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3D computer graphics
Glasses 800 edit.png
3D modeling / 3D scanning
3D rendering / 3D printing
3D computer graphics software
Primary Uses
3D models / Computer-aided design
Graphic design / Video games
Visual effects / Visualization
Virtual engineering / Virtual reality
Related concepts
CGI / Animation / 3D display
Wireframe model / Texture mapping
Computer animation / Motion capture
Skeletal animation / Crowd simulation
Global illumination / Volume rendering

3D computer graphics software refers to programs used to create 3D computer-generated imagery. This article only covers some of the software used.



3D modelers are used in a wide variety of industries. The medical industry uses them to create detailed models of organs. The movie industry uses them to create and manipulate characters and objects for animated and real-life motion pictures. The video game industry uses them to create assets for video games. The science sector uses them to create highly detailed models of chemical compounds. The architecture industry uses them to create models of proposed buildings and landscapes. The engineering community uses them to design new devices, vehicles and structures as well as a host of other uses. There are typically many stages in the "pipeline" that studios and manufacturers use to create 3D objects for film, games, and production of hard goods and structures.


Many 3D modelers are general-purpose and can be used to produce models of various real-world entities, from plants to automobiles to people. Some are specially designed to model certain objects, such as chemical compounds or internal organs.

3D modelers allow users to create and alter models via their 3D mesh. Users can add, subtract, stretch and otherwise change the mesh to their desire. Models can be viewed from a variety of angles, usually simultaneously. Models can be rotated and the view can be zoomed in and out.

3D modelers can export their models to files, which can then be imported into other applications as long as the metadata is compatible. Many modelers allow importers and exporters to be plugged-in, so they can read and write data in the native formats of other applications.

Most 3D modelers contain a number of related features, such as ray tracers and other rendering alternatives and texture mapping facilities. Some also contain features that support or allow animation of models. Some may be able to generate full-motion video of a series of rendered scenes (i.e. animation).

Major packages

A basic comparison including release date/version information can be found on the Comparison of 3D computer graphics software page. A comprehensive comparison of significant 3D packages can be found at CG Society Wiki and TDT3D 3D applications 2007 comparisons table..

