Animation Software: The 10 Best for Designers and Artists

best animation software

All set to make a mark in the world of animations and motion graphics. A sophisticated and full featured animation software is the first thing you need to create stunning animations for movies, games, VR, educational videos, product presentations, websites, apps, advertisements or just for fun.

With the advent of simulators for training, virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality etc., the need for high end animations has skyrocketed in the recent past and brought in tremendous competition in the market of animation software. There are many animation tools available in the market, both free and paid, and selecting one can be a daunting task.

Which Animation Software is Best for You?

This is absolutely a question for you and the selection criteria greatly depends on your requirements, what you like, your machine or infra capabilities, skill level of the team, as well as budget at hand.

One can create explainer videos, simple games, banners, advertisements etc. using simple tools like GSAP, Draw Plus, or Adobe Animate, there are many more in this league.

For high end animations that you see in movies like Transformers, cartoons like Tom and Jerry, or AAA games like Halo Wars, you need a full featured and sophisticated tool like Houdini, Maya, Blender, Cinema 4D, Moho (2D) or Harmony (2D).

There is another league of specialized tools for creating product presentations, product launches, marketing material etc. KeyShot is the animations software that leads the pack in this area.

It is always a good idea to try a few tools before closing on to one, specifically before initiating a professional project. List down your requirements, narrow down the tools listed in this article to 3-4 max, subscribe for free trials and see what fits best to your or your team’s 3D workflow and style.

Let us look at the 10 best animation software in the market that is ruling the world of animation -

1. Houdini – Best Animation Software (Paid Category)

Houdini is arguably the best software for 3D animations in the market as of today, and is the creation of the company named SideFX. SideFX has been in the industry for the last 30 years and its software Houdini competes head to head with Autodesk’s Maya.

Houdini is used heavily by the game developers and film studios, including the experts at Electronic Arts (EA) for creating next generation content and high-end cinematics for AAA games as well as designers at Disney for creating blockbusters like Frozen.  Few other key clients for Houdini include Rodeo, Rise, MPC, Cine Site Studios and Spin VFX.

The key modules of Houdini include Bullet RBD, particles, Cloth, Fine Elements, Crowds, Wire & Fur apart from PyroFX for smoke and fire as well as Fluids and Ocean FX for particle fluids.

Other key features that Houdini is best known for include high quality graphics and great motion illusion, Ease of rendering clouds, fire, Ocean and particles in general, terrain & Character building. It also offers excellent Shading and VFX workflow features as well as GPU Assisted volume simulations.

SideFX has thrice received awards in the recent past for Houdini, the software behind animations such as Wild About Harry, Frozen, Zootopia, Rio and Ant Bully etc. which are highly ranked in the animation world.

In short, Houdini rules the world of animated movies, TV, and games development, and offers great flexibility to the creative artists, what you can build with Houdini is limited only to the imagination.

Check out more about Houdini and SideFX here at -  SideFX Houdini

2. Blender - Best Free 3D Animation Software

Blender is the modeling and animation tool for masses, mostly used by hobbyists, freelancers and small-scale studios. It is maintained by an open community of scientists, gamers, animators, students, VFX experts, and of course software developers.  Blender is open source software licensed under GPL and is free to download and free to use for individual as well as for commercial use.

Some of the popular projects made with Blender include Caminandes 3, Glass Half, Tears of steel and Sintel. Blender beats even the top paid competitors when it comes to modeling, character rigging and simulation.

The key features of blender that keeps it on the top in the free tier include fast modeling, sculpting, photo realistic rendering, realistic materials, simulations, camera and object tracking, video editing and support for multiple file formats.  

Blender Vs Houdini

When it comes to high end commercial animation projects, Houdini and Maya beat Blender by margins. Many keep Blender as an additional free tool for creating models whereas animation and other complex tasks are done in Houdini.

