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    Senior Member surf's Avatar
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    May 2005
    John! The Earth is just a blue sphere with some white diffusion on?

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    Adobe Demigod Matt Grunau's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    Clarksburg, West "By God" Virginia
    Quote Originally Posted by RobertE


    Could you list some of the popular 3D/SFX programs and their pros and cons?

    This is great guys... really!

    Sure. I am not a 3D expert, but I do know some of what you are asking. Rich Lee knows hit stuff too, so Rich, correct, comment, expound on anything here.

    Like compositing packages and NLE, there are different "levels" of software, as well as more refined appz.

    Medium weights:

    Lightwave - Lightwave is the software I am most familiar with. It has the best render engine out of the box, period. By render engine, I mean its own native renderer is the best for any package. Programs like Maya, Softimage, and 3D Studio Max can use other separate render engines like Mental Ray, Brazil, Render Man, but those are not the default engines and cost extra, like a plugin pack for After Effects would. Lightwave is widely used in the TV industry (and in Films to a small extent as far as what you actually see on screen) and has a very friendly Modeler. It is a two-program app, with Modeler being the Modeling/texturing portion and Layout being the animation/Particles/dynamics/rigging and rendering program. Its render engine, while great is horribly slow, and its motion blur leaves much to be desired. There have been attempts to remedy this with plugins like FPrime but they are mostly for solving Lightwave's true achillies heel (in the rendering department), Global Illumination/Radiosity rendering. FPrime cant, for instance, render things like Volumetrics which is also very slow natively. Other applications can make use of different render engines, but because of its architecture, Lightwave really can't. Also, until version 9, Lightwave was able to model with only points and polys (spline modeling being lumped into the polys) and could not edit edges. Big holdup. Their Dynamics are a nightmare, and particle system while in itself easy, the Hypervoxels texturing portion of it is not that great. Many Lightwave users have jumped ship and turned to Modo for modeling, or to Softimage. But it can produce good results, and for someone wanting to learn the process, I think its learning curve is the easiest.

    3D Studio Max - Max is used widely in the video game industry, and like Lightwave, it is used a lot in TV. Not as much as Lightwave maybe (this itself I debated hotly), but it certainly is a capable app. Max CAN use secondary render engines, and some of the results they give are stunning. While Lightwave has been basically sitting on its ass for the last few updates, Max has been surging forward, dropping prices, and becoming better with each new release. There is no two-program system like Lightwave, all the modeling, texturing and animating is done from basically the same app. I haven't played with their particle system much, so I can't comment on that or it's dynamics. I can't remember the last time someone has shown off fantastic work with Max's particles, so maybe that says something, but maybe not. Max's Radiosity is good, but that can depend on the render engine used. Good program.

    Cinema 4D - Possibly the most underestimated and overlooked 3D program out there. Cinema 4D's render engine is second best out of the box, but is a hell of a lot quicker than Lightwave's. They also have some advantages and special niches they fill like having one hell of a Normal Displacement system, a good particle system, and what may be the best Toon Shader on the market. The most impressive feature to me (Stormchaser not withstanding and WOW, what a cool thing that is) is their hair plugin. This has got to be one of the best hair sims out there. You simply apply the plugin, and you're done. And yes, it is almost that fast. The hair responds to movement like soft body dynamics should, is completely customizable and easily tweakable. Great app.

    Heavy Hitters:

    Maya - Maya is pretty much the king of 3D apps, maybe more out of name recognition, but still the king. When someone talks about 3D in the movies, Maya is the program most mentioned. Its Dynamics (hard. Soft, fluid [to a point] ), Particle effects, animation possibilities are fantastic, its almost unlimited use of custom plugins (for those code jockeys out there) make it almost boundless. Factor in Mental Ray, and you get everything you need, from start to finish. Dynamics are a breeze to set up (unlike Lightwave), and although I don't care for its interface (more like 3D Max), once you know where things are, itís a good and intuitive workflow. The right mouse button functions are an absolute joy. Maya really can do it all, and do it all very well. The texture options, output options (and I don't just mean a simple multipass, though if that's your thing no problem) and render options make it one of the two best. Even tinkering around you can begin to see the power of it. You can model with Nurbs, true Nurbs, sub patches, point, poly, edge, spline, surfaces, and the list goes on. Want actual muscles under the skin of your character to deform correctly when your character moves? You got it. There are also numerous helpful instructional movies to follow along and get you started. Exporting files for use in programs like Digital Fusion, Inferno, Shake, and the higher end compositors make it an effects artist's dream. I could go on, but there's no real need. If you can think it, Maya can do it. Comes with a hefty price tag, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. If you started in 3D Max, you already have a leg up.

    Softimage - My least knowledgeable app. Many argue it as being the number one 3D package. I know that for Lightwave users, moving to Softimage is easier than Maya. From what I have seen and read, it is every bit as capable as Maya, able to do many of the same things, and just as well. There is a 500 dollar version which is supposed to be the complete package minus the ability to develop your own plugins. For that price, it is not only getting your money's worth, its getting more than your money's worth. Its exporting options are wide and variable, so incorporating it into your chosen Compositing app yields incredible possibilities. Used (very well) in Spiderman II and in only God knows how many other movies. Think of it like this: If it can be done in Maya, it can be done in Softimage. The two are both very potent.

    Other 3D appz:

    Messiah - Best Rigger/Character Animation program. Period.

    Houdini - Particle effects powerhouse.


    Modo - Lightwave based (as in people from Newtek got sick of the BS there and stared their own product) Modeler, very customizable, very user friendly. First version and few updates were a little buggy, but a lot of that has been fixed and they will be releasing a version that can render.

