5 Best Alternatives to Autodesk Maya and 3D Studio Max

Autodesk Maya is one of the most popular commercial application for 3D Modeling, 3D animations, 3D rendering jobs, but Autodesk Maya is a commercial application which does not come cheap. Autodesk Maya comes for a $1250/year subscription with some free add-on services. For a new learner, or for a college student or just for an animation enthusiast paying such amount of money for just a single piece of software is hideous. So, if you are among one of them who is looking for a perfect alternative application that works like Autodesk Maya, then you are in the right place.

In this article, we will talk about some free and also commercial but pocket-friendly 3D rendering and designing applications which are perfect alternatives for Autodesk Maya. You can consider these applications as an alternative to AutoCAD and also to Autodesk 3D Studio Max as these are also a very popular but very expensive piece of tools for 3D rendering jobs.

As Maya, 3DS Max, AutoCAD are professional-level applications, they do come up with various kinds of after-sales services which may be unavailable to some of these alternatives below. But, if you want to get the job done with your need whether it is professional or experimental or educational you are going to be just fine with these alternative applications.

 

Blender

This application is also a hugely popular application which is increasing its reliability every day, hence the number of users and the size of the community is also expanding. Blender is also considered as the alternative for Adobe Illustrator to some extent as it can also be used for vector graphics designing also Blender can be used as a good alternative for Adobe After Effects as this application is good for adding digital effects and image manipulation jobs. So, having this application on your PC is a must if are into any kind of Digital designing jobs, as it is a one-stop solution for many needs.

  • Blender is not an open-source project but this application is licensed under GPL licensing hence it is a free Alternative to Autodesk Maya application for anyone and any organization.
  • Blender runs on Windows, Linux, Mac, and FreeBSD platforms.

Pros –

  • Free application for both individuals and enterprises.
  • Blender is extensible of Python 3, as it embeds Python, so like any open-source tool, if someone has the skill he/she can create more add-on, features and can add them in the user interface.
  • If you are into animation then Blender has some cool features like automate key-frame interpolation, rigging system, etc.
  • Blender is very flexible with various kinds of file formats, importing and exporting various kinds of files makes it more flexible while working on a project. File formats for 3D images like.DAE &.FBX is also supported by blender, Blender is a good choice for CGI developers.
  • Blender supports both high-poly and low-poly designing.
  • Blender uses the Cycles Path Tracing Engine, which is a very powerful 3D rendering engine. This engine is compatible with the latest gaming technologies like OpenCL and CUDA core rendering. Blender also implements the micro-polygon displacement feature, which gives a definable edge in 3D designing.
  • Regular updates and stable releases are also a very good point with Blender, though it is a free tool then also Blender releases updates in every 3 months schedule.
  • For post-processing works, Blender has many features that can be used for video editing and composing.
  • There are many keyboard shortcuts to speed up the production about which you can learn from the help menu within the UI.
  • Node-based modeling support is another plus point for Blender.
  • Free but Blender has a big user and fan base which composes a strong community that enhances the service quality you receive.


Cons –

  • Blender has so many features, tools, and Blender is made for multi-kinds of tasks, so Blender became a huge and very complex application to learn. The UI has loads of feature but not that much intuitive, a difficult learning curve is ahead if you are going, Master Blender.
  • The UI is just not intuitive but a disorganized one too. Along with so many features and endless possibilities, the UI is just not up to the mark.
  • Due to the poor particle processing system sometimes Blender becomes laggy, can become difficult to work in. Though there are many features, there are many advancements that can be done as in most of the cases the tools provided are very straight forward, but for more complex project-need Blender needs more advancements.

 

Unreal Engine 4

Unreal Engine is a very popular 3D rendering Autodesk Maya alternative application for the game developers. There are hundreds of games out there made by Unreal Engine and many of them are very successful. The Unreal Engine is a propitiatory of Epic Games, the co who developed games like Fortnite, Unreal Tournament, etc. Though Unreal Engine is not only meant for the Game developers it can also be used with other types of 3D rendering jobs like creating 3D graphics effects, Digital Visual effects, etc.

