3d studio Max was released in the early 90s and developed by Autodesk. Maya came out in the late 90s and is developed by Alias systems. In 2005, Autodesk bought over Maya. What happened then was suddenly Autodesk had 2-3 applications, 3d studio Max and Maya, that kind of did the same thing. But it’s kind of hard to market two products that did almost the same thing. So, Autodesk started to moving them into different directions. 3d studio max became much more known for its architecture, engineering, product design, more static imagery but also engineering as it integrated Auto Cad. Whereas Maya, has kind of become the weapon of choice in the filmmaking, visual effects industry because it’s got really powerful animation capabilities, it’s very popular, widespread, very customisable. It’s got an extensible language that can be used to build lots of tools and pipeline things around it. So, if you want to get into filmmaking, visual effects, do learn Maya, that’s where most things are headed in the industry. But if you are more towards engineering or architecture side of things or product design, like you want to build cars etc., then you need 3D studio Max.
While Maya is certainly the dominant player when it comes to filmmaking and visual effects, a new player within that space has been around for a while, called Houdini. Houdini has gotten popular because of the demand for a lot of organic effects like fires, explosions, fluids, fumes, disintegration. A lot of effects that you might have seen in the Avengers movie; a lot of that is done with Houdini. Houdini, as opposed to 3D studio Max and Maya, is a procedural 3D application. So, it has a very different workflow that kind of allows you to mish and mash and flow data. It has become like a data pipeline but you can transform things in ways that isn’t possible in traditional 3D software tools. This is the reason why it has started to get so popular. Obviously procedural programs require a lot of computing power, but with computers getting more powerful, that now becomes more accessible. So, Houdini is definitely a great tool to start learning if you want to get into visual effects. The cool thing about it is that it has a free apprentice version that has all of the features of the pro versions except that the rendering is a bit limited. It’s a great tool but it’s difficult. It has very different workflow, you need to have a different mindset and very data driven as well. So, it can take a long time to get into it. But once you unlock it, you can do amazing things with it. Maya and Houdini are definitely the two tools that you should look at if you want to get into filmmaking and visual effects.now the other side, when you are talking about videos and motion graphics, for clean motion graphics, abstract art, animation and also product design, Cinema 4d is the place to go. The renders come out really nice and clean. It’s a really powerful tool and is absolutely easy to get into. It is probably the easiest of the lot to get into. You just open it up, the interface has much more fluidity, it’s easy to create things, put things together and make something that looks really nice. It has got a lot of plugins like Mograph, which is a very powerful set of tools that you can have within cinema 4d, to play really cool, abstract animations and motion graphics. So, for motion graphics definitely go with cinema 4d and for filmmaking and visual effects opt for Maya and Houdini. Then, for more architecture and engineering stuff go into 3D studio Max. Now, the elephant in the room is Blender.
Blender is a 3d program that’s cool, it’s open source, anyone can use it. It is really powerful. It has got full dynamic capabilities, fluid simulations, volume rendering, powerful animation and rigging capabilities. So ,why is Blender not the first choice for everybody? There are two main reasons why blender is not that extensively used in the industry. The first one is simply history. Initially, it all started with the tools that we have already mentioned, 3d studio Max, Maya and Cinema 4d. So, all of their pipelines, their skills, their people have been built around those tools. If you are now trying to introduce a new product then you have to change all of your pipelines, retrain all of these people. Then, of you are the only one moving onto a new tool while others are still siding with the classics, you can’t interchange files or you won’t be able to mix in with all of those people around you. The whole workflow breaks and it’s a huge amount of cost if you move onto or introduce something new. So, the traditional tools which are more widely spread are preferred over it.
The second reason is lack of support. If you are a visual effects studio and you have got a work due in a month and suddenly there’s a bug in the program or something doesn’t work. With blender, there’s no support, it’s open source, it’s freeware. There’s nobody liable for that product. So, big movie studios need big teams like Autodesk behind 3d studio Max and Maya just provide of anything goes wrong. It is to be kept in mind, though, that learning is never a bad thing, be it for recreational purposes. Learn to use blender, use it for fun videos and those skills that you would acquire on a free software will definitely help you in some way to get yourself accommodated to the traditional 3d software tools.
So, there’s the whole filmmaking and visual effects industry after Maya and Houdini, architecture and engineering is backed up by 3d studio Max and motion graphics have Cinema 4d. All of them have got different feature set appropriate for their niche industry. So, keep these features in mind when you are about to choose between these tools.