Best Animation Software

What is the Best Animation Software?

This article will dissect the top animation software by 2D vs. 3D.  We will also discuss the primary uses of the software and how it relates to certain styles like 3D animation, 2D animation, motion graphics, sculpting, and all around content creation.  There is quite a bit of overlap so we will do our best to call it out when we see it.

Best 3D Animation Software by Industry Usage

Autodesk Maya
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux

Autodesk Maya LogoThis software gets the first spot here because it’s used almost everywhere in the Animation and VFX industries, in addition to many industrial shops as well.  It’s an older piece of software that is updated and supported regularly by Autodesk, Inc.  It is the primary piece of 3D animation software taught in schools, and one you should know if you want to work anywhere in the industry, whether you love it or not.

Autodesk 3D Studio Max
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux

Autodesk 3DS Max Logo3D Studio Max has been around for a very long time and is very close in user base to Maya.  It features one of the most robust set of tools for creating any type of 3D animation you can imagine.  Over the years it has taken hold in video games and architecture, and would be worth learning if you want to work in those industries.  It’s also taught in schools all over the world, and has a very mature plug-in base.

SideFX Houdini
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux

SideFX Houdini LogoThis is one software platform that can’t be ignored.  If you want to work in visual effects for film, tv, or games, learning this software would be a very wise choice.  It’s user base is growing, and as Autodesk and Adobe have been gobbling up market share, SideFX has been providing a nice alternative, and an almost all-in-one pipeline in a box.

This software has a longer learning curve than most due to its procedural nature.  It’s completely node based, and gives you access to raw data that other applications don’t very easily.  This makes it great for large scale hero shots in film and makes setting up systems to create lots and lots of procedural geometry possible.

In my opinion, this is the future of paid 3D content creation.  Here’s a useful course that provides a solid intro.

Cinema 4D
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux

Maxon Cinema 4D LogoThis software is used extensively in motion graphics and commercials.  It has a procedural engine that is easier to use, if not quite as robust as Houdini, but allows for some really easy and cool effects in a layer-based approach that is more intuitive from the start than Houdini.  It also has incredible integration with Adobe After Effects and is a solid and highly used and mature production tool.

Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux

Newtek Lightwave LogoI started doing professional work in this software, and it will always have a place in my tool set.  The renderer is amazing, and you’ve seen work produced in this software for years on TV and at the theaters.  The work on Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise used  Lightwave very heavily, as did Avatar.  While not as wide an install base as Autodesk, this is one piece of software that is proven and amazing in its own right.

Operating System: Windows, OSX. Linux

Blender LogoBlender has been one of those pieces of software that has been around and always in the background.  That is rapidly changing with the latest release.  You can now see this open-source software being installed as a supportive tool in more and more studios, and in some, the primary content creation tool.  Look for work on Man in the High Castle, and more to come.  This software is undergoing tremendous development and growth, and will earn it’s place at the table sooner than later.  Oh, it’s free as well, so yeah, there’s that.

Operating System: Windows, OSX. Linux

Luxology Modo LogoThese guys broke off from Newtek years ago and formed their own software.  They are now owned by the Foundry, who also owns Nuke and Katana.  It’s a full featured modeler that has a niche but solid user base.  It’s a very easy to learn piece of software at a nice price.  It has been used on feature film and continues to gain new users.  It’s worth checking out.

Operating System: Windows, OSX

Pixologic ZBrush LogoWhile not an animation package, this sculpting package is everywhere.  If you want to work in content creation, having an understanding zBrush is becoming crucial.  This app allows you to create amazing characters, props, scenery, and anything else you can imagine.  I can’t think of a modern visual effects film where this software was not part of the pipeline somewhere.

Draw Realistically Course

Best 2D Animation Software by Industry Usage

Toon Boom Harmony
Operating System: Windows, OSX

Toon Boom Harmony LogoAssuming that you can draw, most of the industry used ToonBoom at the time of this writing.  ToonBoom is a pretty extensive platform that works well in studios with multiple artists working on shows.  Harmony is the version of the software that has a pretty large install base.  It would be good to learn this software if you want to go into 2D animation at the moment as it’s the big dog on the block.

Adobe After Effects
Operating System: Windows, OSX

After Effects LogoThis program is an industry standard, and therefore, if you are entering the industry, you should at least have a cursory understanding of how it works.  It’s used for a whole lot of things and has a place in 2D animation.  There are character tools in it, and while it’s not a dedicated 2D animation platform like Toon Boom, it’s install base is ubiquitous.

Adobe Animate
Operating System: Windows, OSX

An LogoThis was FLASH.  Flash was an amazing animation package that existed for the last decade.  It began as an animation tool, then became focused on web development.  Once the iPhone made Flash useless in its platform, Adobe seems to have made it back into a fierce animation package that still has web development capability as well.

Adobe Character Animator
Operating System: Windows, OSX

Character Animator LogoThis program is an interesting real-time motion capture program with some other functionalities.  It seems to be used primarily with After-Effects.  While not a dedicated full featured package for 2D animation like Toon Boom or Animate, it’s a great addition to make some repetitive tasks much quicker and more fun.

TV Paint
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux, Android

TVP LogoThis software has been around for a very long time (28 years at the time of this writing) and has an install base in animation studios across the world.  The tool set is robust and features much of what you’d need to do your own animated content, or work on a team producing longer form and more complicated shows.

Operating System: Windows, OSX. Linux

Blender LogoThis free program is primarily a 3D content creation program, and a robust one at that, but in the latest 2.8x version boasts a very powerful 2D capability called Grease Pencil.  This is one to watch out for as it matures.  You can’t beat the price tag either.

Crazy Talk
Operating System: Windows, OSX

Crazy Talk Animator LogoThis is a fun piece of software that has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few years.  It’s workflow has been suited for more Jib-Jab style cutout animation but allows for much more.  It’s not very expensive and has a pretty solid and growing user base.  Worth checking out, especially for your own content or if you do explainer videos like Bestie, etc., or  *gulp* corporate stuff.

Operating System: Windows, OSX

M LogoThis was Anime Studio, which boasted a relatively large fan base.  It’s now called Moho Pro and Moho Debut, and both feature full featured animation tools for 2D work.  The pro version allows for more and you can see that comparison on their website.

Synfig Studio
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux

LogoA pretty robust open source dedicated 2D vector animation package.  It has many of the tools that you’ll find in other software and you can’t beat the free price.  While smaller in scope and no advertising budget, it’s worth checking out if you simply want to create your own content.

Pencil 2D
Operating System: Windows, OSX, Linux, FreeBSD

Pencil LogoThis software is free and open source, and works in both vector and raster.  It also has the added bonus of working on FreeBSD, if anyone is still using that OS.

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