3D modelers are used in a wide variety of industries. The medical industry uses them to create detailed models of organs. The movie industry uses them to create and manipulate characters and objects for animated and real-life motion pictures. The video game industry uses them to create assets for video games. The science sector uses them to create highly detailed models of chemical compounds. The architecture industry uses them to create models of proposed buildings and landscapes. The engineering community uses them to design new devices, vehicles and structures as well as a host of other uses. There are typically many stages in the “pipeline” that studios and manufacturers use to create 3D objects for film, games, and production of hard goods and structures.
Many 3D modelers are designed to model various real-world entities, from plants to automobiles to people. Some are specially designed to model certain objects, such as chemical compounds or internal organs.
3D modelers allow users to create and alter models via their 3D mesh. Users can add, subtract, stretch and otherwise change the mesh to their desire. Models can be viewed from a variety of angles, usually simultaneously. Models can be rotated and the view can be zoomed in and out.
3D modelers can export their models to files, which can then be imported into other applications as long as the metadata is compatible. Many modelers allow importers and exporters to be plugged-in, so they can read and write data in the native formats of other applications.
Most 3D modelers contain a number of related features, such as ray tracers and other rendering alternatives and texture mapping facilities. Some also contain features that support or allow animation of models. Some may be able to generate full-motion video of a series of rendered scenes (i.e. animation).
A basic comparison including release date/version information can be found on the Comparison of 3D computer graphics software page. A comprehensive comparison of significant 3D packages can be found at CG Society Wiki and TDT3D 3D applications 2007 comparisons table..
- 3ds Max (Autodesk), originally called 3D Studio MAX, is a comprehensive and versatile 3D application used in film, television, video games and architecture for Windows and Apple Macintosh. It can be extended and customized through its SDK or scripting using a Maxscript. It can use third party rendering options such as Brazil R/S, finalRender and V-Ray.
- AC3D (Inivis) is a 3D modeling application that began in the 90′s on the Amiga platform. Used in a number of industries, MathWorks actively recommends it in many of their aerospace-related articles due to price and compatibility. AC3D does not feature its own renderer, but can generate output files for both RenderMan and POV-Ray among others.
- Aladdin4D (DiscreetFX), first created for the Amiga, was originally developed by Adspec Programming. After acquisition by DiscreetFX, it is multi-platform for Mac OS X, Amiga OS 4.1, MorphOS, Linux, AROS and Windows.
- Animation:Master from HASH, Inc is a modeling and animation package that focuses on ease of use. It is a spline-based modeler. Its strength lies in character animation.
- Bryce (DAZ Productions) is most famous for landscapes and creating ‘painterly’ renderings, as well as its unique user interface.
- Carrara (DAZ Productions) is a fully featured 3D toolset for modeling, texturing, scene rendering and animation.
- Cinema 4D (MAXON) is a light (Prime) to full featured (Studio) 3d package dependant on version used. Although used in film usually for 2.5d work, Cinema’s largest user base is in the television motion graphics and design/visualisation arenas. Originally developed for the Amiga, it is also available for Mac OS X and Windows.
- CityEngine (Procedural Inc) is a 3D modeling application specialized in the generation of three dimensional urban environments. With the procedural modeling approach, CityEngine enables the efficient creation of detailed large-scale 3D city models, it is available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.
- Cobalt is a parametric-based Computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D modeling software for both the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows. It integrates wireframe, freeform surfacing, feature-based solid modeling and photo-realistic rendering (see Ray tracing), and animation.
- Electric Image Animation System (EIAS3D) is a 3D animation and rendering package available on both Mac OS X and Windows. Mostly known for its rendering quality and rendering speed it does not include a built-in modeler. The popular film Pirates of the Caribbean and the television series Lost used the software.
- form•Z (AutoDesSys, Inc.) is a general purpose solid/surface 3D modeler. Its primary use is for modeling, but it also features photo realistic rendering and object-centric animation support. form•Z is used in architecture, interior design, illustration, product design, and set design. It supports plug-ins and scripts, has import/export capabilities and was first released in 1991. It is currently available for both Mac OS X and Windows.
- GPure is a software to prepare scene/meshes from digital mockup to multiple uses
- Grome is a professional outdoor scene modeler (terrain, water, vegetation) for games and other 3D real-time applications.
- Houdini (Side Effects Software) is used for visual effects and character animation. It was used in Disney‘s feature film The Wild. Houdini uses a non-standard interface that it refers to as a “NODE system”. It has a hybrid micropolygon-raytracer renderer, Mantra, but it also has built-in support for commercial renderers like Pixar’s RenderMan and mental ray.
- Inventor (Autodesk) The Autodesk Inventor is for 3D mechanical design, product simulation, tooling creation, and design communication.
