more advanced features like micro-polygon displacement, or multi million polygon scenes.

    My suggestion is it not to listen to too many people, download the demo's and see which one fit your bill. All the advice that we as a community can offer can't tell you which one will agree with your artistic/technical side most and your situation. Its all comes down to a personal choice once you've weeded out your requirements.

    but that's just my 2 cents.

  • by Ziviyr (95582) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:55PM (#4639315) Homepage
    Realsoft 3D [realsoft.com]

    Which has always seemed to be pretty advanced to me.
    • I was just about to mention Realsoft too. Evolved from the good old Real3D for the Amiga computers. it was the first rendering package I used that could do real refraction in transparent objects (glass). As far as I can rememer it was also fairly easy to use, and the latest versions seems to include radiosity, casutics, nurbs and other cool stuff.

      Check out their galleries [realsoft.com].

  • I'm pretty much a complete novice and I've been using Cinema 4D for about five months on and off - mainly because I got it free from the front of a magasine ; )

    It is pretty simple (of course, I only have the simple version) and is easy to get to grips with. And it's a helluva lot cheaper than most of your other options. But . . .

    No particle stuff or NURBS, which kinda sucks, and the lighting can be a little soggy, but I'm entirely self taught so that may just be me. And you're right about the renderer - I haven't got photorealistic out of it yet. Then again, I do abstracts, so I'm not likely to either . . .
  • by uglyMood (322284) <dbryant@atomicdeathray.com> on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:59PM (#4639333) Homepage

    Go with the POV-Ray [povray.org] raytracer and do what I do -- TYPE your graphics. I swear, you young punks today don't know what 3D graphics are... mutter, grumble...

    Besides, it's free.

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:38PM (#4640006) Homepage
      I know you're being funny... but if anyone has looked at the IRTC competition winners and espically looked at what POVRAY can do.... it can hold it's own with the $95,000,000,000 3d rendering engine..

      and the funny part... if you are a math wiz, povray is actually easier to use than some silly GUI... I can figure out a nice trig function faster than I can get poser to generate a decent looking human figure in a realistic sitting pose.

      POVRAY 3d art and animation for the poor that can look as good as the rest of the stuff out there. (with LOTS of work!)
      • I agree that POV-Ray is a really awesome rendering tool. But for some types of work GUI's can be faster to use and more convenient.

        There is a nice GUI frontend for the POV-Ray rendering engine called Moray.

        Find it here: http://www.stmuc.com/moray/

        Moray is shareware and costs about $70 american to register.
  • by Pseudonym (62607) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:01PM (#4639339)

    First thing, you should be careful with your terminology.

    A modeller lets you create models and scenes. A renderer turns these scenes into 2D images. A compositor lets you turn these 2D images into other 2D images, and usually also lets you assemble them into single-file animation formats. Don't expect to do any "real" 3D work without at least one of each.

    It's confusing because many modellers have renderers built in. They are usually inadequate for complex jobs. (Though, in fairness, one blockbuster 100% computer animated feature film has been made using Maya's built-in renderer, so it's not exactly useless.) However, thanks to the wonders of Open Source, the modeller is now the only part you have to buy.

    Here's what I suggest:

    • Get Maya Complete. This will cost money.
    • Get Liquid [nomadicmonkey.com], which will cost you nothing. This will export Maya to RenderMan(TM).
    • Get Aqsis [aqsis.com], which will cost you nothing. This is your renderer. It is RenderMan(tm) compliant, which is the de facto standard for communication between renderers and modellers.
    • Get Cinelerra [heroinewarrior.com], which will cost you nothing. This is your compositor. (Available only for Linux, unfortunately, but it's free.)

    If you find yourself making money with these, you can replace and augment bits if you find them not doing what you want. (For example, replace Aqsis with RDC [dotcsw.com] or PRMan [pixar.com] and replace Cinelerra with Shake [apple.com] or After Effects [adobe.com]. You can even augment Maya with Houdini [sidefx.com] or SoftImage [softimage.com] if you feel like spending money.)

    The key here is to stick with standards so you can drop in replacements into your production line.

    Good luck.

