Best 3D Modeling Software Used In Video Games: Free and Paid

Best 3D Modeling Software: A man playing video game.

From epic landscapes to creating gaming assets, 3D modeling software has revolutionized the gaming industry. But with so many options out there, how do you know which one is the best fit for your needs? Read on to uncover the best 3D modeling tools – both free and paid – that have taken the gaming world by storm this year.

What Is the Best 3D Modeling Software for Video Games? 

The best 3D modeling software for video games depends on your specific needs and budget. However, some of our top picks, which are also popular and widely used:

  • Autodesk Maya: Maya is a powerful and versatile 3D software application that is used by professionals in a wide range of industries, including video games. It offers a comprehensive toolset for modeling, animation, simulation, rendering, and compositing.
  • Autodesk 3ds Max: 3ds Max is another popular 3D software application that is widely used in video game development. It is known for its powerful modeling tools and its ability to handle large and complex scenes.
  • Modo: Modo is a relatively new 3D software application, but it has quickly become a popular choice for video game developers. It is known for its user-friendly interface and its powerful sculpting tools.
  • ZBrush: ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that is used by artists to create high-resolution 3D models. It is a popular choice for creating characters and props for video games.
  • Mudbox: Mudbox is another digital sculpting tool that is used by artists to create high-resolution 3D models. It is known for its powerful sculpting brushes and its ability to handle large amounts of polygons.
  • Cinema 4D: Cinema 4D is a 3D software application that is known for its user-friendly interface and its wide range of tools for modeling, animation, rendering, and compositing. It is a popular choice for both beginners and experienced professionals.
  • Blender: Blender is a free and open-source 3D software application that offers a wide range of tools for modeling, animation, simulation, rendering, and video editing. It is a popular choice for hobbyists and students, as well as for professional video game developers.

If you are unsure which 3D modeling software is right for you, I recommend trying out a few different options to see which one you prefer. Most software applications offer free trials or demos, so you can try them before you buy them.

Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate marketing links. If you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I may receive compensation. This compensation comes at no additional cost to you and helps me earn a living. This article does not provide legal, financial, or medical advice.

1. Autodesk 3ds Max

A screenshot of Autodesk 3ds Max web page, one of the Best 3D Modeling Software listed in this article.

Overview

Autodesk 3ds Max is a professional 3D computer graphics program for making 3D animations, models, games, and images. It was developed and produced by Autodesk Media and Entertainment. It has modeling capabilities and a flexible plugin architecture and must be used on the Microsoft Windows platform. It is frequently used by video game developers, many TV commercial studios, and architectural visualization studios. It is also used for movie effects and movie pre-visualization.

Features

  • Powerful modeling and texturing tools
  • Extensive plugin architecture
  • Ability to work with a multitude of data formats
  • Powerful particle systems and hair and cloth systems
  • Established workflows for faster iteration
  • Extensive rendering options

Pricing

  • Price: $195 per month or $1,545 per year
  • Source
  • Autodesk 3ds Max (formerly 3D Studio Max): Autodesk 3ds Max

Bottom Line

Autodesk 3ds Max is a powerful and versatile 3D computer graphics program that is used by professionals in a variety of industries. It offers a wide range of features and tools for modeling, texturing, animating, and rendering. However, it is also a complex and expensive program, so it is important to make sure that it is the right choice for your needs before you purchase it.

2. Autodesk Maya

A screenshot image a web page showing pricing details for Autodesk May, one of the Best 3D Modeling Software

Overview

Autodesk Maya is a professional 3D computer graphics software application that runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It is used to create assets for interactive 3D applications, animated films, TV series, and visual effects. Maya is known for its powerful and versatile toolset, which includes modeling, animation, simulation, rendering, and compositing tools.

Maya is used by a wide range of artists and professionals in the entertainment industry, including animators, modelers, riggers, lighting and shading artists, and effects artists. It is also used by game developers, architects, and industrial designers.

Here are some of the key features of Autodesk Maya:

  • Modeling: Maya provides a variety of tools for creating 3D models, including NURBS surfaces, polygon modeling, and sculpting.
  • Animation: Maya’s animation tools allow users to create realistic and expressive character animations.
  • Simulation: Maya’s simulation tools can be used to create realistic effects such as hair, fur, cloth, and fluids.
  • Rendering: Maya’s rendering tools produce high-quality images and videos.
  • Compositing: Maya’s compositing tools can be used to combine multiple images and videos into a single scene.

Features

Autodesk Maya offers a number of key benefits, including:

  • Comprehensive toolset: Maya includes a wide range of tools for creating 3D assets, from modeling and animation to simulation and rendering. This makes it a one-stop shop for many 3D artists.
  • Flexibility: Maya is a highly flexible application that can be used to create a wide variety of 3D content, from simple objects to complex characters and scenes.
  • Industry standard: Maya is one of the most widely used 3D software applications in the entertainment industry. This means that there are many resources available to help users learn and use the software and that Maya files are easily compatible with other 3D software applications.

