Blender, Maya, 3DS Max

This post is about something that surprised the hell out of me regarding Blender 2.83.2, Maya 2020, and 3DS Max 2021. I invite you to sit back while I regale you with a tale of art, love, loss, and (hopefully) reawakening.

When I was in art college (1985 to 1989) my focus was on 3D animation using Sculpt-Animate 4D on an Amiga. It was all triangles in wireframe, brute-force animation (ie. move each vertex for every frame), and looooong waits for the screen to refresh every time any change was made. The software was dead simple which meant I (and every other vertex jockey) was an expert after three weeks of playing around.

Then came the lean times, the bankruptcy, and years of trying to get back on our feet. 3D animation became no more than a fading dream.

In 2010, I retired from the civil service and a few months later, I started learning Blender. It was sooooo different from what I remembered and I complained constantly: “Why isn’t ‘y’ up? Why are there so many hidden features?” blah-blah-blah.

I wanted to switch to Max or Maya because I thought they were better tools… more complete, more professional… even their names were cooler. But the cost was prohibitive to a retired guy and they just weren’t buying my story about being a student. Yeah, maybe I should have tried to convince them I was a teacher instead. Eventually, I came grumbling back to Blender because, despite not really liking it, it was all I could afford.

And I threw in the towel time and time again. I got work as an actor (Thirteen Downs, The Picture in the House, The Escapement) but that didn’t pan out, so back I came to Blender.

Years of struggling led me to believe that if ever Maya became at all affordable, I’d sell my soul so I could switch.

In the meantime, I struggled on, trying to keep my chops up, not wanting to let go of the 3D ball. Blender 2.8 came along and, like everyone else, I jumped in and learned the new features and procedures. Meanwhile, all the ideas I had for animations had dried up. I stopped caring whether I ever did anything artistic again. I admit, part of it was petulance. If I couldn’t use the paint brush I wanted, what was the point?

Then about two weeks ago, I read on this forum about the 3DS Max Indie version. I was a tad excited, but my first thought was: I wonder if they’re doing a Maya Indie version, too. And they were! Finally, I could afford to leave Blender behind and jump to Maya, the King of 3D Animation Tools (flashing lights).

I downloaded both Maya and 3DS Max (not wanting to overlook any possibility that, despite being z-up, Max might be a better fit), grabbed some online courses, one for each, and dug in…

And you know what?

After all my complaining for all those years, after all the arguments… it suddenly struck me yesterday:
Blender is a better tool. It’s better thought-out. Everything is at your fingertips (keyboard shortcuts make that a literal statement) and where I was seeing cumbersomeness in Blender, I found profound cumbersomeness in both Maya and 3DS Max.

Big, fat surprise for me.

So, where do I stand now? Well, this morning I renewed my Blender Cloud membership. Since there’s a long weekend coming up (and the Kookie Cookie guys will likely have a sale) I’ll probably sign up with them again, too.

I also pulled an old character (Herman) out of mothballs and started retopologizing him. He was the star of the only 3D short I ever did, A Boy and His Ant (which got an honourable mention at the International Animation Festival in Montreal in 1989 (I know; you guys won’t have heard of the film or the festival; that was a long time ago.) My aim is to redo that short, even if it takes me until COVID-19 is a distant memory.

What else am I going to do with myself?


Cool story, when I switched from 3dsMax to Blender and open source in 2006, I was also very surprised that this software doesn’t crash at all, is so small and the shortcut workflow is much more effective. Not to mention that it costs nothing. My bridge back then was Wings3d which had the NGon features that neither 3dsmax nor Blender had. But I had installed and uninstalled the Blender years ago because the interface scared me off. :sweat_smile:

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Small is right. Blender also starts up a lot faster than either Max or Maya. I mean, it’s really noticeable.

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I really think the proprietary train has sailed. What should be able to stop Blender after supporting 2.8+. I hope this will spread to the rest of the open source community.

Just out of curiosity, what stood out for you?

I’m a 15 year Max user myself(also very familiar working in Maya), who boarded the 2.80 train with no regrets. Blender modeling/animation performance is dreadful, but thankfully it’s being worked on and seems priority on the roadmap.