    Wings 3D - Powerful little 3D app. Gollum's birthplace. Yeah, really.

    Silo - Another inexpensive modeler. So use friendly it's sickening, and versatile.

    Pros and cons? Well Lightwave is slow, dynamics can be a pain, but modeling in it is easy and the renders are great. 3D Max is good all around, but some of that is a result of separate render engines, which cost money. Maya can do it all, but is expensive. Softimage can do it all, and is cheap, but limited in the cheap version because you cant write your own plugins (if that is truly a limitation to most). Cinema 4D is a great program with outstanding features that fill specific needs, but finding documentation and instructional files can be difficult, as it is not used as much as other apps. Messiah is the same thing as Cinema 4D in that regard, lots of potential and great results, but not as many resources. Houdini is the particle effects grandmaster, but not much in the way of online tutorials.

    Every one has its strong and weak points (well, maybe not Softimage as much as the rest, really), and depending on your needs, each has its own bonuses and quirks to bring to the party. For me, even with its "problems", Lightwave is still fun, and covers all my needs nicely. One thing though, once you learn the basics, it's pretty much common ground. A four pointed poly is a four pointed poly. Spline patch modeling is spline patch modeling, particle systems all have certain common traits. Tools have different names, interfaces change, workflow differs, but at their cores, they are all pretty much based on the same thing.

    That's the quick and marginally informed version.

    Clear as mud? Good. Now hand me a twinkie.
    "One. . . Two. . . FIVE!"
    "Thre Sir"

    It aint the colors man, it's the LUMINOSITY.

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    Senior Member
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    Dec 2005
    Jacksonville, FL
    Here's my two cents...

    I use Maya as my 3D app (still learning) and it is very powerful. I love the interface/workflow and I can see where the power is, once I learn.

    From what I've read Softimage XSi is fast becoming the weapon of choice amongst post houses (ILM is using it, I think, and many others). It seems to be a very potent program, and if John Hudson can make a Corsair look good, well, that speaks for itself. (just kidding John )

    Really, it does well!

    My drawback from Softimage is that it's PC only, no Mac version, so that might be a problem for some.

    Modo - I had there demo and I really liked it. Very customizable and the falloff tools and macros are great for modeling quickly and naturally. I'm waiting for the version with a renderer which looks very promising. Also, their paint on texturer seems very cool! THis program also works very well on a Mac, so that is an added plus.

    Another good modeling program is zBrush. This is used widely by many of the top artists in the field and many effects house base their whole pipeline around this program (Zoic, Luma Pictures, ILM, etc) I haven't had a chance to use but I read an aritcle with Rick Baker (monster maker extradornaire) and he had nothing but good things to say about it.

    Also, a new renderer that recently came out is Maxwell Render. This renderer is a little different because it uses real physics of light to render, which gives stunning results. These are the same guys that brought us Realflow, which is a great 3D simulation tool for water etc...

    Here are some links... - Modo - Maxwell Render - Realflow - zBrush

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    Senior Member Taylor Moore's Avatar
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    Nov 2003
    Kelowna, BC
    Hey speaking of 3D apps, let not forget the cheap and crashy...Hash Animation.

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    Steadi-Guru mikkowilson's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
    Juneau, Alaska, USA
    And the FREE and kick @$$: Blender!

    - Mikko
    Mikko Wilson
    Steadicam Owner / Operator - Juneau, Alaska, USA
    +1 (907) 321-8387 - -

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    Senior Member Robert Eldon's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
    Murrieta, CA, USA
    That's the quick and marginally informed version.

    Clear as mud? Good. Now hand me a twinkie.
    Marginally informed? I can't wait for the 'informed' version. Wow... thanks.

    Here's a twinkie and wash it down with a JOLT cola!

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    Junior Member GhostFace's Avatar
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    Nov 2005
    2 cents from me.
    Maya is the number one application, simply because most schools teach it and therefore most professionals are familiar with it. Besides that fact, it is extremely powerful. XSI is equally powerful but there arenít as much learning opportunities in the U.S. I have been searching for hands on training forever and just found a place I will be attending in April. Softimage is very complex (as every 3d app in its own right) but more and more people are starting to take notice of its capabilities and a lot of great movie effects houses use it over and or along with Maya, Lightwave, etc. Anyone who truly does 3d will tell you there is no easy transition from one of these apps to the next. There are some similarities and tools. Also it depends on your main area of focus. If you are a modeler one tool might be an easier transition than the next. If you are an animator and so on and so on. I personally think Lightwave's particles and dynamics are iffy but surprisingly a lot of houses will use Maya for some things and then over to Lightwave for dynamics.

    Where do you want to focus the majority of you attention? Modeling, Animating, Dynamics, Texturing. Where will you learn? At home using books, DVDís, internet tutorials, School, Workshops. How much do you want to spend? How far are you trying to go? 3D for your own small personal projects or to the top with the big dogs at The Mill, Hybride, ILM.

    I love all of these programs. If I could I would learn the ins and outs of each one but unfortunately I canít. I am a Lightwave and Modo user but from now on I will be focusing on Softimage and Zbrush combination. Maybe a little bit of Silo also. They are all fun to work with. Using combinations is really good stuff. Hope some of my rants make sense.

    Animation Master
    Wings 3D
    3D Studio Max
    Messiah Studio
    XSI Softimage
    Cinema 4D

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    Awesome THANKS!!!

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    4xy(x-3)(x^2+3x+9) Anhar Miah's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
    United Kingdom
    But Max (Autodesk) Now owns Alias (Maya) eek.


    Rabbi Zidni 'Ilma {20:114} My Forum: The IT Ninja

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