Tips for teachers: Demystifying 3D software

When it comes to CAD and 3D modelling there seem to be a never-ending supply of different applications out there, each trying to make teachers’ and students’ lives that much easier. While they all have their benefits, Elliott Smith (friendly 3D consultant) decided to put together a simple guide to help you choose between them.

First thing’s first, if you’re going to give students one piece of advice this September, I recommend telling them to visit Autodesk’s student portal. That’s because Autodesk (arguably the market leader in 3D right now) have decided to offer their software to students for free.

The process is simple: students just need to enter their student email address (one ending in .ac.uk) or have a faculty member sign them up, and can then download their choice of software. As well as a way to access the applications, it’s also a great place to post work, learn new tricks and make contact with peers. Of course, there are other helpful resources that you can direct students to, such as 3D forums, which all provide industry professionals with advice on aspects of a 3D workflow.

Once they have the free software, students will need to know how to get started. A good place to learn the basic interface is the Services and Support section of the Autodesk website. This lets you select an application and then navigate through video tutorials, relevant documents, receive updates and much more.

Ultimately, the type of software students will need is going to be prescribed by the course they are studying, with many of those applications falling into one of five categories (Engineering, Product Design, Built Environment, Multimedia (inc. Animation) and Games Design). But to give students a better idea of what software is out there and what each one can be used for, here’s a brief summary of the major contenders.

 

Application Summary Platform
Autodesk Maya

Multimedia

Games Design

Maya is one of the easier pieces of software to understand and learn, and provides comprehensive tools for animation, modelling, visual effects, simulation and rendering. It is a great all-rounder that can be used for just about anything. A lot of film visual effects are done in Maya. Windows

Linux

Mac OS X

Autodesk 3ds Max

Engineering

Product Design

Multimedia

Games Design

3ds Max is perhaps the most difficult application to master. It has been around in different guises for years and has many features that make it incredibly versatile and powerful but also very complicated. Because of this versatility, it is used in a diverse range of industries, from games design to architectural visualisation. Windows
Autodesk 3ds Max Design

Built Environment

There are two versions of 3ds Max: Max and Max Design. Max Design is used primarily for architectural modelling and designing, and has additional features that do not come with the other version. These include daylight analysis and BIM (Building Information Modelling), which allow architects to model a building and then analyse how it will function under certain circumstances. Windows
Maxon CINEMA 4D

Multimedia

Games Design

Product Design

Built Environment

Engineering

CINEMA 4D has engineering, architecture and broadcast editions that are tailored to each specific need. Where it really excels is in animation. Using the built-in MoGraph toolset (made for creating motion graphics) is easy and delivers amazing results very quickly. The BodyPaint module also sets it apart from other applications as it gives you the ability to paint a texture directly onto a model. Without the need to arrange textures over specific co-ordinates, texturing your models becomes fast and more intuitive. CINEMA 4D is used heavily in both film and TV for these reasons and is a great option for most 3D needs. Windows

Mac OS X

Mental Ray

Rendering Plug-in

Mental Ray is a rendering plug-in that comes free with most Autodesk 3D applications. The plug-in is used to design and apply materials to your models, add lights to a scene and much more. Mental Ray is not used to make models, only to give them the material that you want, such as a wood texture for the floor and paint finish to a wall. It’s a fairly complicated plug-in to learn but does yield fantastic results when you get a bit of experience. Windows
V-Ray

Rendering Plug-in

V-Ray is a separate render plug-in for 3ds Max, Maya, CINEMA 4D and a few other leading 3d applications. Like Mental Ray, it is used to apply materials and lights to a scene. In many industries, V-Ray is the standard choice of renderer as it is considered the best at generating photorealistic renders. V-Ray is packed with features that make it more than just a renderer and is highly respected within the industry. Depends on application it is being used on.
Autodesk Mudbox

Games Design

Multimedia

 

Mudbox is a digital sculpting and texture painting application that is used primarily in the game, film, television and design industries. Think of a lump of clay that you gradually sculpt into the final model: Mudbox works in a similar way but, instead of using a scalpel, you use a graphics tablet or mouse. It is very intuitive and is great for creating odd shapes or characters. Windows users have the option of a 32-bit or 64-bit version where as OS X users need to be working in 64-bit. Windows

Mac OS X

Pixologic Zbrush

Games Design

Multimedia

Zbrush is much like Mudbox and is used to create digital sculptures of unique characters for the games or broadcast industries. Zbrush has many powerful features and has a very elegant and intuitive interface that allows greater freedom and control. Windows

Mac OS X

E-on Vue

Multimedia

Games Design

Built Environment

E-on Vue is one of the lesser known applications on the list but is actually great at generating organic scenes such as mountains, terrains, skies, trees, grass and anything else you might find in nature. It is very simple to learn and was used extensively in Avatar to populate their scenes with organic matter. Windows

Mac OS X

Google SketchUp

Built Environment

Product Design

SketchUp is great because it is free. There is a pro version thats adds more features for professional use but, for students, the standard version is a great place to start. SketchUp is probably the easiest of the 3D programs to learn. Architects love it because they can sketch out ideas for buildings very quickly and accurately. Windows

Mac OS X

Nemetschek Vectorworks

Built Environment

Vectorworks is a CAD (Computer Aided Design) application that is used by architects to design and analyse their buildings, but is considered to be one of the programs that is easiest to learn. One advantage over other CAD/BIM applications that Vectorworks has is that it is very customisable. If you are trying to re-design or renovate an old building, you can adapt Vectorworks to suit the specific requirement of the building and your workflow. Windows

Mac OS X

Autodesk AutoCAD

Engineering

Built Environment

AutoCAD is probably the oldest application on the list and has been the benchmark for accuracy and precision. It is primarily used by engineers and architects for this very reason. Historically, it has been 2D but is increasingly integrating 3D elements into its features. Windows
Autodesk Revit

Built Environment

Revit is another application made for CAD and BIM. Revit helps architects and designers to capture and analyse early concepts and can then be used to design all aspects of the design process, right through to construction and handover. It is suited more to new builds rather than renovations and retrofitting. Windows-only. Windows
Informatix Piranesi

Rendering plug-in

Piranesi is a rendering plug-in that architects use to produce initial concepts. It doesn’t try to be a photo-realistic renderer but instead excels at producing traditional sketch-like renders that both the building and architect trades still love. Windows and OS X. Windows

Mac OS X

It is worth mentioning that most, if not all the non-Autodesk applications, have free trials available from their respective websites and generally provide plenty of support to get started.

If you want to find out more, give the team a call on 03332 409 306 or email 3D@Jigsaw24.com. To receive the latest 3D news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or Like’ our Facebook page.

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