Funny, but I was also the victim of vertex animation nightmares in the dear old days of 3D. :slight_smile: I used to animate characters this way in 3D Gamestudio.

…and don’t even get me started on UV mapping meshes before unwrapping existed. Haha!

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I am 100% sure that 3ds Max had ngons at that time. Editable Mesh was only triangles but Editable Poly was able to do ngons.
3ds Max 4 came out in 2000 or so and it had Editable Poly.

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Yeah, you’re right. Wings3d has a special way of working called >Winged Edge Data Structure< that made it easier for me to work with, and it was my first contact with open source. That’s why I made a second attempt with Blender.

In both Maya and Max, if you want to employ a tool, you have to move the mouse to it’s button/menu/whatever to enable it. In Blender: hotkeys. It’s amazing how much time is consumed in any application when you’re constantly moving the mouse from your work area to the sidebar/menu/toolbar.

In Maya, you can have tools at your fingertips—sort of—by building a custom shelf. But, it’s still time-consuming getting your mouse pointer there and back into the work area to do the actual work. That was the big thing that stood out for me.

I’m going to take a wild guess here (correct me if I’m wrong) … It’s because you’re not taking full advantage of the keyboard shortcuts. I’d be curious to know if your opinion changes after spending a few months learning and employing them.

But in case that’s not what you mean, please elucidate.

I know there are plans to overhaul the animation system, but that could end up going in a few different directions. Personally, I’d like to see Raf Anzovin’s Ephemeral rigging system brought in, but that’s going to depend on which direction Ton decides to go. Raf originally developed this system for Maya, but has expressed his desire to bring it to Blender as well (which he mentions at the 15:07 mark in his Siggraph presentation from last year).

In all three (Blender, Maya, and Max) keyframe animation is cumbersome, so no advantages to any of them there. And who hasn’t come to hate graph editors in their many manifestations?

To be fair, I did find Maya’s approach to the timeline slider more intuitive. The fact that you can grab the actual timeline marker and drag it is nice. In Blender, you’ve got to click above the timeline. I think Cinema 4D’s CMotion feature is great for doing walk cycles (but their shortcut keys seem to be all over the map… forgive the pun).

I’m not familiar, but I can imagine. Ever play with DBW Render? That was my introduction to all this stuff and involved hours of drawing plans, elevations, sections for objects on graph paper, then writing lists of vertex placements in 3D space. And you had to be sure to get those lists of vertices in the correct order. Otherwise, the objects would end up as (for instance) a bunch of spikes pointing every which way instead of a cube. It was like connect the dots, but without the dots being numbered.

I missed that one. I guess I dodged a bullet while I was off pursuing other things. :slight_smile:

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I just thought of something else…

The natural place to build a model is dead centre in your 3D view, right? In Maya, clicking on the polygon object build buttons on the shelf bring those objects into that same spot, dead centre, which means you’ve got to either move it or the in-progress object in order to do anything with it.

There may be a way to bring these in off-centre (like in Max) but I didn’t come across it in my explorations (which may say more about the tutorials I was following than about Maya itself).

Of course, in Blender, there’s the 3D cursor which, when you get used to it, can do some really nifty stuff. I do miss the 2.79 (-) way of moving it, though, but it’s not that hard to adapt to the new way, either (Shift-RMB to move/place it).

Use Shift+C to center your view and cursor. Then you can center the object with Shift+S > Selection to Cursor. I personally installed Bonus Utils where I set an shortcut for Snap cursor+. So I can hide the cursor and work only with this shortcut.

The better workflow in the Blender is to always start in the middle, never rotate the object and place a link from it into the scene where you can place it as you want. Then only edit the object in the original file.
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Are you sure you replied to the right person? I was talking about how much easier Blender is than Maya.

No this is just my anser to this. :rofl:

Max (and I assume Maya as well) have hotkeys just as well.

This post and thread was actually a refreshing and interesting read.

When I saw the title I was thinking “ Oh no. here we go again." But this was different, Informed and thoughtful.

