Top 20 3D Animation Software for 2021 and Beyond

It has never been easier to breakthrough into creating your animations. Whether these be games, humorous little animations like those of populating the internet over the past 20 years or just playing around with the software and its capabilities, 3D development is right at your fingertips.

The 5 Types of Animation

  1. Traditional Animation
  2. 2D Animation (vector)
  3. 3D Animation (computer)
  4. Motion Graphics (ad, commercial)
  5. Stop Motion Animation

If you are like me, you are always on the lookout for some great deals. I’m talking about Steam sales, GOG.com sales, and Xbox deals. On that note, we live in great times: you can download free software that can help stoke creativity and create the 3D games of your dreams. Of course, there might be a learning curve if you aren't a developer by nature, but the potential is there. Let’s get down to it.

We have already gone through and examined some of the best 2D software out there that doesn’t cost you a dime, but what about 3D? Here I will examine some of the best free 3D animation software for 2019 and beyond. I included some programs that emphasize 3D modelling as well since they both go hand in hand.

1. Blender

For over 20 years, Blender has been a trusted source of 3D software animation. Not only that, but the $0 price tag doesn’t hurt! This is an optimal piece of software for creating 3D games. It allows the user to draw different assets from many different existing 3D engines, allowing versatility and variety to your game developing experience.

Blender has some impressive features:

  • Simulation
  • Modelling
  • Customizable UI
  • High-End Production Path Tracer
  • GPU Rendering
  • Game Creation
  • Animation Toolset
  • Fast Rigging

The list goes on, but when asked: "What is the best free 3D animation software?” Blender is the best 3d animation software in today's world.

How to Animate in Blender - Beginner Tutorial

2. KeyShot

What is the easiest 3D animation software to use? KeyShot. You’ll see why.

KeyShot is a bit simpler than Blender but still has the potential to create some seriously impressive 3D graphics and animations for no charge. With impressive texture mapping, HDRI lighting control, KeyShot blends more complicated actions with the ease for beginner animators and developers. This is a key balance that allows for people on a budget who just want to get an easier intro to the animation world to experience what it has to offer. Both a great starting point or a stepping stone to more complicated projects, KeyShot rules. 

3. SketchUp

This piece of software is pretty cool. Rather than focus on complicated game development that programs like Blender, SketchUp is the ideal piece of software for those who are into design. I remember taking an architectural design class in 10th grade, and this would fit right in. Maybe it would have made the class a little less tortuous, (Sorry, Mr. Donohue!). 

This program comes with tons of prefab models and more, allowing you to stoke creativity without digging up more 3D assets. However, this program could be a little more difficult for newer users to use compared to the user-interface included in KeyShot. If you are looking to bring a blueprint to life, you cannot go wrong with SketchUp.

4. K-3D

K-3D is another great piece of free software. A solid development tool for 3D developers, K-3D has a great undo and redo function, allowing you to have some leeway when it comes to making mistakes and making sure your work is the best it can be. People love K-3D, as it is simple yet complex. You can get a lot of great work done compared to what you pour into it.

5. PowToon

What is the best free 3D animation software for beginners? PowToon, no doubt.
I know this was mentioned in our 2D list, but the 3D capabilities are also so great that they can’t be ignored.

Focusing more on platforms like social media, PowToon is a great program for users that have their fingers on the pulse on trends in social media. With aspects and projects that can easily be uploaded to several social media sites and Vimeo, PowToon evokes imagery of a bygone era of the Internet: amusing animation, (think JibJab). PowToon allows users to make presentations and short animations, (around 3 minutes). 

This program is great for beginners, as projects usually are small yet colorful and informative animations. The learning curve is super small, ensuring that even the most computer-illiterate user can start making great toons or presentations in no time. 

6. Tinkercad

Like me, you may be a newcomer in terms of coming to the world of 3D animation. With free 3D animation software like Tinkercad, creating a presence in the 3D world has never been more accessible. This program, through AutoDesk, provides the user with 3D tools and architecture for easy and light 3D animation. I think this is a great piece of animation software if you have no familiarity with animation. It is a great introduction and allows the animator to experiment on a bunch of cool little things.

7. Daz Studio

If there is one aspect of free software, it is a slew of free assets and models included with the initial package. Much like the Unity asset marketplace, Daz Studio has the potential for a huge about of models that can be accessed. For those of you out there looking to create small animations and short films, Das Studio is a great alternative to the more advanced 3D animation software. It allows you to create your projects without the tweaking of every little thing when it comes to rendering and mapping assets. If you are a more casual animator, Daz Studio is a solid option.

8. AutoDesk

Attention students and nonprofessionals! AutoDesk is completely free if you are not planning to commercially release your project. This could be a double-edged sword for some of you, but if you are more casual, this could be a great program for you. 