  • 3ds Max (Autodesk), originally called 3D Studio MAX, is a comprehensive and versatile 3D application used in film, television, video games and architecture for Windows. It can be extended and customized through its SDK or scripting using a Maxscript. It can use third party rendering options such as Brazil R/S, finalRender and V-Ray.
  • AC3D (Inivis) is a 3D modeling application that began in the 90's on the Amiga platform. Used in a number of industries, MathWorks actively recommends it in many of their aerospace-related articles[1] due to price and compatibility. AC3D does not feature its own renderer, but can generate output files for both RenderMan and POV-Ray among others.
  • Blender (Blender Foundation) is a free, open source, 3D studio for animation, modeling, rendering, and texturing offering a feature set comparable to commercial 3D animation suites. It includes features such as multi-resolution sculpting; retopology painting; 3D view texture painting; and other features. Blender is developed under the GPL and is available on all major platforms including Windows, OS X, Linux, BSD, Sun and Irix.
  • Carrara (DAZ Productions) is a fully-featured 3D toolset for modeling, texturing, scene rendering and animation.
  • Cinema 4D (MAXON) is a light package in its basic configuration. The software is for lay users. It has a lower initial entry cost due to a modular a-la-carte design for purchasing additional functions as users need them. Originally developed for the Amiga, it is also available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.
  • Electric Image Animation System (EI Technology Group) is a 3D animation and rendering package available on both Mac OS X and Windows. Mostly known for its rendering quality and rendering speed it does not include a built-in modeler. The popular film Pirates of the Caribbean[2] and the television series Lost[3] used the software.
  • form•Z (AutoDesSys, Inc.) is a general purpose solid/surface 3D modeler. Its primary use is for modeling, but it also features photo realistic rendering and object-centric animation support. form•Z is used in architecture, interior design, illustration, product design, and set design. It supports plug-ins and scripts, has import/export capabilities and was first released in 1991. It is currently available for both Mac OS X and Windows.
  • Houdini (Side Effects Software) is used for visual effects and character animation. It was used in Disney's feature film The Wild.[4] Houdini uses a non-standard interface that it refers to as a "NODE system". It has a hybrid micropolygon-raytracer renderer, Mantra, but it also has built-in support for commercial renderers like Pixar's RenderMan and mental ray.
  • Inventor (Autodesk) The Autodesk Inventor is for 3D mechanical design, product simulation, tooling creation, and design communication.
  • LightWave 3D (NewTek), first developed for the Amiga, was originally bundled as part of the Video Toaster package and entered the market as a low cost way for TV production companies to create quality CGI for their programming. It first gained public attention with its use in the TV series Babylon 5[5] and is used in several contemporary TV series.[6][7][8]. Lightwave is also used in film production.[9][10]. It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
  • MASSIVE is a 3D animation system for generating crowd-related visual effects, targeted for use in film and television. Originally developed for controlling the large-scale CGI battles in The Lord of the Rings,[11] Massive has become an industry standard for digital crowd control in high end animation[citation needed] and has been used on several other big-budget films. It is available for various Unix and Linux platforms as well as Windows.
  • Maya (Autodesk) is currently used in the film and television industry. Maya has developed over the years into an application platform in and of itself through extendability via its MEL programming language. It is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
  • Modo (Luxology) is a subdivision modeling, texturing and rendering tool with support for camera motion and morphs/blendshapes. It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.
  • NX ( Siemens PLM Software) is an integrated suite of software for computer-aided mechanical design (mechanical CAM), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer-aided engineering (CAE) formed by combining the former Unigraphics and SDRC I-deas software product lines.[12] NX is currently available for the following operating systems: Windows XP and Vista, Apple Mac OS X,[13], and Novell SUSE Linux.[14]
  • SketchUp Pro (Google) is a 3D modeling package that features a sketch-based modeling approach. It has a pro version which supports 2D and 3D model export functions among other features. A free version is integrated with Google Earth and limits export to Google's "3D Warehouse", where users can share their content.
  • Softimage (Autodesk) Softimage (formerly Softimage|XSI) is a 3D modeling and animation package that integrates with mental ray rendering. It is feature-similar to Maya and 3DS Max and is used in the production of professional films, commercials, video games, and other media.
  • solidThinking (solidThinking) is a 3D solid/surface modeling and rendering suite which features a construction tree method of development. The tree is the "history" of the model construction process and allows real-time updates when modifications are made to points, curves, parameters or entire objects.
  • Solid Edge ( Siemens PLM Software) is a commercial application for design, drafting, analysis, and simulation of products, systems, machines and tools. All versions include feature-based parametric modeling, assembly modeling, drafting, sheetmetal, weldment, freeform surface design, and data management.[15] Application-programming interfaces enable scripting in Visual Basic and C programming.
  • SolidWorks (SolidWorks Corporation) is an application used for the design, detailing and validation of products, systems, machines and toolings. All versions include modeling, assemblies, drawing, sheetmetal, weldment, and freeform surfacing functionality. It also has support for scripting in Visual Basic and C.
  • Swift 3D (Electric Rain) is a relatively inexpensive 3D design, modeling, and animation application targeted to entry-level 3D users and Adobe Flash designers. Swift 3D supports vector and raster-based 3D animations for Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight XAML.
  • trueSpace (Caligari Corporation) is a 3D program available for Windows, although the company Caligari first found its start on the Amiga platform. trueSpace features modeling, animation, 3D-painting, and rendering capabilities. In 2009, Microsoft purchased TrueSpace and it is now available completely free of charge.
  • Vue (E-on Software) is a tool for creating, animating and rendering natural 3D environments. It was most recently used to create the background jungle environments in the 2nd and 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean films.[16]
  • ZBrush (Pixologic) is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing and painting tool available for Mac OS X and Windows. It is used to create normal maps for low resolution models to make them look more detailed.

