Our Favorite 3D Modeling and Animation CAD Programs

The leading packages for your industry

3D modeling is the high demand CAD industry of the decade. From game designers to filmmakers the need for realistic 3D imagery in the digital environment is growing. If you're working in this industry, you'll need to know which CAD packages you'll be dealing with.

What Is 3D Modeling?

3D modeling is the creation of a design simulation inside the CAD software. 3D software allows designers to create any object, then rotate and examine it from any conceivable angle to determine accuracy and functionality. 3D modeling is usually performed using multiple views of an object simultaneously so the drafter can see the impact of changes from all angles. Drafting in 3D requires careful attention to the spatial relationship between objects and powerful software capable of generating the memory-intensive modeling parameters involved. 3D modeling also gives designers the capability to apply texture, lights, and color to their design to make photo-realistic images for presentation. This is referred to as "rendering" an object and the drafter must have a good understanding of lighting techniques and how it affects colors in order to put out a believable presentation.

3D Modeling/Animation Software

Strangely, the two biggest CAD packages in this environment are both from the same company: Autodesk. (I know; you're shocked, right?) There's a reason why it's the big dog on the block, Autodesk has leveraged the success of their base AutoCAD drafting package to become the leading design software in just about every conceivable market. While it seems contradictory that Autodesk has two packages in the same market, it's actually focused each one on a specific niche:

3ds Max

3ds Max handles modeling, lighting, rendering, and animation for both the architectural and gaming genres. At around the $3,500.00/seat mark, it's not cheap software but it's within the grasp of most companies and even individuals can afford it if they really have the need. This single software package can handle all the requirements for generating any type of statically rendered scene, which can be used as backgrounds for games, or as a presentation in marketing materials for architects or realtors. Its strength lies in the fixed forms of buildings and other rigid structures, though it does have some limited capability with free form and organic objects.


Autodesk's Maya software is a full-blown 3D modeling and animation package that specializes in organic and flowing objects. It's fully integrated with simulations; match moving, and other advanced visual effects. Take a look at most any big-budget Hollywood movie made in the last ten years and you'll see examples of Maya at work. From Harry Potter to Transformers, and beyond, firms such as DreamWorks and ILM regularly use this CAD package to create the visual effects in their films. Surprisingly, Maya doesn't cost much more than 3ds Max, but you will need to do some serious hardware upgrades if you want to make use of this extensive design package.

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