    • Dont forget about ayam, its a free modeler that exports RIB. ( unsure about the mac-connection though )

      Also there are python scripts to export Blender to RIB.

      ALso, if you can find it, BMRT was a great quality RIB complient render engine. Such a same to see it gone.
    • This is great advice, in fact, I'll put trying out this pathway on my copious spare time list.

      One meek suggestion: this kind of messing with the pipeline is fraught with peril, but scene conversion tools do exist, such as Okino's PolyTrans. The Maya obj exporter for Blender is production/stable, for that matter. So you could try modeling in the tool of your choice, then converting the scene to Maya format as a pre-process to the above.

      If you're like me, you'll get tired of this in about two days, and go for an end-to-end package. If you already have Maya as part of your pipeline, well, it has a renderer in there already, and you'll need a good eye to find fault with it.
    • What blockbuster used Maya's renderer?
      I know that Jonah did, but that can hardly be considered a blockbuster.

      I agree with your rundown of what to use. I would encourage taking advantage of the Maya/Shake cross promotion that Apple has right now.

      -Tim
  • POV-Ray (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fastball (91927) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:04PM (#4639355) Journal
    If you're interested in good looking stills, broke, and understand very high level scripting languages, you might want to look at POV-Ray [povray.org]. Additionally, if you're working on a Windows platform, an outstanding modeller called Moray [stmuc.com] that works with POV-Ray. The author is very responsive and makes one of the finer modellers I've worked with. POV-Ray has a deathly slow renderer though.
    • Re:POV-Ray (Score:2, Informative)

      by Animixer (134376)
      POV-Ray has a deathly slow renderer though.

      I'm a big fan of POV-Ray, I've been using it since about a year after DKB-Trace. I started on a 386sx 40mhz, with 4mb of ram, so pretty much anything now seems 'fast' comparatively. It is pretty painfully slow if you're not used to it, though. Then again, it is free, has a lot of features (now), and nothing beats using the equation for a sphere when rendering a sphere....screw 18 billion triangles! It's really disgusting when you see an otherwise good render and notice that every curve is made up of discrete angles....ugh. As with many renderers, it's very easy to put the 'quality' options up way too high and spend an abnormally long time on a render. I admit, though, that I've spend 4+ days on renders with lots of AA and glass CSG objects...for a 1024x576 image. (Granted, on a 400mhz p2)

      If you're interested in comparing some renderers, check out the Internet Raytracing Competition [irtc.org] (IRTC)

      POV-Ray is good for a number of things, though I would recommend using a modeller if you plan on rendering anything 'organic'. (Defining bezier patches by hand, while possible, is not reccommended.) Animation support has come a little further lately, though mainly you're going to be rendering a number of stills with some computations in the scripts varying based on a clock value which gets passed in.

      Oh, and here's one big advantage -- the source code is freely available! Hack to your hearts delight, just follow the rules if you plan to distribute. Binaries are available for a number of platforms, and the generic UNIX source should be fairly easy to compile. Note: If you're using IRIX, check out SGI's freeware [sgi.com] site for a binary. I've had fairly good luck compiling it on Solaris, but I don't have the dev libraries for Irix so I use the precompiled version.

      If anyone does end up using POV, please at least give a thought to donating a couple of bucks to them, I'm sure they could use it.

  • I've been using Strata 3D [strata.com] for years. It's no Maya, but it's got a fairly decent modeler and a decent ray-tracer. I like it because it's pretty straightforward to use (as opposed to, say, Blender). New versions have IK and all that junk, and the animation support is almost good. (Note that these are compared to some theoretical package that's easy to use and powerful. AFAIK, such a thing doesn't exist.) Anyway, there's a demo in their online store [strata.com], try it out. (The MacOSX version doesn't have a demo yet, but 3.7 runs fine under Classic.)
  • Here's a comparison (Score:5, Informative)

    by cooldev (204270) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:07PM (#4639362)

    Zaon has a thread [zaon.org] dedicated to answering this question.

    There's a permanant thread to the above link from CGTalk's [cgtalk.com] discussion forum to keep this subject from coming up again and again. I highly recommend visititing CGTalk to view some of the discussions and images. They have forums for the major packages, threads for posting work in progress and finished images, and it's and all around great site with many professionals.

