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What to use

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What to use

Dear Animation Cafe,
I'm continuing my independent quest for learning animation and creating extreme and exotic vehicles and want you advice on some things. I have narrowed my selection down to NASCAR type cars with an extreme and exotic design. The plan is to use the NASCAR body and change the design to give it an extreme and exotic look then add weapons. Recently, I bought the book Draw NASCAR by Lee Hammond and I'm going through it now. Any other suggestions?? It's much too difficult to create a car from scratch. I also heard about a program called DesignStudio and AutoStudio from Alias and CATIA. Would those be a better program to use than Maya?? Is learning CAD a good idea before getting started with animation?? Is there a big difference between CAD and CATIA and animation, AutoStudio or Maya?? I want to know all my options before I potentially spend $1000 or more. Little by little I'm getting there and hopefully by then of the year I will have the car drawn and or start to animate it. Thank you.

Hi there,

if what you want is piece of software to model and animate a car with then i would for sure stick with one of the four most commonly used ones: 3DStudioMax, Maya, Softimage XSi, Lightwave (this is possibly the least common of the four). Reason being, CAD software is primarily used in the architectural and design industries and thus the skills for a CAD operator are sparcely required in the tv/film/games industries. CAD software tends to offer uber accurate tool sets which, unless you are modelling something that needs to have real world accuracy, there really is no point in spending your precious time learning this software.

The four packages i mentioned above are more than capable of offering you the tools required to not only model, but rig, texture and light your model to your hearts content. If the animation/film/games industries are what you ultimately have your sights on then learning one of these pieces of software will be time better spent.

I am not aware of the two packages DesignStudio and AutoStudio you mentioned. Be aware there are PLE (Personal Learning Editions) for the four packages i mentioned above, free to download from the respective web sites (Alias, Softimage, Discreet, Newtek).

Are you after modelling the car from scratch yourself or were you going to get a mesh and alter that to your specs?


Just to reinforce what Gav said. Youc an models cars with any 3d modeling softwares. CAD is more specific for people who will actually build them :) I personally recommend 3dMAX, I used it to model some quite simple cars and it worked out fine in my movie "Furious Engine".

By the way, did you guys know that "Beziér curves" were invented by a french car designer? He created them to make smoother car projects in computers, back in the early 70's. I think it was at Renault.

aah, tres bon! Them 'ole beziers eh, where would we be without them? :cool:

I'd backup Mr Poeira's recommendation of Max, i use it too and Max6 has come a long way since R4.2. Plus, i know its easy to get CAD drawings into Max and extrude/edit/convert the splines however you want, just in case you wanted to cross the CAD divide ;)

I'll probably get laughed out of this forum, but if you don't own any particular package yet, and really dont want to part with your money, I would say download blender from It's not a big name like maya or max, but its (legally) free, and is pretty full featured. It may be a good way to play around with 3D before you dump a load of cash. Plus there's a pretty big community surronding it, which is always a plus.

What are you talking about, Johnny? Blender rules!!!! :D

I haven't done full vehicles, but I have modelled furniture for an art deco project in the shape of cars. I was using Maya 5 and it turned out well and was easy to model. And that was from scratch using pictures as reference. Alias offers the Personal Learning Edition of their software for free so you can try out it's features. Softimage has a new release of theirs as well, but I've only just downloaded it so I'm not aware of it's capabilities. You can take any pictures you have (drawn or otherwise) and import them onto an image plane in the program so that it's easier to model from.

As for the Alias StudioTools programs, they're more engineering software and geared toward the modelling and the rendering you can do after modelling. Geared towards people in the automotive industry, industrial manufacturing, product design, that kind of thing. Again though, you can download the Personal Learning Edition and try it out. For conceptualizing your car and playing around with the highlights, colours, etc. Since you are planning on animating it, I'd use something else.

If you're planning on buying Maya, be prepared to spend more than $1000 though - for the unlimited version anyway. I'm not sure of the other prices right now. While 3DS seems to be fairly common in the job market, I'm told Maya is the industry leader in terms of capabilities (of those 4 mentioned anyway) and is probably the most user-friendly and intuitive to learn. You won't need CAD before learning to animate.

Researching, questions, reading, learning and drawing are where to start - you're on the right path. Before you spend any money though on animation software, try their free versions. It may save you a lot of headaches later on. Good luck!

Erin ;)
The only thing that is truly yours - that no one can take from you - is your attitude. So if you can take care of that, everything else in life becomes easier. ~unknown