3D modeling and animation have become crucial parts of numerous industries, ranging from film and video game development to architecture and engineering. One of the challenges that a 3D artist faces when picking or switching software is making the right choice.
The word “challenges” may sound a bit exaggerated. Some would even argue: “it’s up to the artist, those are just tools!”. Unfortunately, this is not the case; your career or job, time and money will be affected by such a decision; especially when you’re confused between two tools that seem almost similar!
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When it comes to creating 3D content, two of the most popular (yet seemingly similar) software packages are Blender and Maya. Both of these programs have their strengths and weaknesses, and deciding which one to use can be a difficult decision. One has to ask almost systematically: Maya vs Blender, which is better for me in terms of modeling, rendering, animation, rigging and visual effects?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both Blender and Maya, comparing and contrasting their features and capabilities to help you decide which software might be best for your needs.
Blender vs Maya modeling capabilities
Ever since Maya 2014 entered the game, some very powerful modeling tools have been added to the software. This upgrade resulted in a better workflow and a more efficient modeling process that will allow you to create complex models easily.
- For NURBS surface modeling (one of the oldest representations of 3D models that stands for Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines), It offers a variety of tools such as loft, extrude, planar…, etc. This can help you have much more control over your model before converting it into a polygon.
- For procedural modeling, Maya has MASH plugin which can do great dynamic simulations.
- There’s a wide variety of modeling plugins and scripts that can extend the already-amazing potential of the software.
- The sculpting tool is somewhat lacking compared to other 3D software.
- The retopology tools could benefit from an upgrade.
If you want to be in game development or animation as a career path, learning to model in Maya could prove to be a wise decision because of how anchored it is in the industry.
Blender has been made a lot better through multiple new releases and upgrades in the last decade, with a variety of new features and tools that make it quite competitive when it comes to 3D modeling.
- high efficiency in terms of poly modeling.
- an exceptional sculpting tool that gives modelers the ability to sculpt in a quality that is comparable to top tier sculpting software like ZBrush.
- availability of modeling addons and external tools that you can use to create cool and complicated mechanical pieces and detailed hard surface models.
- can get a little buggy when it comes to complex procedural modeling and simulation.
Maya vs Blender rendering power
When it comes to rendering, you can expect Maya to have a strong render engine which is Arnold for the time being. It is included with the default installation of Maya.
- rendering process became fast, memory-efficient, and scalable with the physically-based ray-tracer Arnold, supporting interactive rendering from the interface. It was developed by Solid Angle and later bought by Autodesk in 2016.
- compatibility with external renderers that don’t come with Maya, like Vray Redshift and Octane just to name a few. We compared Vray and Arnold before if you want to see how they stack up against each other, it should help you decide if you need a third-party renderer or not.
- relatively long rendering time.
- complexity and steep learning curve.
When it comes to rendering in Blender, you can expect it to offer a plethora of render engines for different purposes.
Cycles is Blender’s physically-based path tracer for production rendering and generally speaking to render high-quality images with as much efficiency as possible. It is designed to provide physically based results out-of-the-box, with artistic control and flexible shading nodes for production needs.
Eevee is also a render engine that ships with Blender but it serves a different purpose than Cycles, because it is a real-time render engine built using OpenGL focused on speed and interactivity while achieving the goal of rendering PBR materials. Eevee can be used interactively
in the 3D Viewport but also produce high-quality final renders.
- easy to render existing scenes, since Eevee materials are created using the same shader nodes as Cycles, making it work great to preview material in real-time (i.e. quick previews of architectural visualization scenes).
- compatibility with third-party add-ons like octane, Pixar Renderman and Vray.
- because Eevee uses rasterization it has a large set of limitations. While it’s designed to use PBR principles, it is not perfect and Cycles will always provide more physically accurate renders.
When it comes to rendering, Maya and Blender both have great render engines but Blender’s real-time render engine Eevee is very strong compared to Arnold realtime render capabilities that were added recently by Autodesk. I am not saying Arnold’s real-time capabilities are bad but Eevee is better, generally speaking.
Blender vs Maya for Animation
Maya stands out when it comes to animation because of its library of animation tools. That’s why it is the industry standard in many industries that rely on animation such as video game development and VFX.
Many studios use Maya as a critical piece of their production pipeline for rigging and animation. The animation experience it provides makes it possible to work on difficult and complex projects.