Other packages

  • Anim8or is a proprietary freeware 3D rendering and animation package.
  • Animation:Master from HASH, Inc is a modeling and animation package that focuses on ease of use. It is a spline-based modeler. Its strength lies in character animation.
  • Art of Illusion is a free software package developed under the GPL.
  • AutoQ3D Community is not a professional CAD program and it is focused to beginners who want to make rapid 3D designs. It is a a free software package developed under the GPL.
  • Ayam is a free 3D modeling environment for the RenderMan interface.
  • Bryce (DAZ Productions) is most famous for landscapes and creating 'painterly' renderings, as well as its unique user interface.
  • Cybermotion 3D is a commercial 3D modeling, animation and rendering package.
  • Cheetah3D is primarily aimed at amateur 3D artists with some medium- and high-end features
  • DAZ Studio a free 3D rendering tool set for adjusting parameters of preexisting models, posing and rendering them in full 3D scene environments. Imports objects created in Poser and is similar to that program, but with fewer features.
  • DX Studio a complete integrated development environment for creating interactive 3D graphics. The system comprises both a real-time 3D engine and a suite of editing tools, and is the first product to offer a complete range of tools in a single IDE.
  • Evolver is a portal for 3D computer characters incorporating a human (humanoid) builder and a cloner to work from picture.
  • FaceGen is a source of human face models for other programs.
  • Geist3D is a free software program for real-time modeling and rendering three-dimensional graphics and animations.
  • Grome is a professional outdoor scene modeler (terrain, water, vegetation) for games and other 3D real-time applications.
  • GMax
  • GPure is a software to prepare scene/meshes from digital mockup to multiple uses
  • K-3D is a GNU modeling, animation, and rendering system available on Linux and Win32. It makes use of RenderMan-compliant render engines. It features scene graph procedural modelling similar to that found in Houdini.
  • MakeHuman is a GPL program that generates 3D parametric humanoids.
  • MeshLab is a free Windows, Linux and Mac OS X application for visualizing, simplifying, processing and converting large three dimensional meshes to or from a variety of 3D file formats.
  • MilkShape 3D is a shareware/trialware polygon 3D modelling program with extensive import/export capabilities.
  • Mudbox Mudbox is a high resolution brush-based 3D sculpting program, that claims to be the first of its type. The software was acquired by Autodesk in 2007, and has a current rival in its field known as ZBrush (see above).
  • OpenFX is a modeling and animation studio, distributed under the GPL.
  • Poser (Smith Micro) Poser is a 3D rendering and animation software program optimized for models that depict the human figure in three-dimensional form and is specialized for adjusting features of preexisting character models via varying parameters. It is also for posing and rendering of models and characters. It includes some specialized tools for walk cycle creation, cloth and hair.
  • RealFlow simulates and renders particle systems of rigid bodies and fluids.
  • Realsoft3D Real3D Full featured 3D modeling, animation, simulation and rendering software available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Irix.
  • Rhinoceros 3D is a commercial modeling tool which has excellent support for freeform NURBS editing.
  • Seamless3d NURBS based modelling and animation software with much of the focus on creating avatars optimized for real time animation. It is free, open source under the MIT license.
  • Vivaty Studio is a VRML/X3D editor with 3D modelling abilities.
  • Wings 3D is a BSD-licensed, subdivision modeler.