I don’t think Maya has ever been the most user friendly as a stand alone app for the individual. Not in the same way Max Lightwave or Blender traditionally are. To me it’s always been a big studio tool designed to be customized for specific specialized tasks and jobs across a studio. Maya’s big advantage is that it has always been the big pipeline king. Being amazing at managing and sharing complex sets of packaged data across a network. As a stand alone tool it can often become a frustrating and tangled environment to work in I think. Especially when working as a generalist.

I came to Blender after many years in the games multi media and animation industry working with the other two. I jumped in way before 2.8 at around the time of Sintel having been so impressed by the film. I loved it. And a big part of that was realizing how well it was set up for the independent artist or small team. For instance the built in compositor and sequence editor. Now after 3.8 it’s obviously getting even better.

There is still a lot of focus on Blender being the lesser by the fact that it is ( … free … ) And also that this is the big advantage. Simply that it is supposedly free. I never saw it that way. The open source nature of Blender has been used as an advantage but in a way I think that it has fostered a very unique development path and character to the app. I think Blender has been making it’s own way in many areas and has evolved I think into something very distinct and unique.
It’s very much got a clear identity which sets it apart. It’s certainly not the lesser free version of Maya or Max.

I saw a video where the Flipped Normal guys said Blender suddenly became a so called … real app … after 2.8. I totally disagree with that. Besides I was using Blender in house alongside Maya long before 2.8 time. Simply for the efficiency and ease of use it already had in many areas.

I commented on a ZBrush post a few days back that it was getting tiresome that it always had to be Blender vs everybody else when talking about other apps. I thought the main advantage to Blender’s sculpting tool set was having it in there with everything else. And the ability to use it in animation and alongside modeling. In the same way that there is a built in Compositor and video sequencer.

So broadly speaking I think Blender is the ultimate generalist 3D and animation app right now. But this is not to say the tools are not high quality. Far from it. But if anybody is wanting to make their own projects and films I don’t think there is anything better suited to that right now. It’s just got such a great environment for it. It’s just so quick and efficient to jump from one specialized area to another. And they all link up.
And if you are using it for studio or production work then it is certainly not the lesser app there either. They all have strengths and advantages. And Blender plays along well now with the others. Even better now that Alembic has got so good. I was just recently using Blender Alembic dynamic paint animations and ocean effects in a Maya based pipeline and it all worked out great.

Basically I don’t think anybody is slumming it using Blender anymore nor settling for second best.

And it’s not being made all for free. A large part of why it has got so good now is because so many are contributing on a regular basis through the Cloud and Development Fund so it can be there for everyone.

phew… Sorry for all the text. Talking about software and animation can be a welcome distraction in these troubled times.

Take care and stay safe.


Looking through the menus/toolbar, I saw no mention of them in the either tool-tips or tool labels. Same with Maya.

3ds Max comes with one of the best manuals I´ve ever seen. I am sure it can tell you how to set up hotkeys.

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Ah! Okay. Good info to pass along, so let’s make sure he sees it: @Musashidan.

And while we’re at it, I highly recommend The Blender 2.8 Encyclopedia by Christopher Plush and Lee Salvemini. I mean, I’ve been using Blender for almost ten years, but this series really helps transition from 2.79 to 2.8x… one video, one subject, succinct and to the point (the ones I’ve watched so far, anyway).

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Thanks. I don’t think anyone will ever accuse me of being a Blender fan-boy. :slight_smile:

Good point. I never thought about it this way. Each time a new application was built into Blender (VSE, paint, sculpt) my first thought was always: “Oh, man. Here we go again.” But, you’re right. When you don’t have to fire up another application, don’t have to save what you’re doing so you can load it elsewhere… it’s a big advantage.

And I"m embarrassed now that I ever thought this way. :blush:

This can be seen, also, as the subscription fee and frankly, you can’t beat it at $15/month CDN.

And you.

Perhaps, but that’s a lot of work. It’s hard enough convincing myself to keep my butt in the chair to do the actual work without taking that on, too. :slight_smile:

Ok, but you can just learn the default hokeys like you apparently did in Blender.
Almost every program has hotkeys. Hotkeys are nothing specific to Blender.