If you’re interested in getting started with three dimensional (3D) graphics, there are a large number of applications available, and if you’re just dipping your toe in the water, applications with a price tag of FREE are always welcome. 3D graphics are used widely in product design, advertisements and increasing on web sites and of course, at the movies.
Most authoring tools offer 3D modeling, 3D animation and 3D rendering. Creating 3D models is not easy and you can expect to spend a lot of time in the learning process. Here’s a brief overview of ten free 3D software apps for you to try out.
Blender is well reknowned as a free and open source 3D modeling and animation application. Importantly it also has a great community who contribute tutorials, help and add-ons. Blender’s features include animation, rigging, non-linear editing, particle and other simulations.
Currently on version 7.1, Google SketchUp lets you create, share and present 3D models. You can create a movie using your model or export 3D images for use in other programs including Photoshop. Sketchup is closely associated with Google Maps where users have created 3D models of landmarks and buildings around the world. There is free video training available and tons of 3D models shared by the community in the Warehouse.
3D Canvas is a 3D modeling and animation tool which uses a drag-and-drop approach for 3D modeling. Models can be built from simple 3D primitives, or created using 3D Canvas’ Object Building Tools. Modeling tools are provided to deform, sculpt, and paint 3D objects. The free version allows you to export models only as POV-Ray format but it is fully functional freeware.
Caligari’s TrueSpace7.6 is a modeling, texturing, animating, rendering, and 3D collaboration tool. It was made available for free in July 2008 when the company was bought by Microsoft. There are some excellent free video tutorials to get you started with the tool.
Art of Illusion
Art of Illusion is another open source 3D modeling and rendering package. It may not be as sophisticated as some of the other applications but it does have some good modelling tools and a simple interface.
K-3D is a modeling and animation application and includes basic tools for NURBS, patches, curves and animation. “It features a plugin-oriented procedural engine for all of its content, making K-3D a very versatile and powerful package.”
Persistance of Vision Ray Tracer (POV Ray)
POV Ray is a free open source tool for 3D graphics. This has been around for ages, I remember getting an early version on a floppy disk on the cover of a computer magazine and waiting hours for it to render something unrecognisable. That wasn’t the program’s fault though. POVRay has an extremely enthusiastic community built around it and there are bucketloads of plugins and addons available.
Anim8or is a a 3D modeling and character animation program and has been around since 2004 when it was started as a personal project. It allows users to create and modify 3D models with built-in primitives such as spheres, cylinders, platonic solids, etc.; mesh-edit and subdivision; splines, extrusion, lathing, modifiers, bevel and warps. I’m not sure how frequently it’s updated but it might be of interest.
Have you used any of these 3D graphics apps? Which one did you think was the best?
There are of course, many more free 3D apps available and the number is growing. What others that you would recommend?