  • by Trogre (513942) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:12PM (#4639381) Homepage
    POV-Ray.

    It's one of few that can actually do mathematically perfect surfaces at arbitrary resolutions without having to decompose the scene into polygons. Of course, this is because it is a raytracer and not a zbuffer-based renderer, so it isn't the fastest out there.

    It doesn't have a native modeller, but many third-party modellers can export as POV scene format.

    • Check out Moray if you are using Windows. It is a very nice modeler that integrates with POV-Ray. It has a wireframe OpenGL preview that fills in with the final rendered image when you render. Very nice.
  • by rgoer (521471) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:14PM (#4639390)
    I'd be using it in Mac OS X

    So, um, did any of you guys recommending 3DSMax read this part of his initial query? Um... anyway, if OS X is to be your platform, the only software you need to bother with is Cinema 4D. Get r8 and a nice openGL card (whatever the newest nVidia card Apple will sell you), and you will not be disappointed.

    I've been using C4D since version 5, and have been using it in OS X since it has been possible to do so. Cinema is a wonderful piece of software: the modelling workflow puts 3DSMax to absolute shame, the animation system (while still lacking in some areas) is rapidly, and I mean rapidly catching up to the big [aliaswavefront.com] dogs [softimage.com] (check out this site [imashination.com] (Mash is a C4D developer) for some really beautiful examples of the leaps and bounds r8 has made in the soft-IK department), and you simply will not find a faster renderer (as far as single workstation rendering goes--I'm sure Pixar's n-cpu PrMan farm offers serious competition).

    The biggest downfalls for C4D are a lack of n-sided polys and a lackluster implementation of boolean modelling. These weaknesses, when weighed against the outrageous strengths displayed in nearly every other area, make C4D the obvious choice for Mac users. Shit, I've found the environment to be even more work-condusive than Maya's sometimes... now if only Maxon could figure a way to incorporate something like A|W's marking-menus without legally stepping on some toes...
  • The modeler and render components are *not* exclusive.

    You can use 2 different programs.

    Example, blender or ayam to model, and then export to something such as BMRT or POV-RAY.

    Even 'high end' pacakges, such as Rhino3D, support this sort of thing, each pushes its strong suit.

    Judge each component on its own level....

    You also mention it will be on MAC OS.. that
    limits your options greatly.

    PS: done properly, Blender's internal render engine can do amazing things.
  • Mental Ray (Score:2, Insightful)

    It's a ray tracer and that'll cost you. You may find you can render a cube or sphere without trouble but it's hard to efficiently ray trace something like a human figure with clothing etc. that has a few million polygons - all of which may be required at any point in the render. Mental Ray doesn't make use of some really quite cool advances in ray tracing that have been made in the last few years. For example it doesn't use Matt Pharr et al's caching techniques. It also has trouble displacement mapping - again because that requires massive tesselation which is difficult in a ray tracer. It's a trade off between realism (which is easy in a ray tracer) and efficiency (which a 'streaming' renderer like Renderman is good at).
  • Art of Illusion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Wayne Gramlich (449352) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:17PM (#4639404) Homepage

    The Art of Illusion 3D modeller is written in Java and runs on the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms. (It does not currently use the Java3D interface, because that has not yet been licenced for the Mac platform.) Here's a URL:

    http://www.artofillusion.org/ [artofillusion.org]

    It is under a GPL license and seems to be pretty easy to use (i.e. not nearly as confusing as Blender is to initial users.)

    Your milage may vary.

    -Wayne

  • by edo-01 (241933) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:23PM (#4639435)
    When chosing renderers there's a lot of FUD about "this or that package has a crap renderer" etc, but a good render is a function of good composition, modelling, lighting and texturing. Bad 3D will look bad no matter what you render it with!

    In terms of final output these days, a good artist can use any of the Major packages out there and get similar results (a renderer does not a good artist make). Maya has a rep as a high-end package, and if you are good with it you're not going to have any problems finding work. Given that you are on a Mac I'd lean towards Lightwave, it's got a great renderer built in and it's a LOT easier to learn than Maya. And for what you need it for; rendering occasional design elements and fooling around it's perfect. Lightwave is a great package that easily competes with Maya for the quality of work produced with it.