  • Unreal Engine 4 is the latest and up to date version in 2019, though it released back in 2014. Unreal engine is a propitiatory application but it is available for free along with the source code (like open-source projects), but this application is free for individuals only and also can be used for educational purposes also.
  • If some enterprise is using this tool to produce commercially available game then Epic games will charge $19/month and 5% of the royalty bonus (if profit is more than $3000 per quarter year) as fees as per their rule.
  • The application uses C++ codes and visual scripting as source code, so if you possess the skill then you can modify it according to your need.
  • Unreal Engine is a cross-platform product that runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, SteamOS even on HTML5.
  • This application also has mobile versions for iOS and Android-based devices.
  • Using Unreal Engine, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch supported product also can be created.
  • Unreal Engine supports DirectX10, DirectX 11, Vulkan (SM5), OpenGL environments as Graphics API.

Pros 

  • A good choice if want to work with the source code of any 3D rendering application, as the Unreal engine provides free development license.
  • Unreal uses the Voxel Cone tracing algorithm which works with ray tracing. So, instead of using thick rays using pixel thin rays make the application more agile to computers with less power and also decreases the processing time.
  • If the user has minimal ideas about coding and facing a problem with other 3D rendering applications then Unreal Engine is there for you, as Unreal features a Visual coding system that enables the user quick prototyping even without typing a single line of code. Unreal calls this Visual coding tech “Blueprints”.
  • Along with Unreal Engine, Epic will provide you with loads of official tutorial videos and sample projects also content, and content ideas; so that a new user can study and learn from those. Unreal also provides an extensive wiki and regularly based streams on how to use the Unreal app for the latest features. So, if you want to learn 3D rendering to its depth, Unreal is the thing for you.
  • The lighting Visual effects are particularly good with Unreal Engine; if you have played any game made with Unreal you must have noticed it.
  • The tools and features provided are really good enough for an expert VFX artist. SO if you are a professional, Unreal has lots to offer you.
  • You can create a product for another platform using some other platform as the exported files can be saved with cross-platform enable format.
  • Unreal has probably the biggest and most active community of VFX apps.
  • Each month Unreal receives updates with a new feature, so always you stay up to date with the latest features I the market.
  • The compilation done is very fast and it has a very good processing speed.


Cons –

  • As Unreal Projects contain very high-quality graphics, so any project even the smallest one also sized very big. Even a blank project takes around 200mb space on the drive.
  • To work fluently in Unreal Engine you need to have a high-end PC as the graphics processing needs much more juice out of a PC, for that a good quality GPU and adequate amount of RAM is needed otherwise the device may perform slower. Crash related issues are also there if the PC is not up to the mark or if the PC becomes overheated.
  • C# is not supported in the source code of the Unreal Engine.
  • The mobile-based application is very slow and laggy on both Android and iOS.
  • The build time taken by the application is very long and can be around 30 mins to 1 hour depending upon the project.
  • The learning curve is not very easy at all, though not the hardest of all.
  • If you have no experience with the VFX engine then this application is going to be very hard for you without any guidance.
  • The documentation procedure is poor, and most of the documentation code is automatically generated from the source.
  • Though updates are regular, and with updates, many new features keep on adding but the bugs and lags often not fixed by the developers.
  • In mac downloading and configuring Unreal Engine sometimes become a big problematic issue.
  • Very bad quality service is provided from the official developers’ side.
  • Most of the time the error messages are so poor that the user will not understand the reason behind the error.

Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D is not a free application, it is a propitiatory application of MAXON and been sold by them. The price differs a little from region to region, but the average price is around $3500 one time payment. You can also buy combo-package of After Effects and Cinema 4D Lite from Amazon or Flipkart for around $200/1.5 year. Though this application is neither free nor very costly, this application is a good alternative for Autodesk Maya and this is a must-have application for any VFX professional’s PC.

Pros –

  • The UI is very clean and customizable along with the floating Palettes and Menu Panels. So, most of the page will be clear for the artwork not for the UI and other menus which makes it a very professional looking and easy to use UI.
  • Cinema 4D is well known for its easy to use, as in the line of work of VFX application, being easy to use the app is very hard but Cinema 4D is really one of the easiest ones.
  • Cinema 4D comes with a big library full of different contents which help you to speed up the work as well as help you get more creative ideas.
  • As the name Cinema 4D states, yes this application is a very good choice if your job or need is focused on the motion graphics. Mograph is a set of tools in Cinema 4D which helps the user to work with more flexibility while working with motion graphics.
  • Cinema 4D is a very good Carton rendering application, and it has some dedicated tools and features for a job like 2D cartoon graphics editing.

Cons –

  • Cinema 4D is an expensive tool, so it is not everyone’s cup of tea but the price worth it.