- LightWave 3D (NewTek), first developed for the Amiga, was originally bundled as part of the Video Toaster package and entered the market as a low cost way for TV production companies to create quality CGI for their programming. It first gained public attention with its use in the TV series Babylon 5 and is used in several contemporary TV series. Lightwave is also used in a variety of modern film productions. It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
- MASSIVE is a 3D animation system for generating crowd-related visual effects, targeted for use in film and television. Originally developed for controlling the large-scale CGI battles in The Lord of the Rings, Massive has become an industry standard for digital crowd control in high-end animation and has been used on several other big-budget films. It is available for various Unix and Linux platforms as well as Windows.
- Maya (Autodesk) is currently used in the film, television, and gaming industry. Maya has developed over the years into an application platform in and of itself through extendability via its MEL programming language. It is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
- Modo (Luxology) is a subdivision modeling, texturing and rendering tool with support for camera motion and morphs/blendshapes.and is now used in the Television Industry It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
- Mudbox is a high resolution brush-based 3D sculpting program, that claims to be the first of its type. The software was acquired by Autodesk in 2007, and has a current rival in its field known as ZBrush (see above).
- Mycosm is a high-quality virtual world development engine software that uses the open source Python programming language and currently runs on Windows using the DirectX engine. The software was released in 2011, and allows photo-realistic simulations to be created that feature physics, atmospherics, terrain sculpting, CG Foliage, astronomically correct sun and stars, fluid dynamics and many other vanguard features. Mycosm is created by Simmersion Holdings Pty. in Canberra, the capital of Australia.
- NX (Siemens PLM Software) is an integrated suite of software for computer-aided mechanical design (mechanical CAM), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer-aided engineering (CAE) formed by combining the former Unigraphics and SDRC I-deas software product lines. NX is currently available for the following operating systems: Windows XP and Vista, Apple Mac OS X, and Novell SUSE Linux.
- Poser (Smith Micro) Poser is a 3D rendering and animation software program optimized for models that depict the human figure in three-dimensional form and is specialized for adjusting features of preexisting character models via varying parameters. It is also for posing and rendering of models and characters. It includes some specialized tools for walk cycle creation, cloth and hair.
- PYTHA 3D-CAD is a modeler that contains functions and tools for creating and editing 2D and 3D objects. Pytha is used in many industries including millwork, interior design, architecture, exhibition design and much more. Pytha also has the ability to produce CAM information as well as photo-realistic renderings.
- RealFlow simulates and renders particle systems of rigid bodies and fluids.
- Realsoft3D Real3D Full featured 3D modeling, animation, simulation and rendering software available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Irix.
- Shade 3D is a commercial modeling/rendering/animation tool from Japan with import/export format support for Adobe, Social Worlds, and Quicktime among others.
- Silo (Nevercenter) is a subdivision-surface modeler available for Mac OS X and Windows. Silo does not include a renderer. Silo is the bundled in modeler for the Electric Image Animation System suite.
- SketchUp Pro (Google) is a 3D modeling package that features a sketch-based modeling approach. It has a pro version which supports 2D and 3D model export functions among other features. A free version is integrated with Google Earth and limits export to Google‘s “3D Warehouse“, where users can share their content.
- Softimage (Autodesk) (formerly Softimage|XSI) is a 3D modeling and animation package that integrates with mental ray rendering. It is feature-similar to Maya and 3ds Max and is used in the production of professional films, commercials, video games, and other media.
- Solid Edge ( Siemens PLM Software) is a commercial application for design, drafting, analysis, and simulation of products, systems, machines and tools. All versions include feature-based parametric modeling, assembly modeling, drafting, sheetmetal, weldment, freeform surface design, and data management. Application-programming interfaces enable scripting in Visual Basic and C programming.
- solidThinking (solidThinking) is a 3D solid/surface modeling and rendering suite which features a construction tree method of development. The tree is the “history” of the model construction process and allows real-time updates when modifications are made to points, curves, parameters or entire objects.
- SolidWorks (SolidWorks Corporation) is an application used for the design, detailing and validation of products, systems, machines and toolings. All versions include modeling, assemblies, drawing, sheetmetal, weldment, and freeform surfacing functionality. It also has support for scripting in Visual Basic and C.
- Spore (Maxis) is a game that revolutionized the gaming industry by allowing users to design their own fully functioning creatures with a very rudimentary, easy-to-use interface. The game includes a COLLADA exporter, so models can be downloaded and imported into any other 3D software listed here that supports the COLLADA format. Models can also be directly imported into game development software such as Unity (game engine).
- Swift 3D (Electric Rain) is a relatively inexpensive 3D design, modeling, and animation application targeted to entry-level 3D users and Adobe Flash designers. Swift 3D supports vector and raster-based 3D animations for Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight XAML.
- Vue (E-on Software) is a tool for creating, animating and rendering natural 3D environments. It was most recently used to create the background jungle environments in the 2nd and 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean films.
- ZBrush (Pixologic) is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing and painting tool available for Mac OS X and Windows. It is used to create normal maps for low resolution models to make them look more detailed.
- 3D Canvas (now called 3D Crafter) is a 3D modeling and animation tool available in a freeware version, as well as paid versions (3D Canvas Plus and 3D Canvas Pro).