    If you were on the PC I'd reccomend 3DS Max with Brazil for rendering, I've been using it since 3DS DOS v2 and although I often freelance for a shop that's mostly Softimage and Maya I've never felt the need to learn anything else. We used it for over a thousand shots a year for three years on Farscape and it's been fantastic. I'll never switch packages as long as Discreet still develop it.

  • Get some experience (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bastian (66383) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:29PM (#4639465)
    And I don't just mean with the modelling programs themselves. From your questions about things like NURBS, it sounds like you don't have much experience with the process of 3D modelling itself yet. (If I'm wrong, excuse my presumptuousness.)

    In my experience, it's really almost impossible to judge 3D modellers until you have some experience with them and know what kinds of features you want and how you like to model. The modellers you are looking at buying are expensive enough that I would recommend you make sure you know enough about rendering that you can make your own informed decisions about what suits you.

    Try starting off with something like Moonlight 3D or Blender, or using a friend's copy of 3D Studio Max or something like that, and get yourself extremely comfortable with 3D modelling, including animation-related stuff. Learn basic modelling, learn how to use NURBS, and learn how to use stuff like inverse kinematics, and make sure you are comfortable with all of them. Then, take a look at the demos you have and you will be able to tell whether one modeller's way of doing things feels more comfortable to you than another.

    Otherwise, you might just find out that you've spent great heaping piles of money on a 3D modelling package that everyone on Slashdot just recommended to you based primarily on the knowledge that it's used by ILM or Pixar or what have you.
  • Lightwave/Maya (Score:5, Informative)

    by captaineo (87164) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:31PM (#4639474)
    I would focus your attention on Lightwave or Maya.

    Lightwave is very easy to learn, has a very good modeler (for polygons and subdivision surfaces; no NURBS though), and a good rendering engine. Lightwave works really well out of the box, you won't need any additional software at the beginning.

    Maya is the most flexible of commercial 3D packages; the modeler is good for NURBS and can handle polygons and subdivision surfaces too (though not as easily as Lightwave). Maya's animation features are unparalleled. However, the renderer isn't so great. Many professional Maya users export their scenes to a RenderMan-based renderer instead of using the bundled one.

    If you had to get just one package, or you don't think you'd be able to set up a renderer for Maya, I would get Lightwave. If you are mostly concerned with animation and can expect some help in the lighting and rendering departments, get Maya.

    Both Lightwave and Maya skills are valuable for getting 3D animation jobs. Lightwave is slightly more concentrated in game development and TV work, while Maya is more concentrated in film and TV.

    Finally, don't put too much weight in the sample images you find for each package. The Lightwave website has a huge gallery of excellent work, but you have to keep in mind it's been around for many many years, and so its users have had plenty of time to figure out how to get good results from it. A newer package might not have that many impressive sample images, simply because there isn't a large community of experienced users yet.
    • "Maya's animation features are unparalleled"

      This might well be true, but it's surpassed by SoftImage's character animation routines. There's a reason the big boys use multiple packages; when they can afford it, it's Maya for modeling, SoftImage for animation, Houdini for the particle effects, Renderman for rending and Shake or Combustion for compositing.
    • Lightwave is very easy to learn, has a very good modeler (for polygons and subdivision surfaces; no NURBS though)

      sorry, but Lightwave has had NURBS since 5.0 (maybe earlier, I forget). To use it, go into Modeler, make a box, hit TAB.

      Unless you're implying that they removed it in later versions?
  • If you are just modeling for games, high-end stuff isn't for you.

    Me, I'm very accustomed to QME. Alas, they're not making it anymore.
  • Well, since you are limiting yourself to Mac, then 3D Studio Max/Viz is out.

    Maya is incredibly powerfull, but equally difficult to master - great for 'organic' forms.

    Blender is free...but difficult to use, and lacks support.

    FormZ is very easy to use, very easy to master, and much much cheaper than Maya. It is also both Mac and Win. However, it lends itself more towards architectural work, and is useless for animation (currently only the camera path can be animated).