Blender is your free animation software for Windows, Linux as well as Mac. Read more about Blender here at - Blender 3D Animations

3. Autodesk Maya

Autodesk Maya is the most used 3D software and has ruled the world of 3D modelling and animations for two decades. It is used by big studios like Walt Disney, EA, Moon Studios, Sony , Riva Animation & VFX and is behind some of the most popular Hollywood movies and video games including Transformers - movie, Stranglehold-video game, Halo-video game, Chronicles of Narnia – movie and many more.

Autodesk as a company leads the market of 3d animation software and has other popular tools like 3DX Max, Motion Builder, Mudbox and Maya LT. Maya provides integrated toolset for modelling, simulation and rendering and is heavily used for creation virtual graphics, character creation, motion graphics, environments and animations for films, tv, media and games.

Maya LT is the lightweight and low-cost 3D game development software for indie game developers. If you are a student, you can subscribe and get Maya free to use for 3 years.

Like Houdini and Blender, Maya can also be installed on Windows, Mac OS as well as on Linux. You can try Maya for free before subscribing for paid version.

Read more about Maya here at - Autodesk Maya

The other flagship product of Autodesk – 3DS max which is unbeatable when it comes to polygon modeling, 3ds max too ranks very high in and has been a close competitor of Maya and Houdini.

4. Cinema 4D - Easy to Use Animation Software

Cinema 4D is another popular 3D animation program and behind the movies like Spiderman 3. Cinema 4D is the creation of company named Maxon, headquartered at Friedrichsdorf, Germany, and operating since 1990. R18 is the latest version of Cinema 4D at the time of writing this article and was released back in 2016.

Intuitive and easy to use 3D development workflow is key selling point of Cinema 4D and with release of R18, it gets further edge with viewport enhancements including preview mode, multi layered reflectance and screen space ambient occlusion. Other notable enhancements in R18 include features like Fracture Voronoi, New knife tools, Shaders and surface.

Some common features of Cinema 4D a.ka. R18 (latest release) includes:

  • Excellent body paint function along with projection mapping capabilities.
  • Sketch and toon features along with MoGraph helps create great artistic effects without much of scripting.
  • Super easy and intuitive interface that doesn’t need any specialized training, you can get started within matter of hours.

Check out official website for more details - Maxon - Cinema 4D

5. Key Shot – Best 3D Software for Products

Keyshot is a different ball game altogether and focuses more on industrial products rather than on games or entertainment. It offers perfect toolset for creating product visuals and marketing demos, imagery and presentations

KeyShot is very popular among large corporate houses and its customers include names like Chrysler, Philips, Microsoft, Motorola, Lenovo, Sonos and Cobra Puma Golf.

KeyShot is developed by company named Luxion which is headquartered in California, USA and specializes in the field of computer based lighting simulations, backed and supported by scientific research. KeyShot easily ranks as the best animation software in this area and utilizes some of the advance techniques and algorithms like photon mapping, real time rendering, atmospheric scattering and much more.

The key features of this software include drag and drop builder, intuitive interface, one single editable file for visual appearance communication, real time rendering and imagery.

Keyshot doesn't need any specialized graphics card and can run on your regular laptop and desktop with moderately good configuration, it can be installed on both Windows and Mac.

Visit KeyShot for more information.

6. Moho – Best 2D Animation Software - Beginners

This software which was formally named as Anime Studio is a 2D animation software and an excellent one.  Moho was initially distributed by Lost Marble and later by e-frontier.

Moho is used by companies like M.A.D Entertainment, Cartoon Saloon, Barry Baker and Dog Ears and some of the notable films and shows built with Moho include Song of the sea trailer, Neo-Mickey promo and Puffin- rock-trailer.

Anime Studio a.k.a. Moho comes in two flavors - Anime Studio Pro and Anime Studio Debut. Some features of Moho include support for variety of file formats including Layered Photoshop files, easy creation of pieces of to which special art effects can be added, open multiple documents simultaneously etc. and much more.

