3DS Max and Maya are both 3D computer graphics programs for making 3D animations, models, and images, used by video game developers, TV commercial studios, and architectural visualization studios to create video games, animated film, TV series, and visual effects. They are both currently owned and developed by the same company, Autodesk, Inc. If you’re interested in becoming a professional animator, you will most likely work with at least one of these programs, as they are the most commonly used in the film and video game industries. Much like driving two different models of cars from the same brand, both of them will get you to your final destination, but the way you get there will be the only thing that’s different.
Before we delve into 3DS Max and Maya, please note that both programs contain the same major features while the user interface and navigation are different. They both contain all the high-quality features a developer would need: Advanced mesh and surface modeling, production-proven animation toolsets, realistic simulations and effects, and production tools.
Now let’s break it down.
Different strokes for different folks
Different industries seem to have their own preferences for 3DS Max or Maya. Within the film industry, most artists prefer to use Maya because of the advanced animation and effects tools. However, 3DS Max is most often used for architects and engineers because of its ability to interact with AutoCad and other Autodesk design tools. Interestingly enough, it has been discovered that both programs are used equally within the gaming industry, although game developers have strong opinions favoring one or the other. Here is a beginner’s Maya tutorial for games and an introductory course to high poly game modeling in 3DS Max.
Ease of Use
While 3DS Max and Maya are difficult programs to master, one has a more forgiving learning curve than the other. 3DS Max is considered to be more intuitive than Maya, making it the more user-friendly of the two. The basic functions of 3DS Max can be learned in under two months and if you’re familiar with simpler modeling programs already, you will feel comfortable with how the program works. Maya, however, is far more unconventional and presents a very steep learning curve. Most companies hiring someone to work figure that if you were able to master Maya, which is arguably considered the harder of the two programs to learn, that you’re capable of adapting to a new modeling program. Many movie and studios, like Pixar have their own 3D modeling environment that developers would have to learn as soon as they started working there.
Switching Between 3DS Max and Maya
If you have already learned the basics of 3DS Max (how to model, unwrap, and bake out maps )but now find yourself in a position where you either need to learn Maya for a new job or pump up your resume for applying to video game studios that exclusively use Maya, there is help. Try this video series designed for 3DS Max users getting up to speed for Maya. And if you’re a user moving from Maya to 3DS Max, the greatest challenges seem to be the Viewport navigation, Hotbox, and Hotkeys. But do not worry…these are customizable in 3DS Max! You can edit the common keyboard shortcuts and the viewport colors in one package so it’s consistent with the other.
Functionality and User Interface
Maya and 3DS Max are two similar applications with very different layers of functionality. The core of 3DS Max is interacting with objects; you will learn to name them, move them, rotate them, extrude them, and work with them in your models. Maya includes a customizable interface that was developed to provide a personalized work flow. The detailed visual effects features available in 3DS Max allow for the creation of hair, water and other complex particle systems. More guidance on 3DS Max character modeling can be found here. Maya features a “Bi-Pedal” function that provides a quick and easy way to create and animate characters by using a skeleton rigging system. Try this tutorial on complete bi-pedal rigging in Maya.
Here is where you’ll find objective differences between the two programs. Since 3D artists and animators work with a wide variety of tools and programs, they have to be compatible with either Maya or 3DS Max. The way in which these applications work together is extremely important. 3DS Max is compatible with motion capture software that assists in video game development. Maya is compatible with various effects plug-ins that assist in creating realistic environments and advanced lightning rigs. Both Maya and 3DS Max are compatible with current video game development kits, but 3DS Max is considered to offer more options and flexibility. If you’re learning a program to work within a specific industry or company, be sure to choose the program most suitable for you in the long-run.
Leave the negative reviews at the door and try them both out. You are the only one that can determine which program will work best for you. If you’re a student with a valid ID or even a parent with a student, you may be able to get a full version of Maya and 3DS Max for free! You can also receive a 13 month subscription (just like a trial) to Maya and 3DS Max software from any University bookstore. If you need more than a 30-day trial, try the Autodesk website to see what is available in terms for longer-period trials.
Good luck on your search!