    I would recommend 3DStudio in your shoes...but you've eliminated that option. If you aren't going to do animation, and if you are unfamiliar with working in 3D - check out FormZ (it has a free demo). But, if you are ready to jump to the big time and deal with a lot of up-front learning - go with Maya.
  • by protohiro1 (590732)
    Maya. A post above mentioned Rhino as well. I would say that if you get heavy into nurbs and get up against a wall with maya, then get Rhino as well. People like to go on and aon about how bad the maya renderer is. Well, the point in now moot, because you get Mental Ray for free with maya 4.5. And mental ray is just stunning.

    The best part of maya is the interface. It is not esy to learn, but once you get going you really start to wish more apps were designed for speed and efficiency rather than speed. There are some other packages that are good. But you will not be dissappoint with maya. You will love it. And for $2k its priced well for what you get, especially now it includes mental ray. Also, 4.5 rocks on os x, (3.5 really did suck) so its really the only way to, considering max and XSI (the only real competitors in my mind) aren't available on the mac. Of course, I've been doing 3d with alias software since 1994, so I'm biased. But justifiably so, I've never heard of anyone who actually prefered another package to maya (except maybe XSI, but a lot of that was mental ray). Rambling now, but I can't tell you how much I love maya. A geekier slashdotter than me can reply and tell you all about MEL and the API as well.
  • 3DToolkit (Score:2, Informative)

    by olsonjj (415343)
    If you are using MacOSX, and just getting into 3d, there is only one choice.

    3dToolkit $199

    goto www.dvgarage.com and check out 3dToolkit. Its Electic Image 2.9 and it includes over 2 gigs of tutorials on DVD.
    Once you master that, they look at the either Universe 5.0 (newest version of Electric Image) or Cinema4d or Maya.

  • by jefu (53450) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:55PM (#4639588) Homepage Journal
    I used to spend a lot of time on bicycles. Not racing or anything, just having fun, commuting, exploring and the like.

    Got known for it.

    People would say "I want to buy a bike, whats the best one?"

    I'd ask them what kind of bike they had now and how often they rode it. The answer was frequently that they did not have a bike and didn't ride. Since none of these people had millions in the bank, my answer was always about the same :

    "Go to a thrift store, yard sale, whatever and find a bike that fits ..." [insert info about bike fit here ] "...then ride it for a month or two - find out what kind of riding you like, get a feel for how you ride and then come back and we'll talk more."

    Why? Without knowing how someone rode or what kind of riding they might like, there is no way to tell them what kind of bike to buy. Further, even sending them to good bike shops to try bikes was a waste of time because they wouldn't be able to tell how the bike felt to them.

    Of course, they could just go out to a good bike shop and spend way more than they could afford on a bike they'd never use. But that didn't feel like a good suggestion to me somehow.

    Same thing here. "Renderer" and "modeller" seem to be mixed up. I get no feel that the poster knows what he's looking for.

    So my advice:

    Get Blender, POV (or similar free or very cheap packages) and work with them seriously for a while. Do a couple good sized projects. Figure out what you're good at and what you want to do. Get a feel for how you want the application to react and what you really want it to do.

    Then, if you still need advice, you'll be able to ask for it more precisely.

    And the answers will mean more.
  • ...know that the renderer does not a quality scene make. It doesn't matter whether you use a best of breed [povray.org] render or a cheasy, not-so-great [caligari.com] render. If you're a good artist who knows how to make good use of lighting, color, layout, textures, and so forth, you will produce photorealistic work. If you're a sucky artist (as most 3D artists are) and you have this misconception that a great rendering and tool kit is going to save you... well, your work will blow.

    The shittiest 3D art I've ever seen (stepping away from the whole "it's art!" idealogy) was done with Lightwave3D. Some of the best I've seen was done with Blender and Caligari trueSpace (an off the shelf package for $100 in some places).

