3D Computer Animation Software

Reviews of the Top 3D Animation Software Programs

Why is 3D computer animation software important?  Because in this day and age it takes something special to stay ahead of the competition.

As architects and designers we have to constantly look for new ways to “WOW” our clients. Clients like to “see” their projects before they are built. There was a time when just providing flat, 2D drawings and 3D still hand renderings were sufficient.

Now clients are expecting more. So CAD software companies keep pushing the envelope and have developed 3D rendering software. Using this software an architect can provide a client with photo-realistic images of a project. An architect can even place a fully rendered image on a client’s site to show what it might look like when the building is finished.

Now in yet another effort to stay ahead, architects are going a step even further with fully rendered 3D animations.

Three-dimensional animations basically take the client on a grand tour of their building, before ground for the project is even broken. The architect can take a client in and out of rooms, show off architectural features, and even simulate how people might interact within the building.

There are many different animation programs out there. Some are better than others, as with all things, but for your specific use you may not need the biggest and best. Your firm may not be in a place where you need the best 3D computer animation software.

So for this article I am going to look at three programs that I am familiar with, and two of the three are the programs that I have found most recommended by users online. The three 3D computer animation software programs I will be taking a look at are REVIT, 3D Studio Max and Maya.

REVIT Software

Now, I know that there are REVIT users out there that think I am nuts by placing REVIT in this category. You might be saying that REVIT is not 3D computer animation software. In fact when I did a search online, REVIT was not even mentioned. REVIT is a decent 3D modeling program though. You can take your plans from 2D drawing to a 3D model with relative ease. I have also found that if you are an AutoCAD user the learning curve is very short; so REVIT could be considered easy animation software when compared to some others. I would say that the 3D animation part of REVIT is not the best, but that is the reason for these reviews. I have personally created several animations using REVIT with varying results. REVIT just seems to not quite be there on the realism. For instance, on the most recent animation I created, the site had a lot of trees. When I used the REVIT supplied trees, as you walk around the site, the trees visibly “flip” as the angle of view changes. This makes it look a little "cartoonish".

The biggest drawback that I see with using REVIT as 3D computer animation software is that you cannot animate anything within the animation. For example, say you are walking around a site that has a pond and in that pond is a fountain. Well within REVIT that fountain will not show any movement. It is just there; frozen in time. No big deal right? You may never have a project with a fountain in it, but you will more than likely have doors in your project. The same issue with the fountain is true of doors too. If you walk into a building you will have to walk through the door and you will not be able to animate it to open as you get to it. The same goes for people in the animation also…no movement.

3DS Max

The next 3D computer animation software I would mention is one of the most popular programs on the market, 3ds Max. This software seems to be the one most recommended when you do an online search. I have had some experience with 3ds Max and would recommend it myself. I have found that the renderings and animations can be very realistic. Again, I have found that having a working knowledge of another CAD program is helpful. However, because 3ds Max can be so powerful, there are a lot of options within the program. This in turn makes the learning curve much longer. The biggest benefit I found is that you can do a true animation. If you are walking through a building you can actually have the doors open for you and you do not have to walk through them. When you are presenting a project to a client it is very important to look like you know what you are doing. It is kind of embarrassing to have to walk through solid objects.

Another great feature about 3ds Max is that you can import AutoCAD and REVIT drawings. Importing an AutoCAD drawing is pretty basic but I have found that importing the REVIT file takes a few more steps, but it can be done. So you can create your model in the program of your choice and then import it into 3ds Max to complete the animation.

MAYA - 3D Computer Animation Software

The third program I decided to take a look at is the MAYA 3D computer animation software. In my opinion MAYA is a "Cadillac". If you had an unlimited budget and time for a project, and you had MAYA, this is the program to use. I have seen several animations using MAYA and was very impressed. The graphics were great and the animations had life in them. One of the animations I saw was fly-through of a city. The animator had moving cars, people walking…all kinds of life.

The only drawback I saw to MAYA is the learning curve. I downloaded the trial version and quickly found that I was in a totally new environment. This program is so powerful, but it may be totally "new" to an architectural firm that had limited time and money for a project. It seems that it would be unfeasible for small firms to make a strong argument for the investment of manpower to learn this program. I believe that is where the architect would have to look to outside companies that specialise in animations.

The 3D computer animation software programs that I have discussed here are by no means the only options. They are just the ones that I have personally dealt with. There are many to choose from and I know that there are users that have their favorites, which may not be mentioned here. Please feel free to leave your comments and reviews below about any 3D animation programs that you have used.

But if you are a small firm and looking for a good investment in 3D computer animation software, out of the above three choices I would go with 3ds Max. It is a good program and I would recommend it on the popularity and the amount of time it would take to learn. If your firm already has drafts-men that are interested in or have some experience with 3D modelling, this would be a good investment. If you have the time and money to invest in a  project I would suggest going for the Cadillac; MAYA. Why not look at the best before you back off a little?

As with all of these programs there are many tutorials online and I would suggest going through as many as possible to get a strong understanding of any 3D computer animation software you choose. There are also many sites where you can download content that other users have generously posted for others to use. No matter which way you go always take a look at the investment in manpower that it takes to learn any new program.

Happy Animating!

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