Modo

Modo is basically a trial-ware application with free usage for a limited period of time after that you have to pay for usage license. You can also pay for the maintenance services from the developers as well as the charge for that service will count extra. The charge for Modo is around $1800 for the license and $399 extra for the maintenance service. So, Modo is also a paid application but relatively pocket-friendly, and this application is also meant for professional users mainly.

Pros –

  • Very artist-friendly tool it is. The application is easy to use and very much user-friendly. Clean and organized UI, hence easy to master.
  • If you are a Maya user you are going to envy the Modeling tool-set which Modo has to offer. The tools are not just good enough but also Modo is very fast in processing and very customizable UI gives it an edge over Maya.
  • Modo uses a Boolean-based algorithm called MeshFusion which helps in creating and designing complex mesh-based projects almost effortlessly.
  • Lots of learning materials are also supplied by the developers as well as Modo offers a good quality after-sales service as well.

CryEngine

Another Alternative to Autodesk Maya and 3D Studio Max is CryEngine, a very famous VFX designing and game development platform and very well praised for games like CRYSIS, Ryse – Son of Rome, FARCRY, Sniper Ghost Warrior, Warface, State of Decay etc. CryEngine works on Windows only, though the output products are targeted for Windows, Linux, Mac even Android and iOS-based mobile devices also. CryEngine supports C++, C# programming languages. The only 3Drendering can be done 2D is not supported at all. It uses a Flowgraph algorithm logic module.

  • Though CryEngine is not being used in many modern games,  it is a good platform for open source work, VFX work practice, and a good option for newcomers as well.
  • There is also some modified version of CryEngine out there like “Dunia Engine” but CryEngine is available for free for personal and educational usage.
  • For enterprises who tend to use the CryEngine application for commercial development will have to go through the Royalty-based subscription rule of the developers called Crytek.

Pros –

  • The Water rendering is the best with CryEngine application, those people who have played FARCRY, CRYSIS, Ryse must have noticed the awesomeness with the water graphics rendering there.
  • Other features like Global wind, dynamic water volume tessellation allows the developer to play more flexible with the water designing.
  • It supports Vulkan architecture and DirectX 12.
  • CryEngine comes with the source code and also it has support for C#, C3 based system and ready-made C# templates can be used with CryEngine.
  • Along with the Volumetric Water graphics editing, CryEngine offers a Volumetric Cloud-based system for Virtual reality and 3D spatial Rendering. So, the virtual reality enabled the system to render the highest quality VFX with the least amount of performance lag.
  • The volumetric fog rendering enables the developer to create more sophisticated weather VFX control for better realistic looking graphics.
  • It has some cool tools to make the vegetation related graphics look realistic. The lighting details editing tools are also as good as other tools. The volumetric control gives the creator a set of wings to create the best quality VFX one can imagine.
  • CryEngine is supported by almost all kinds of devices including Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, even Android and iOS.
  • The RC log can help you to work in a cleaner way so that any bad practices like unnecessary asset creation can be reduced.
  • CryEngine also has VR support but it is not still available but will be available with CryEngine 5.
  • CryEngine has a built-in AI to help the creator to create more intuitive designs.
  • Crytek customer service is good, it also has a separate channel for Q&A for the new users.

 

Cons –

  • As CryEngine has a lot to offer it has a complex UI, with participants be mastered but with given time.
  • It supports various programming languages but has no visual coding feature so, without adequate knowledge of C++, C# Action-script, Lua all that programming console is useless for you.
  • CryEngine does not support Linux or GNU; does not support Mac also.
  • Good for the development of FPS games, developing third-person preview or arena style preview is much harder and the output is also not up to the mark.
  • The licensing is restrictive style, that means for some of the add-on services or features you have to pay extra. If you want private support, help, service monitoring training from the CryEngine team you have to pay extra, the payment structure depends on what model of service you want.

 

Wrapping Up

VFX applications are not just any other mere software, these are professional tools for professional jobs. But any newcomer has to learn and to do that within the budget he may choose any of the free applications from above. But normally in any training courses where they train you to become a VFX artist, they will teach you to use multiple applications for multiple kinds of needs. In today’s world most of the big titles are made by using multiple VFX app platforms. The choice is yours; but if you are a newcomer in this line I’ll recommend mastering the free applications is very important to increase your knowledge, skill-set, experience, and it will prepare you for the freelancer kind of jobs as well.

Other Useful alternatives:

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