  • 3Delight is a RenderMan-compliant renderer.
  • Aqsis is a free rendering suite compliant with the RenderMan standard.
  • Brazil is a rendering engine for 3ds Max, Rhino and VIZ
  • FinalRender is a photorealistic renderer for Maya and 3Ds Max developed by Cebas, a German company.
  • FPrime for Lightwave adds a very fast preview and can in many cases be used for final rendering.
  • Gelato is a hardware-accelerated, non-real-time renderer created by graphics card manufacturer NVIDIA.
  • Indigo Renderer is a closed source (but free for all uses) photorealistic renderer that uses XML for scene description. Exporters available for Blender, Maya (Mti), form•Z, Cinema4D, Rhino, 3ds Max.
  • Kerkythea is a freeware rendering system that supports raytracing. Currently, it can be integrated with 3ds Max, Blender, SketchUp, and Silo (generally any software that can export files in obj and 3ds formats). Kerkythea is a standalone renderer, using physically accurate materials and lighting.
  • LuxRender is an unbiased open source rendering engine featuring Metropolis light transport
  • Maxwell Render is a multi-platform renderer which forgoes raytracing, global illumination and radiosity in favor of photon rendering with a virtual electromagnetic spectrum, resulting in very authentic looking renders. It was the first to market.[citation needed]
  • mental ray is another popular renderer, and comes default with most of the high-end packages. (Now owned by NVIDIA)
  • Pixar's PhotoRealistic RenderMan is the a renderer, used in many studios. Animation packages such as 3DS Max and Maya can pipeline to RenderMan to do all the rendering.
  • Pixie is an open source photorealistic renderer.
  • POV-Ray (or The Persistence of Vision Raytracer) is a freeware (with source) ray tracer written for multiple platforms.
  • Sunflow is an open source, photo-realistic renderer written in Java.
  • Turtle (Illuminate Labs) is an alternative renderer for Maya, it specializes in faster radiosity and automatic surface baking technology which further enhances its speedy renders.
  • VRay is promoted for use in the architectural visualization field used in conjunction with 3ds max and 3ds viz. It is also commonly used with Maya.
  • YafRay is a raytracer/renderer distributed under the LGPL. This project is no longer being actively developed.
  • YafaRay YafRay's successor, a raytracer/renderer distributed under the LGPL.

Related to 3D software

  • Swift3D is the marquee tool for producing vector-based 3D content for Flash. Also comes in plug-in form for transforming models in Lightwave or 3DS Max into Flash animations.
  • Match moving software is commonly used to match live video with computer-generated video, keeping the two in sync as the camera moves.
  • After producing video, studios then edit or composite the video using programs such as Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut at the low end, or Autodesk Combustion, Digital Fusion, Apple Shake at the high end.
  • MetaCreations Detailer and Painter 3D are discontinued software applications specifically for painting texture maps on 3-D Models.
  • Simplygon A commercial mesh processing package for remeshing general input meshes into real-time renderable meshes.

See also


  1. ^ "About Aerospace Coordinate Systems". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  2. ^ "Electric Image Animation Software (EIAS) v6.6.1 UB Port Is Shipping". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  3. ^ "EIAS Production List". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  4. ^ "C.O.R.E. Goes to The Wild". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  5. ^ "Desktop Hollywood F/X". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  6. ^ "So Say We All: The Visual Effects of "Battlestar Galactica"". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  7. ^ "CSI: Dallas". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  8. ^ "Lightwave projects list". Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  9. ^ "Epic effects for 300". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  10. ^ "Lightwave used on Iron Man". 2008-08-08. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  11. ^ "Lord of the Rings terror: It was just a software bug". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  12. ^ Cohn, David (2004-09-16). "NX 3 – The Culmination of a 3-year Migration". CADCAMNet (Cyon Research).,847643&P=article. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  13. ^ "Siemens PLM Software Announces Availability of NX for Mac OS X". Siemens PLM Software. 2009-06-11. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  14. ^ "UGS Ships NX 4 and Delivers Industry’s First Complete Digital Product Development Solution on Linux". 2009-04-04. Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  15. ^ "Solid Edge". Siements PLM Software. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  16. ^ "Vue Helps ILM Create Environments for 'Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest' VFX". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 

External links



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