Transforming a still image into a three-dimensional, moving video clip is the ultimate blend of art and science. It requires patience, dedication, creativity…and some helpful 3D animation design software to put all the pieces together.

Stretching your design skills into animation can feel a little daunting. Even moving from 2D to 3D designs is quite a step up. But with the right tools at hand, you’ll quickly learn how to create realistic characters or objects for any digital design project.

Reliable 3D Animation Software for Beginners

You could be working with the most amazing 3D animator software in the world and still end up with a questionable-looking design by the end if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thankfully, the options for beginner animators make the process much simpler. 

Many of the tools offer similar features to help amateur designers put together their first animations. What you go with often comes down to budget, operating system and your tech skills.

Blender

The dashboard of Blender’s animation software showing a simple cube design.
Blender is a free 3D animation software and ideal for beginners.Still from Skillshare class Blender 3D: Your First Animation by SouthernShotty3D.

When it comes to free 3D animation software, you can’t do much better than Blender. As an open source tool, you’ll be able to create a three-dimensional character or shape for video games, marketing work, school projects or just about anything you could want to use an animation for.

As a free software, you’ll find plenty of features for a beginner animator to learn the basics of 3D animation design. If you have some experience with scripts, particularly Python, this is the tool to choose as you’ll be using the Python API to customize your models within the platform. 

Both hobbyists and professionals use Blender animation software to turn illustrated artwork into moving graphics and building new 3D characters from scratch. Exporting your finished projects is easy, with options for MPEG, QuickTime or AVI file formats to make sharing or uploading your animation to the web a quick process.

Autodesk Maya

An animated girl in a green shirt and jeans sitting with her red skateboard after being created in Maya.
Maya has every feature a 3D animator could ever want, with numerous tools within the dashboard. Still from Skillshare class Dynamic Posing for 3D Animation in Autodesk Maya by Yone Santana.

While the hefty price tag of over $200 per month can make beginners stop in their tracks, if you’re serious about getting into animation, Autodesk Maya is one of the best 3D character animation softwares on the market today. 

It’s no surprise some of the world’s top animators and studios use this software. In fact, hundreds of Oscar-nominated and award-winning films have relied on Maya for their visual effects and graphics, like Monsters Inc., The Matrix, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Iron Man, The Mummy and X-Men. It’s an excellent complement to any video editing software you might be using.

Whatever you want to do with your design, Maya will help make it possible. There’s almost nothing this software can’t do. Using Maya animation tools as a beginner can be overwhelming since you can choose from a large number of features in the platform, but with some practice, you’ll soon see a significant improvement in the results you’re getting.

Since you have so many options for creating dynamic poses in Maya, it may be best for very inexperienced animators to start with a free or cheaper option first. Once you’re comfortable with a few basic animation skills, you can move onto something like Maya. 

Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D’s dashboard showing an animated cube, made for beginner 3D animators.
Making animations in Cinema 4D is easy for beginners and professionals alike. Still from Skillshare class Introduction to Cinema 4D by Don Mupasi X Visualdon.

If you’re looking for easy 3D animation software when you’re getting started on your design journey, Cinema 4D is both simple and intuitive.

The learning curve for beginners is smaller with Cinema 4D than many other softwares, which means you’ll get to put your new skills to the test faster and produce the results you’re looking for. It’s incredibly user-friendly and, if you already know your way around tools like Photoshop, you’ll find the process of learning to animate in Cinema 4D very straightforward.

One of the best parts of using Cinema 4D is outside the platform itself. The large and dedicated online community is ready to help users with questions about using the platform and provide guidance to new animators. Whenever you need a helping hand, you’ll find support, tutorials and even a few templates you can download and tweak for your own projects.

Apple Motion 5

Motion 5’s dashboard has several panels open at once to help you create an animation.
Apple’s Motion 5 is an inexpensive 3D animation software for beginners. Still from Skillshare class Get Started with Apple Motion: Your Very First 3D Animation by Assad Ali.

For Mac users, you’ll find 3D animation tools built directly into your Final Cut Pro software with Apple’s Motion 5. It’s a $50 one-time fee to add this onto your existing package and you’ll get any future upgrades for free.

