Credit: Autodesk Maya 2011
So, you've taken an interest in 3D modeling. Great! Although any beginner is dying to get their hands on the best 3d modeling software available, please keep in mind that most of the top 3d modeling software on the market today can all do just about the same thing, but usually have different interfaces. It is a matter of your personal preference which one you think will be the best 3d modeling software for you. As you become more familiar with 3d modeling, you will gravitate toward whatever will make your process faster and more efficient.
You can 3D model just about anything you can possibly imagine with the several 3d modeling programs available these days. Below are some of the most popular 3D modeling software.
Maya is one of the most popular 3D modeling software available today and is often considered an industry standard. The user interface is close to 3ds max since it is also made by Autodesk, but Maya is a bit more in depth when it comes to 3d and character animation, rigging (which means putting a bone system into 3d modeled object and allowing you to manipulate it any way you choose), and texturing. Maya has many great tools for 3d modeling and is well equipped with customizable options. Maya does come with a rather large price, but if you are a student, you are able to download the "Student edition" which is free for educational purposes, not commercial. You must have your student email and a few other forms of proof that you are a student, but Maya is definitely worth giving a shot if you are interested in a very efficient and popular 3d modeling software.
Originally, 3ds max was said to be used for game asset creation, while Maya was for cinematic production use. Today this is not the case, since you can virtually create game assets and complete cinematic animations in both. The 3d modeling techniques you may use in Maya can easily be translated over into 3ds max without having to deal with a major learning curve. Although the learning speed varies from person to person, transitioning from 3ds max to Maya for vise verse is not a large challenge and often harbors a sense of familiarity. Some main key differences between 3ds Max and Maya Include:
Maya: Focuses on Film/cinematic, efficient and in-depth animation tools,
3ds Max: Focuses on Game, efficient modeling tools
Again, if you would like to try 3ds max a try, to students it is available for free download on their site, Autodesk, for non commercial use. There are tons of video tutorials that will help you get familiar with 3ds max's interface alot more efficiently.
Blender is an open source free 3d modeling program with a very powerful support network. Like any other 3d modeling software, Blender definitely has a wider learning curve due to so many great tools available. Blender is great for creating game assets and film/cinematic projects, and some would say it is a "godsend" for those who do not want to pay the large price that is planted on Autodesk Maya. Some very popular animations that have used Blender as their primary production tool are Sintel and Big Buck Bunny. Both have extremely high quality animations and it is hard to tell that everything was not made in Maya or 3ds max. When you are first getting into Blender, be sure to read over the Hotkey list and other learning resources on the official site. Those who skip these first steps cause themselves to be alot slower as a beginner and often don't know how to even get to tools that will make them improve their 3d modeling techniques.
Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max, and Blender are considered to be the best 3d modeling software today. There are many, many others but these three are awesome choices to start out with. As always, think about how your chosen 3d modeling program will make you faster, and if you are able to do what you want with the tools provided. There are TONS of online communities with support groups on using each specific software, and are willing to help you with any questions or challenges you may face. Definitely give these programs a try and do not be intimidated by the interfaces.
Good luck and happy 3D modeling!