When it comes to rigging, Maya also has excellent rigging tools with some nice built-in rigs that can be quickly applied to your model. Even though vanilla tools on Maya are good, often professionals and studios use additional tools or develop their own tools for creating complex rigs. That’s why You really need to have a working knowledge of Mayas scripting languages – Python and MEL – to customize your projects.
Blender, on the other hand, has seen a lot of growth over the years when it comes to animation because it was developed by the Blender team to rise up to the needs of the animation team that worked on the amazing short films created by Blender institute.
Blender allows artists to turn their still characters into animations whether it’s simple keyframing or complex walk-cycles. It can be used to work on different animation projects whether it be character animation, rigid body animation, or even motion graphics which is a very important part of the advertising industry.
Blender also offers a good set of tools when it comes to rigging for character preparation for animation. You can use built-in add-ons to allow you to rig your character easily and faster or if you have enough experience you can create your own complex rigs.
In addition to that Blender is one of the few 3D software that has the ability to draw and create 2D animation. This is possible in blender using the grease pencil which is a system that was created years ago and it became much better lately.
Grease Pencil is basically a particular type of Blender object that allows you to draw in the 3D space. It Can be used to make traditional 2D animation, cut-out animation, motion graphics or use it as a storyboard tool among other things.
The grease pencil will open the door for navigating new possibilities using Blender. Recently, it was used to create a short 2D film called Hero which was entirely created using the grease pencil.
So, in terms of animation, Maya and Blender are both great but Maya has more tools and more resources compared to Blender. This makes it a weapon of choice for a lot of animators but if you are not interested in working in the industry Blender is also a great option.
In terms of visual effects, Maya is very strong because it fulfills the needs of many studios and professional artists working in the industry. Even though Maya had in the past some limitations compared to some of the other leading 3D visual effects software when it comes to visual effects, now, it has pretty much everything needed for this type of work especially with what Autodesk added to it in the last decade from new and better cloth and hair simulation tools such as :
- nCloth, which is an extremely powerful cloth engine you should be learning as a Maya user. nCloth has the flexibility to be used to simulate different types of objects other than cloth. For instance, it can be great for simulating lava or concrete being poured which is another application for it.
- Bifröst, a simulation system for high-quality liquid and fluid effects using a FLIP solver. You can generate liquid from emitters and have it fall under gravity, interact with colliders to direct the flow and create splashes and use fields to create jets and other effects.
and the powerful Bifrost that was used on some of the most iconic movies such as Avatar. In addition of course to the powerful plugins that can be used with Maya such as phoenix FD, fume fx, Ziva Vfx, and so on.
When it comes to effects, Blender has a good Particles System that can be used to create high-quality visual effects like fire, smoke, dust, blizzards, and so on. As we have it done in The Man in The High Castle show, VFX was done by Barnstorm VFX studios that have integrated Blender in their pipeline.
Just to be fair here, I believe that other than Houdini all other software that are used in the industry of film and VFX use plugins or add-ons in addition to the tools that come with the 3D package to do a lot of effects like fire, smoke, fluids and so on. They use powerful plugins such as fumefx, phoenix FD, Krakatoa, thinking particles.
And the best Developers don’t make their add-ons for Blender because of its open-source nature, and the GPL license which makes the source code for their tools available for others to use.
But Blender right now has a good Particles System that can be used for VFX nonetheless. In addition to good simulation add-ons such as flip fluids.
Also, Blender has a very robust cloth simulator that is used to make clothing, flags, banners, and so on.
In addition to that, there are some Blender addons. That can make creating cloth easier and faster similar to Marvelous designer does.
Blender also has motion tracking tools that are good enough to create professional camera tracking for VFX shots, it was actually developed further during some of the short live-action films that were created using Blender.
What makes Blender unique comparing to other 3D packages is the fact that it also can be used for compositing but for the most part studios use nuke for compositing because it is the industry standard and most professional artists use it to get their work done. Even Barnstorm VFX studios that are known to use Blender I believe still use nuke for compositing.
In conclusion, both Maya and Blender have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to 3D modeling, rendering, and animation.
Maya is a preferred choice for professionals in VFX, animation, and game development industries, thanks to its advanced animation and rigging tools.
On the other hand, Blender is gaining popularity among 3D artists for its comprehensive modeling tools, especially sculpting, and its real-time render engine, Eevee. Blender also offers the ability to use third-party add-ons, which can add to its versatility. Ultimately, the choice between Maya and Blender depends on the specific needs of the artist and the industry they work in.
Tell us in the comments which one you prefer and why.