For the most part 3D is considered to be software for professionals, although the following applications are seeing use at home and open-source movies.
3D Studio Max$3,495, autodesk.com/3dsmax | Download Free Trial
3D Studio Max wins the dubious honor of being the most exspensive animation software program on this list. You many notice that this and the next program, Maya, are both owned by Autodesk. While it’s a popular program for industrial designers and architects, it’s also found a core following in film and video games.
Increasingly Maya is becoming the 3D tool of choice for film, as it allows for a vast array of shading and lighting effects. Maya is also extremely customizeable, allowing for easy integration with third party software. This makes it an easy choice for animation production houses. There’s a Personal Learning Edition that you can download for free, which we recommend if you’re considering this software.
Lightwave$995, newtek.com/lightwave | Download Free Trial
Lightwave is a truly professional 3D program, used to create many movies and TV special effects. Tackling Lightwave is not something you should enter into lightly. Fortunately there is a 30 day trial for this animation software, which we highly recommend.
BlenderFree, blender.org | Download Blender
Blender has recently made a pretty impressive splash when it was used to create the impressive cartoon Big Buck Bunny. This entertaining and professional cartoon should be all the reason you need to try out this open source animation program.
Anim8orFree, anim8or.com | Download Anim8or
Truly a personal labor of love, this 3D animation program is the creation of Steve Glanville, a software engineer for NVidia. Anim8or, besides being difficult to spell, is a Windows-only application. It is not professional level animation software, but it was never intended to be. Regardless, it is a good introductory animation program, especially if you’re interested in learning how to animate in 3D.
Swift 3D$249, erain.com/products/swift3d | Download Free Trial
The original intention of the Swift 3D software was to offer a 3D alternative to Flash users. This animation program will let you model and animate directly in the software, and then export to the Flash-friendly .swf format.