If you’ve dabbled in using other 3D design tools before, animating in Motion 5 is incredibly simple—most beginners will likely outgrow the platform within a short amount of time if you’re using the tool consistently. But it’s a good starting point as you build confidence in your design skills.

What Can You Use 3D Animation Design Software For?

When you think of 3D animation, you might go straight to things like TV shows, films and commercials. That’s certainly true and many 3D animators work on those types of projects. But they’re not the only way you can apply your newfound creative skills.

Character Design

Let’s start with the most obvious example of how you can use animation software: character design! 

Traditionally, animators have worked on creating and building characters primarily focused on 2D drawings within storyboards. But as 3D animation developed , so too did the techniques of the animators. Now, character design is as much about modeling and technical expertise as it is your creativity and artistic talent.

A 3D animated figure with a frowning expression, wearing an orange floral shirt against an orange background.
Creating 3D characters is easy using software like Maya or Cinema 4D. Still from Skillshare class Blender 3D: Design 3D Characters in Blender from Scratch by Arash Ahadsadeh.

Animators who work on character design specifically will take inspiration from a script describing what a character should look like. From here, you’ll move into 3D animation software and start building the basic outline. 

Once you create an animated character rig, you can begin to add personality to your creation through facial expressions and different styles of movement. This is where your character really comes to life, so experiment with various tools and settings within your software to see what you can do.

Game Design

You don’t need to limit your animations to individual characters. If you long to go further with your creative pursuits, branch out and build an entire world for your new characters to interact with. 

Building a video game is a big project, but if you’ve got a story in mind and the animation software to help you get started, what’s stopping you? It doesn’t have to be overly complicated—no one is asking you to recreate your favorite Xbox or computer game as a first-time animator! Even a simple phone game is easy to make on many of the best 3D animation software.

Start by mapping out exactly what you want your game to look like. This means listing characters you need to make, the environment you want those characters to exist in, how they’re going to communicate and interact with each other. 

You can then jump into your software and begin creating your game piece by piece until you’re ready to bring it all together in one place and make it a playable animation.

Architecture and Engineering

You may not think animation has anything to do with the construction industry, but it’s actually one of the most important parts to designing and constructing a home, office or any other building.

An architectural mockup of the front of a new office building in rainy weather.
3D animation software is often used to create interactive visualizations of new buildings. Still from Skillshare class Lumion-3D Architecture Visualization by Krishan Pathirana.

While 2D plans are still important, architects have fully embraced technological changes and now make use of 3D animation architecture software to show a client the plans they have for a new building. Essentially, it’s an on-screen version of what the real-life construction will look like. They can give the client a virtual walkthrough of the space and help them visualize it more clearly.

It’s also an essential part of ensuring structures are scaled correctly to fit the design brief and any special engineering to be taken into account. This is especially the case on big commercial projects, where buildings may be several stories high and require certain ecological or safety features. 

Graphic Design

Creative industries like marketing and advertising often make use of 3D animation software for their projects too. Especially as video marketing becomes more heavily used by companies all over the world, marketers and their graphic design teams are being asked to think outside the box to find unique ways of selling products and promoting businesses.

An animated logo spelling “not any” in gold 3D letters against a pink and blue backdrop.
Graphic designers will often use animation tools to repurpose existing marketing materials like logos into moving images. Still from Skillshare class Turn Your Logo Into a 3D Animation Using Cinema 4D Lite by Jose Morquecho.

Designing an animated logo for a marketing video or commercial, for instance, is a common use for 3D animation software in a business setting. 

Packaging design for new products usually requires a mockup before going to print, so these tools can also come in handy for this work too.

Create Your First 3D Animations Right Away

Whichever software you choose to use, don’t be discouraged if you can’t get it right the first time. As with any new skill, it’ll take some practice before you nail your designs. It’s all about having fun while you’re learning and playing with all the options these tools give you.

Create Your Own 3D Characters!

Bring Your Illustration to Life With Blender 3D

Written by:

Holly Landis