It has one of the best set of features that you won’t find in other free 3D animating programs, only rivalled programs used by professionals. Some caveats to this great package are that it might require a faster, more powerful system to execute some features, and the learning curve could prove to be a little steep for some. This aside, this is a prime piece of software you can utilize completely free of charge if you're a student or community member. 

9. Mandelbulb 3D

What a name! From the website, you can download 3D examples to tinker around with. This is super helpful for visual learners like me who needs to see something in action to better understand it. Not only can you download examples, but you can create a bunch of impressive fractal 3D models. The UI can prove to be a little much and could probably do with some cleaning up, but once you get it down, you will be creating some cool 3D scenes in no time.

10. Pixologic Sculptris

This is a great piece of 3D animation software for beginners. It is tailor-made for those who perhaps aren't the most familiar with 3D modelling and sculpting. Unfortunately, the program isn't exactly supported any longer, although you can still download it for free. It just means that the developers won't be updating it, etc. This isn't an excuse NOT to download though, because it is a great little steppingstone for beginners.

11. 3D Crafter

Although initially more intimidating than other programs, 3D Crafter proves to be a lot easier than originally shown. It gets that reputation from being used by professionals. It turns out that this is a winning endorsement for the program. Again, it can serve architectural designs as well as 3D modelling, allowing you to create nearly anything you want by using a balanced interface and ‘drag and drop' models to help you home in on specific aspects of your design. Don't be afraid to download some more advanced-seeming software like this!

12. OpenSCAD

A free program designed to create 3D CAD models, OpenSCAD is a great opportunity to work out the kinks in your 3D modelling design. This is a great option to bone up on 3D skills before you jump into more complicated projects and creations. It allows the user to script different 3D models and what they can do within the program. Some of the animations possible through the use of the program are pretty impressive; namely, some complicated geometric shapes given life through animation.

13. LeoCAD

This one is truly unique. Anyone familiar with LEGO, (who isn't?!), will immediately catch onto the basics of this 3D animation and modelling program. You create your models using LEGO bricks, allowing a new, interesting, and creative method of making 3D assets and projects. It is open-source and includes literally tens of thousands of 3D assets to get your 3D animation project off of the ground. More importantly, all of these things are free! Give yourself an excuse to play with LEGOs again.

14. Houdini Apprentice

This is a free version of Houdini FX that allows you to create many 3D animations and renderings. It is marketed towards creative people of all levels of society: professionals, hobbyists, and students to name a few. Houdini FX has been used in some seriously impressive projects like Blade Runner 2049 and the great game, The Long Dark. The versatility available with this program is breathtaking, and you have nothing to lose by downloading the free version.

15. VUE Pioneer

If you are all about terrain, this is the animation program for you. Think of Mass Effect’s numerous explorable planets and how cool that was to play. Now you can create environments ten times better than the moon of a fictitious world. It allows you to manipulate some great terrain models with excruciating detail, allowing you to become a certified terrain builder, for free.

16. SketchUp

A state of the art design tool, SketchUp brings your creative ideas to the forefront, making them a reality. You have an amazing amount of control over what you design, draw, and create. From the terrain to minutiae like windows and trees, you can easily draw out the plans you have rattling around in your brain in no time.

17. Wings 3D

Another great 3D modeller, Wings 3D allows you to get your hands dirty by allowing the user to tweak 3D geometry and shapes, allowing you to develop your style and image, which will help you later on when you use a program like Blender. Again, this is an open-source program, so hit that download button and get tweaking.

18. Rocket 3F

Rocket 3F, (standing for Fast, Fun and Friendly), is a free to use 3D polygon modeller. This program is primarily aimed at concept artists and different shades of designers. They emphasize workflow and an easy to use user interface, something that is crucial when using 3D software. You can accomplish a ton of actions by the use of only the mouse. They tout that you don't need to have multiple windows, tabs, and more open to accomplish simple tasks.

19. Clara.io

This is a cloud-based 3D animation and modelling program. By using Clara.io, “you can make complex 3D models, create beautiful photorealistic renderings, and share them without installing any software programs.” This program has a staggering amount of tools to choose from to do even the most basic of animating actions. With a great interface, multi platform support, and huge customization options, you can’t go wrong with Clara.io.

20. Boats Animator

For those that are fans of stop motion animation, this one's for you! It has a great interface and can easily help you make your stop motion animations more fluid, and with ease of use. It allows you to see your very last image to integrate your animation better, without needless backtracking that eats up valuable time. Animations come to life instantly without the need for lengthy processing times that have you waiting by your computer for what seems like ages.

There you go the top 20 free 3D animation software for 2019 and beyond. This list is a comprehensive look at what will work best for you as an animator and 3D designer. These programs are aimed at beginner, intermediate, and expert users, and all free to download. Do you know what this means? It means you can't put off your 3D animating ambitions any longer!

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