    It all comes back to the artists. The software is just a tool. If you don't know how to hammer a nail in straight, a $15,000 hammer won't help.
    • Some of the best I've seen was done with Blender and Caligari trueSpace

      Having tried to actually use Caligari, I can (without a doubt) tell you that it has the absolute WORST UI of any 3D app I've ever used (and I've used about a dozen). How anyone managed to create anything "good" with it is a mystery.
  • Maya for Free (Score:2, Informative)

    You can get the 'personal learning edition' of Maya for free from the Alias|Wavefront [aliaswavefront.com] web site. I can't direct-link it, because Slashcode is being a jerk about the ultra long link. But it's there under "Free Downloads" on the left side.

    It watermarks your renderings, if I recall correctly, but as far as I know it's otherwise fully featured. This should be enough to give you an idea of whether or not it suits the work you need to do.

  • by snowtigger (204757) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:24PM (#4639709) Homepage
    BMRT is a free (as in beer) renderer that complies with Pixar's Renderman format. Thus, if you use a modeler that can export in Renderman format, you can use BMRT for rendering. I haven't used it much, but it has been used in several major film productions.

    Binaries are available for several platforms, including windows, linux and solaris.

    Originally created by former Pixar employee Larry Gritz, BMRT was then integrated into a startup called Exluna [exluna.com] that was recently bought by Nvidia. They stopped distributing BMRT, but some online resources are still available.

    Now, if you're still interested in trying out the software, it is still available on the web (try searching for "BMRT2.6" using your favorite search engine)

    Larry Gritz also wrote a nice book, called "Advanced Renderman", which explains quite a lot about shaders, Renderman and uses BMRT for examples.

    If you're interested in finding out more about Renderman, check it out !
    • Aqsis [aqsis.com] is a GPL implementation of the Renderman spec. It probably isn't as full featured as BMRT was, but it does have the benefits of being really free and under active development.
  • http://www.pixels3d.com You might want to give these guys a look. Outside of that, I'd suggest looking at Lightwave and Cinema3D r8 in that order. Good luck with your decision(s)...
  • by eyefish (324893) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:00PM (#4639853)
    Although not mentioned often in the media, one of the most-kept secrets in the 3D industry is a relatively inexpensive tool called TrueSpace by Caligari [caligari.com].

    First, note that this tool does NOT produce the kind of photorealistic images you get in lightwave, BUT what it has going for it is market-leading modeling tools and bar none the absolute most intuitive user interface on the market (this is not to say that the renderer is bad, the latest version now comes with a real nice third-party renderer which produces very nice renders).

    I recommend you give it a try so it becomes your modeling program, and then export your work to render in Lightwave or whatever else.

    Note that all the tools you mention Maya has (as well as Lightwave and the others) actually appeared first in many cases in TrueSpace (like the clay deformation tool, as well as many other "free form organic" tools.

    The cool thing about it is that you actually create your objects and scenes in true 3D (but you can also bring top/bottom/left/right/front/back views if you wish), and the controls are simply awe-inspiring in easy of use and downright common sense (I have NEVER read the manual, and this something hard to say about any other 3D program out there). Oh yeah, everything is in real time as well, even in solid render mode!

    This has to be the most-copied tool in the 3D world, and ironically the one that gets the least amount of credit. Check it out, I think they have an older version you can download as trialware for free.

    On a side note, since you design GUIs, and come from a Photoshop background, I think you'll find this tool to be very intuitive. I myself use it for creating pseudo-3D GUI elements all the time, and then bringing it in into Photoshop for further refining.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Wow ! What ignorant tripe.

      "Although not mentioned often in the media, one of the most-kept secrets in the 3D industry is a relatively inexpensive tool called TrueSpace by Caligari"

      That's to save them some embarrasment.

      "Note that all the tools you mention Maya has (as well as Lightwave and the others) actually appeared first in many cases in TrueSpace (like the clay deformation tool, as well as many other "free form organic" tools."

      Here we go again. Ever heard of SoftImage 3D Extreme with metaballs et al. from late 80s ??

      "The cool thing about it is that you actually create your objects and scenes in true 3D (but you can also bring top/bottom/left/right/front/back views if you wish),"

      and HOW is this different from say Lightwave OR Max OR XSI OR Maya !!!!!!! Ever heard of the Camera or perspective viewport ???

      "Oh yeah, everything is in real time as well, even in solid render mode!"