Check out more here at Moho 2D Animation Maker

7. Green Sock Animation Software (GSAP)

Now everyone doesn’t need to create Hollywood movies, AAA games, Virtual Reality or training simulations for space stations. GSAP is a simple but sophisticated solution for creating JavaScript and HTML5 based animations and is used by enterprises and individuals.

GSAP is a commercial product from the house of Green Sock which is a name to reckon with in the world of web based animations. Its permissive license makes it very easily available to anyone and for that reason it is used by many

Among its many big customers include name Nike SB Dunk, Adobe, Microsoft, Samsung, Uber, mStudio and Master Digital Design.

Read more here at - GSAP

8. Harmony – Best 2D Animation Software Overall

This software is considered an industry standard and offers everything from paperless workflow, particle effects, 2d-3d integration, drag and drop tools, flash like animation generation and much more. Harmony is a creation of Toon Boom and its customers are among the best in the game, including Universal Pictures, Cartoon Network, Fox and Lucas Film Ltd.

Key features of Harmony include -

  • Light shading which gives the ability to add more character to drawings.
  • The ability to integrate 2D and 3D which helps to add depth.
  • The particle system which can help in production of effects such as fire and rain.

As of writing this article, you can try Harmony free for 21 days without providing details of the credit card or buy the subscription starting at CAD $31.

Toom Boom has special prices for student and for universities and colleges. In 2D, Toon Boom’s Harmony arguably is the best animation software and is used by many top education institutions including the likes of Sheridan, Chapman University and Columbus College of Arts and Design.

Check out more about Harmony here at - Harmony - 2D Animation Program

9. Modo – 3D for VR and Games

Modo is another animation software in the wild and is used heavily for creating real time content in Virtual reality, games and giving life to product design concepts.

Modo is the product of company named Foundary and is loved by 3D artists at Blindflug Studios, MPC, AtomicFiction and many more. It is used by various industries including Films and TV, Games, Virtual Reality, Automotive, Apparel and Education.

Mode is very scalable and can be customized and enhanced with the use of kits and plug-ins. Kits typically include packages for productivity enhancement and accelerated 3D workflows whereas plug-ins offer totally new features that do not exist in the core.

Some key features of Modo include Modelling, UV Workflows, Sculpting, Shading, Rendering, Baking, rigging, Animation, Effects, Hari & Fur, Camera and projection tools, pre-sets and option to customize the tool itself for more features.

Check out more about Modo here at - Modo

10. Light Wave 3D

Last but not the least in the list of top ten software is LightWave 3D from the house of company named New Tek. Light Wave has dual application setup – one for modelling and another for everything related to lighting, layout setup and animation etc.

Light Wave supports Python which is easy to use and easy to learn scripting language. You can do much more with Python as compared to other basic scripting languages.

Check out more about Light Wave here at - Light Wave 3D Software

Other 2D animation software that we reviewed include -

Draw Plus which is again a great 2d animation tool for beginners and learners as well as well as offers features for professional grade animations.

Adobe Animate - This one also is one of the best animation software developed by Adobe Systems and the recent release of Adobe Animate is very powerful and includes enhancements in brushes and layers, sharing clips, stage enhancements for easy image editing and much more.

Conclusion

Animation has been there since the time immemorial but the methods and technology used to create animations has evolved and improved beyond imagination. Producing great animation is skill as well as an art, which is used to create illusion of motion out of still drawings, images, 3D objects and more.

Modern day tools help bring out the creativity of the designers with sophisticated toolset. Animation is used in all walks of life these days including those super hit Hollywood movies, Japanese cartoons, jazzy and splashing advertisements, Animated TV programs, space simulators, airplane training simulations, video games, educational videos, medical science and what not.

About The Author: noeticsunil

Sunil is the founder and contributing editor at noeticforce.com. He writes about anything and everything that makes modern mobile apps, web apps and websites possible. Passionate about coding in any language including Python, Swift, JavaScript, PHP, Java, Android & iOS dev, not excluding CSS/HTML. 

If you like this article, you can connect with noeticforce on Twitter or subscribe to noeticforce feed via RSS.