- Anim8or is a proprietary freeware 3D rendering and animation package.
- Art of Illusion is a free software package developed under the GPL.
- AutoQ3D Community is not a professional CAD program and it is focused to beginners who want to make rapid 3D designs. It is a free software package developed under the GPL.
- Blender (Blender Foundation) is a free, open source, 3D studio for animation, modeling, rendering, and texturing offering a feature set comparable to commercial 3D animation suites. It is developed under the GPL and is available on all major platforms including Windows, OS X, Linux, BSD, Solaris and Irix.
- Cheetah3D is proprietary freeware for Apple Macintosh computers primarily aimed at amateur 3D artists with some medium- and high-end features
- DAZ Studio a free 3D rendering tool set for adjusting parameters of preexisting models, posing and rendering them in full 3D scene environments. Imports objects created in Poser and is similar to that program, but with fewer features.
- DX Studio a complete integrated development environment for creating interactive 3D graphics. The system comprises both a real-time 3D engine and a suite of editing tools, and is the first product to offer a complete range of tools in a single IDE.
- Evolver is a portal for 3D computer characters incorporating a human (humanoid) builder and a cloner to work from picture.
- FaceGen is a source of human face models for other programs. Users are able to generate face models either randomly or from input photographs.
- Geist3D is a free software program for real-time modeling and rendering three-dimensional graphics and animations.
- K-3D is a GNU modeling, animation, and rendering system available on Linux and Win32. It makes use of RenderMan-compliant render engines. It features scene graph procedural modelling similar to that found in Houdini.
- MakeHuman is a GPL program that generates 3D parametric humanoids.
- MeshLab is a free Windows, Linux and Mac OS X application for visualizing, simplifying, processing and converting large three dimensional meshes to or from a variety of 3D file formats.
- NaroCAD a fully fledged and extensible 3D parametric modeling CAD application. It is based on OpenCascade. The goal of this project is to develop a fully fledged and extensible 3D CAD software based on the concept of parametric modeling of solids, comparable to well known solutions.
- OpenFX is a modeling and animation studio, distributed under the GPL.
- Seamless3d NURBS based modelling and animation software with much of the focus on creating avatars optimized for real time animation. It is free, open source under the MIT license.
- trueSpace (Caligari Corporation) is a 3D program available for Windows, although the company Caligari first found its start on the Amiga platform. trueSpace features modeling, animation, 3D-painting, and rendering capabilities. In 2009, Microsoft purchased TrueSpace and it is now available completely free of charge.
- Wings 3D is a BSD-licensed, subdivision modeler.
- 3Delight is a proprietary RenderMan-compliant renderer.
- Aqsis is an free and open source rendering suite compliant with the RenderMan standard.
- Brazil is a rendering engine for 3ds Max, Rhino and VIZ
- FinalRender is a photorealistic renderer for Maya and 3Ds Max developed by Cebas, a German company.
- FPrime for Lightwave adds a very fast preview and can in many cases be used for final rendering.
- Gelato is a hardware-accelerated, non-real-time renderer created by graphics card manufacturer NVIDIA.
- Indigo Renderer is an unbiased photorealistic renderer that uses XML for scene description. Exporters available for Blender, Maya (Mti), form•Z, Cinema4D, Rhino, 3ds Max.
- Kerkythea is a freeware rendering system that supports raytracing. Currently, it can be integrated with 3ds Max, Blender, SketchUp, and Silo (generally any software that can export files in obj and 3ds formats). Kerkythea is a standalone renderer, using physically accurate materials and lighting.
- LuxRender is an unbiased open source rendering engine featuring Metropolis light transport
- Maxwell Render is a multi-platform renderer which forgoes raytracing, global illumination and radiosity in favor of photon rendering with a virtual electromagnetic spectrum, resulting in very authentic looking renders. It was the first unbiased render to market.
- mental ray is another popular renderer, and comes default with most of the high-end packages. (Now owned by NVIDIA)
- NaroCAD is a fully fledged and extensible 3D parametric modeling CAD application. It is based on OpenCascade.
- Octane Render is an unbiased GPU-accelerated renderer based on Nvidia CUDA.
- Pixar‘s PhotoRealistic RenderMan is a renderer, used in many studios. Animation packages such as 3DS Max and Maya can pipeline to RenderMan to do all the rendering.
- Pixie is an open source photorealistic renderer.
- POV-Ray (or The Persistence of Vision Raytracer) is a freeware (with source) ray tracer written for multiple platforms.
- Sunflow is an open source, photo-realistic renderer written in Java.
- Turtle (Illuminate Labs) is an alternative renderer for Maya, it specializes in faster radiosity and automatic surface baking technology which further enhances its speedy renders.
- VRay is promoted for use in the architectural visualization field used in conjunction with 3ds max and 3ds viz. It is also commonly used with Maya.
- YafRay is a raytracer/renderer distributed under the LGPL. This project is no longer being actively developed.
- YafaRay YafRay’s successor, a raytracer/renderer distributed under the LGPL.