      Which means, it can't do much. it would slow down a LOT if you loaded a huge scene (say a fully modelled and textured church)

      For the record, I have tried Truespace 1.0 and 2.0. Some of the tools ARE nifty, but your tone makes it sound like the low-profile granddaddy of 3D modelling. Which it ISN'T
    • I've used TrueSpace a bit back in the day. Try out the free version to see if you like it. I definitely agree with the parent about the intuitiveness of the interface, it is really impressive.

      Unfortunately I believe TrueSpace is Windows only. I'm certain it would not be trivial for them to move to other platforms, but I have always thought that TrueSpace could move into the higher-end market if they would support more platforms.

      -Spyky
    • As an aside: when modelin, NEVER create anything in the 3d view...it'll never end up in the right spot and it will never be the right size. Always create in the orthogonal side/top views. Preferably adjust there too, but doing that in the 3d view isn't that much of a sin.
  • Spend some time... (Score:3, Informative)

    by DarkFall (14299) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @11:22PM (#4640153)
    ...trying out the packages, but mostly trying to figure out what 3D tasks you specifically need. Various programs have various strengths. Some programs have amazing modeling tools (Maya) some have great texturing tools (C4D is pretty good), some are good all around with a top notch renderer (Lightwave). Your needs define what package you should use, not the other way around..so the biggest question to ask yourself is what you know you need. Saying "everything" will cause you grief :)
    I've been doing 3D on a mac for many years, and I can honestly tell you that I've had to use different tools at different times. Lately I've been staying pretty much in Maya. The built-in renderer has it's flaws but it is by no means poor...Your lighting, shading, texturing skills will play a larger role than the renderer, plus that are plug-ins to export to a Renderman compatible renderer.

    There are some other cheap options that are pretty decent programs..they aren't mainstream, but if you're only using 3D as a secondary tool to add to your illustration/presentation arsenal, it might be cheaper and better in the long run. I can safely recommend things like Pixels3D (http://www.pixels.net) and Hash Animation Master (http://www.hash.com). Pixels just came out with Mac OS X version too which is looking pretty decent, and their Tempest renderer is pretty nice too.

    The short and the skinny...if 3D is your primary focus, decide on your needs. Maya is an amazing all around tool and the renderer simply stands out because everything else about the program is so great, that the renderer simple seems like the sore thumb out. If your needs with 3D are secondary, a cheaper package would suit you better and will provide the tools you'd need for reasonably advanced 3D.

    Last but not least..everyone's got their favorite and it all means fuzz-all to you...you need to decide what suits you best by trying out as much as you can.
  • Blender (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @11:32PM (#4640200) Homepage
    Blender is interesting, but it's in a wierd place right now. The company that developed it, NaN, went broke. A number of users organized a campaign to raise 100,000 and make it free software. They raised the money, and you can now download the sources from Blender.org. [blender.org] All the sources are GPL.

    But the open source version isn't quite buildable yet. The developers are trying to straighten out the sources and clean up the build process. The project is still being set up.

    Meanwhile, you can download the old NaN version, EULA and all (you're agreeing to the EULA of a defunct company!), and a keyfile that makes the licensing system happy, from blender.org. Works fine.

    All 3D packages have wierd user interfaces. Editing in 3D is so complicated that there's no agreement on how to do it. Blender, though, is unusually wierd; it has a few menus, many buttons, too many control keys, and a little gesture recognition. It has its fanatics, but not enough of them, which is why NaN went bust.

    Incidentally, one implication of the wierd user interface problem is that just downloading a 3D app and playing it doesn't get you much of anywhere. These things take a while to learn, typically months.

    If you're going to do serious work, and the output is video or film (not games), Maya is probably the way to go. It's the de facto standard in film work right now. 3DS Max leads in games, and Lightwave in TV. Softimage used to be #1 in film, but they blew it, much to my annoyance as a Softimage user. Blender remains a toy, although if the free software community gets behind it and cleans it up, it could be more of a contender.

