KWWidgets/Projects/3DWidgets/Part2/Study Choice

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There is a large number of 3D design and manipulation software available on the market. To study them all would take an extremely long time and would not necessarily be very useful, especially as this project must be completed within 12 weeks.

Available software


Maya (Autodesk) is currently the leading animation program for cinema; nearly every studio uses it. It is known as difficult to learn, but it is possibly the most powerful 3D package. When studios use Maya, they typically replace parts of it with proprietary software. Studios will also render using Pixar's Renderman, rather than the default mentalray. Autodesk, makers of 3ds max, has recently acquired Alias--the original creator of Maya. Maya comes in two versions: Maya Complete (US$1999) and Maya Unlimited (US$6999)

Softimage|XSI (Avid) is often seen as head-to-head competition with Maya, and is very feature-similar. Fans of the two packages often will often argue the merits of each. The early Softimage 3D was once the leader in animation, but lagged as Maya surged ahead. The Newer Softimage XSI with more features and intergrated Mental Ray rendering is now trying to reclaim the top spot.

3ds Max (Autodesk), originally called 3D Studio MAX, is the leading animation program in the video game industry. Experts argue that it is very good at handling low-polygon animation, but perhaps its greatest asset to the computer/video industry is its entrenched support network and its many plugins. It is also a more expensive high-end package, coming at US$3500, compared to about US$2000 for the others. Because of its presence in the video game industry, it is also a popular hobbyist package. 3ds Max is also widely used in architectural visualizations because of its goes hand-in-hand very well with AutoCAD--also developed by Autodesk.

LightWave 3D (NewTek) is a popular 3D package because of its easy-to-learn interface; many artists prefer it to the more technical Maya or 3DS Max. It has weaker modeling and particularly animation features than some of the larger packages, but it is still used widely in film and broadcasting.

Cinema 4D (MAXON) is a slightly lighter package than the others in its basic configuration. Its main asset is its artist-friendliness, avoiding the complicated technical nature of the other packages and its low entry cost because of the modular structure of its functions. For example, a popular module, BodyPaint, allows artists to draw textures directly onto the surface of models. It is also available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux OS.

Blender (Blender Foundation) is a free modeling, rendering and animation software offering a vast set of features, able to compete with larger commercial packages. It is being developed under the GPL.

Houdini (Side Effects Software) is a high-end package that is found often in studios. Its most common use is in animating special effects, rather than models. With a price tag of US$17,000, Houdini is the most expensive high-end 3D computer graphics package available.

form-Z (autodessys, Inc.) is a general purpose 3D modeler. Its forte is modeling, but also does rendering and animation. Many of its users are architects, but also include designers from many fields including interior designers, illustrators, product designers, and set designers. Its default renderer uses the LightWorks rendering engine for raytracing and radiosity. formZ has been around since 1991, available for both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems. The price is approximately $1495-$2390 depending on how much photorealistic rendering power is desired.

Silo (Nevercenter) is a subdivision-surface modeler available for Mac OS X and Windows, with a Linux OS version in development. Silo does not include a renderer and is priced accordingly ($109). Silo is the current recommended modeler for the Electric Image Animation System suite.

Art of Illusion is another free software package developed under the GPL.

Wings 3D is a BSD-licensed, minimal modeler.

Anim8or is another free 3d rendering and animation package.

DeleD 3D Editor is a fully functional game-oriented 3D Editor. PRO version also available.


Landscape Studio is a Java-based heightmap generator.

SharpConstruct is a free 3d modeling program that works like ZBrush.

Terragen and Terragen 2 is a freeware scenery generator.

DIALux is a light making software, also makes buildings / architectural modeling and a little more. Used to cost thousand of $$. Has renderers aswell.

Google Sketchup is a free 3D modeling program created by Google. It was made to be very easy to use which makes it a good starting program for new 3D modelers

ShapeShop is a free sketch-based 3D modeling tool based on hierarchical implicit surfaces. Like Sketchup, it is very easy to use, but can create a much wider range of smooth surfaces.

Animation:Master focuses on animation. It might be quicker and easier to learn and to use than the major packages.

MilkShape 3D is a shareware/trialware polygon 3D modelling program with extensive import/export capabilities.

Carrara (Eovia) is a 3D complete tool set package for 3D modeling, texturing animation and rendering; and Amapi and Hexagon (Eovia) are 3D packages often used for high-end abstract and organic modeling respectively.

Bryce (DAZ productions) is most famous for landscapes.

Poser is specialized for figure and character modeling.

modo, is a newer software product that includes modeling, painting and rendering for both the Mac and PC. It is from Luxology and won the Apple Design Award for Best OSX Graphics in 2006.

Zbrush (Pixologic) is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing and painting.

Realsoft 3D


Vue (e-on) is landscape generation software.


Alibre Design






How to select the software to compare?

In order to make a reasonable study, only select software should be used - those providing the most features and the shortest requirement of time.

To do this I looked at the relative fame of a product - those that appear to be well-known or popular, product reviews, availability - can I get a copy of the program to test?, and ease-of-use (where software was available) - how long will it take me to study if I have to spend three weeks learning what's in the software?

Thus the criteria were:

  • Usability
  • Fame
  • Reviews
  • Availability

How to select the widgets to compare? Once the software was selected, I then had to get to grips with the application and find out what "widgets" it had. This is not necessarily easy as there is no reason for everyone to call a "widget" a "widget", synonyms may be "tool", "helper" or similar terms.

Also, what sort of program functionality may be compared to a widget? I used those in vtk as a reference and looked to see what was in a study application. Then, I could look at the entire section of the software to see what other functionalities were grouped there.


Rating the software.

Availability Fame Usability Domain Reviews


My initial choices for consideration were:

  • 3DS Max

Other idea from Will Schroeder:

  • MiaVis (to be confirmed).

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