3D rendering and visualization artists are nothing without their tools. One of those tools, and perhaps the one most important to their success, is the 3D modeler. It is the backbone of any gorgeous rendering, and is used to create assets and 3D models that can then be inserted into scenes, animations, and VR experiences to be rendered in photorealism.
As with any tool, certain artists have their prefered brand. With the rendering and visualization industry taking off in the past decade, there are now loads of capable programs that each offer something a little bit different. The software on this list encumpasses the best of the best, whether it be from a user-experience, functionality, or flexibility standpoint.
These is the best 3D modeling software available today.
For architects and structural engineers, Rhino is the professional tool of choice for constructing complex building models and components. It is one of those programs that is easy to learn but incredibly hard to master. This is due in part to its intuitive user interface which is draped over and incredibly mountain of functional depth, resulting in a package that ends up being perfect for beginners and experts alike.
These days, Rhino has become synonymous with architectural rendering. The toolset and usability lend themselves to being applicable the the rectilinear nature of a traditional building. Furthermore, the scripting capabilities allow more complex structural systems to be digitally constructed and analyzed, then rendered to be considered part of the all important design feedback loop.
AutoDesk has been a CAD giant since computers became a mainstream thing in the late 1980’s, so it would make sense their 3D modeling software is among the best in the world. While not initially as intuitive as Rhino or Blender, 3DS Max has much better, more functionally capable modeling tools that are better suited for more natural looking models.
Not only does it interface well with other AutoDesk software like CAD and Revit, the plugins for VRAY and Maxwell are excellent for render integration. 3DS Max is used primarily by designers, animators, and digital artists.
There isn’t a single open source program available that does as much as Blender. Not only is it a fantastic 3D modeler, it has a proprietary rendering engine that produces images and animations that are on par with just about any other on the market. On top of all that, Blender’s dedicated underbelly of programmers, educators, and enthusiasts is truly something to behold. The words passion, rabid, and fanatical come to mind.
Blender is completely and totally free. Go download it now.
SketchUp tends to get a bad rap from 3D modeling purists, and probably for good reason. It’s so incredibly easy to learn and use, it has a tendency to make other modeling programs look like Chinese in comparison. But, that’s exaclty what makes SketchUp so valuable, especially to architecture and design firms. It allows designers to quickly rough out their work and establish a feedback loop that is as fast as the program itself. Better yet, you don’t need a mega-server powering your computer to run it. Oh, and it’s free.
If there were ever an opposite end of the spectrum from SketchUp, that’s exactly where you’d find AutoDesk Maya. It is the most complex, hard-to-learn, function-rich program on this list, and is used by the likes of Pixar and Bungie to craft incredibly detailed and alive virtual worlds. Not only does it have the most robust set of modeling tools on the planet, it also incorporates physics-based environmental systems to animate and model scenes with insane realism. There simply isn’t a more powerful program than Maya. It might not be free, but for those who’ve mastered it, it is worth its weight in gold.
While not predominantly a modeling program, Revit earns points for its brevity in bringing 3D modeling into the world of construction documentation. It suffered through some rough growing pains initially, but today represents the most powerful building information modeling (BIM) tool available. Revit helps speed up the design and documentation process, and allows architects and engineers to communicate with builders on a level never before thought possible. It also has a few visualization tricks up its sleeve for good measure.
SolidWorks is leaned on heavily by the industrial, mechanical, and manufacturing engineer industries. It is the most well-rounded 3D modeling tool when it comes to creating assets and mechanical systems with unparalleled accuracy. It interfaces well with other system based analytics tools, and will reward any designer or engineer who is willing to put in the time to learn its intricacies.