  • by Loki_1929 (550940) on Monday November 11, 2002 @03:08AM (#4640995) Journal
    Is Microsoft Paint. Not only does it start quickly and have low overhead (unlike some other graphics programs *cough*Maya*cough* *cough*Lightwave*cough*), but just look at all the features! With MSPaint, you can draw straight lines, curvy lines, make them different colors, or even add text! It's even got something that lets you fill in big areas in seconds with a single color, and it allows you to zoom up to like 8x!

    I mean, holy shit; with all that, how can you go wrong?

  • I've looked into tons of 3D packages and worked with a lot of them.

    Maya, Softimage, Houdini, 3DSMax and even Lightwave would be somewhat of an overkill for what you're looking for.
    Most of these Programms have an extensive (and expensive) plugin architecture that usually attribute to the needs of film and video studios, with tons of stuff for movematching, compositing and NLE integration and all that kind of stuff.
    What you want is a package that gets the 3D looking good and the job done hassle free, with a rock-solid renderer integrated. Free packages like Blender can be very good (Blender is), but they pack to much of a steep learning curve and to much fiddling to get the actual pic looking good.

    Cinema 4D (http://www.maxon.de/) quite possibly could be your ticket to ride. It's easy as 123 for n00bs, has one of the fastest and best internal renderers and has a top-notch mac version. And - a very important must-have for grafic designers - it's, afaik, the only package that comes with a set of standard 2D vector format import filters. Read: 2D drawing in Freehand (or whatever), import to Cinema, extrude to 3D model, profit. :-) (SCNR)
    This funcionality costs a fortune with other packages like Realsoft3D or Maya.

    The alternative that could be interessting for you is the new kid on the block "Carrara". Its very easy to use, feature rich, cheap and has a mac version aswell (http://www.eovia.com/). It could very much be the upcoming cinema-killer. I don't no about that must-have 2d vector import though. Check that out before buying.

    Once again: The often recommended Maya, Softimage, Houdini and co. are cool, but actually only for people who do nothing but living on 3D day-in and day-out. Or do you give a shit if you've got HDTV format compatability? Thought so.
  • Unfortunatly, no 'one' package is going to fulfill all the needs that you have. And some have been overlooked.

    IMHO, the VERY best modeller, with growing support for *insert buzzword here* has got to be auto*des*sys Form*Z. I didnt see this mentioned anywhere, but this program was the defacto modeller for electric image. It also complements any other package with an extensive toolset.

    Also, include photoshop in your list - please correct me if im wrong, but most 3d stills are touched up/composited in photoshop.

    Maya is hands down the most complete model/render/animation package out there. The interface is supurb, and the toolset in the newest version is phenominal.

    Hand in hand with making animations, id have to say pick up a copy of shake or after effects (shake however, blew my socks off).

    Also keep in mind - you wont become proficient with a single one of the programs mentioned untill your using it for real work for a while. Each one has a large set of diciplines to know, and a large toolset to learn how to work with. I highly suggest doing the tutrorials in succession until you can recreate them w/o looking at the PDF/book. Then of course choose a project that you know will challenge you and hammer at it till you get the results you want. I was suprised how much by what seemed would be simple, would turn out very hard, but it forces me to learn a lot more of the application in the long run.

    Tools I would reccomend:
    http://www.autodessys.com/ --- Form*Z
    http://www.apple.com/shake/ --- Shake/Final Cut Pro
    http://www.aliaswavefront.com/ --- Maya
    http://www.adobe.com/ --- Photohop/Illustrator

  • Something I've always wondered (and this is probably too late in the thread to be noticed) - what exactly is RenderMan? I know it's what Pixar wrote and uses and I always hear everyone talk about it, but what is it exactly? I always figured it was a program unto itself like LightWave or Maya, but now I hear that it needs Maya or something else to do the modelling, so I figured it was a renderer - but then I see people talking about "RenderMan compliant renderers", so RenderMan must not be a renderer. So then I hear it's something like the PostScript for renderers, so it's something like Maya -> RenderMan -> Renderer, right? If this is the case then why is RenderMan so important? I mean if I wrote something in Word and used PostScript to send it to a printer I wouldn't say "I wrote it using PostScript", I'd say "I wrote it using Word".

    So what am I not getting (or getting correct) about RenderMan?

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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