Pricing

  • Price: $235 per month or $1,875 per year
  • Source
  • Autodesk Maya: Autodesk Maya

Bottom Line

Autodesk Maya is a powerful and versatile 3D software application that is used by professionals in a wide range of industries. It is a good choice for artists and professionals who need a comprehensive toolset for creating high-quality 3D assets.

However, Maya is a complex software application and can be challenging to learn. It is also expensive, especially for hobbyists and students.

3. Modo

A screenshot image of a web page showing features and pricing model for Modo, one of the Best 3D Modeling Software discussed in this blog.

Overview 

Modo is a 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software application developed by Foundry. It is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. Modo is known for its intuitive user interface and powerful toolset, which includes modeling, animation, sculpting, texturing, lighting, and rendering tools.

Modo is used by a wide range of artists and professionals in the entertainment industry, including animators, modelers, riggers, lighting and shading artists, and effects artists. It is also used by game developers, architects, and industrial designers.

Here are some of the key features of Modo:

  • Modeling: Modo provides a variety of tools for creating 3D models, including polygon modeling, sculpting, and procedural modeling.
  • Animation: Modo’s animation tools allow users to create realistic and expressive character animations.
  • Sculpting: Modo’s sculpting tools allow users to create detailed and organic models.
  • Texturing: Modo’s texturing tools allow users to create high-quality textures for their models.
  • Lighting and rendering: Modo’s lighting and rendering tools produce high-quality images and videos.

Features

Modo offers a number of key benefits, including:

  • Intuitive user interface: Modo has a user interface that is easy to learn and use. This makes it a good choice for beginners and experienced users alike.
  • Powerful toolset: Modo includes a wide range of tools for creating 3D assets, from modeling and animation to sculpting and rendering. This makes it a one-stop shop for many 3D artists.
  • Flexibility: Modo is a highly flexible application that can be used to create a wide variety of 3D content, from simple objects to complex characters and scenes.
  • Affordability: Modo is more affordable than many other professional 3D software applications. This makes it a good choice for students and hobbyists.

Pricing

Bottom Line

Modo is a powerful and versatile 3D software application that is known for its intuitive user interface and affordable price. It is a good choice for artists and professionals of all skill levels.

Modo is a good alternative to Autodesk Maya for artists who are looking for a more affordable and easier-to-learn 3D software application. However, Modo does not have as many features as Maya, and it is not as widely used in the entertainment industry.

Overall, Modo is a good choice for artists and professionals who are looking for an affordable and easy-to-use 3D software application with a powerful toolset.

4. Zbrush

Best 3D Modeling Software: A screenshot image of a web page showing features of the ZBrush.

Overview

ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool developed by Pixologic. It is used by artists to create high-resolution 3D models for use in movies, games, and animations. ZBrush is known for its intuitive sculpting brushes and its ability to handle large amounts of polygons.

ZBrush is used by a wide range of artists and professionals in the entertainment industry, including character artists, prop artists, and environment artists. It is also used by game developers, illustrators, and concept artists.

Here are some of the key features of ZBrush:

  • Sculpting: ZBrush provides a variety of brushes and tools for sculpting 3D models.
  • Retopology: ZBrush’s retopology tools allow users to create clean and efficient topologies for their models.
  • Texturing: ZBrush’s texturing tools can be used to create realistic and detailed textures for models.
  • Rendering: ZBrush’s rendering tools produce high-quality images and videos.

Features

 Zbrush offers a number of key benefits, including:

  • Intuitive sculpting interface: ZBrush’s sculpting interface is designed to be as intuitive as possible, making it easy for artists to create high-quality models.
  • Powerful sculpting tools: ZBrush provides a wide range of powerful sculpting tools, including brushes, alphas, and masks. These tools allow artists to create complex and detailed models with ease.
  • Ability to handle large amounts of polygons: ZBrush can handle large amounts of polygons, making it ideal for creating high-resolution models.
  • Industry standard: ZBrush is one of the most widely used digital sculpting tools in the entertainment industry. This means that there are many resources available to help users learn and use the software and that ZBrush files are easily compatible with other 3D software applications.

Pricing

  • Perpetual License Price: $895 for a single-user license (standard version)
  • ZBrush: Pixologic ZBrush

Bottom Line

ZBrush is a powerful and versatile digital sculpting tool that is used by professionals in a wide range of industries. It is a good choice for artists and professionals who need to create high-resolution 3D models.

However, ZBrush is a complex software application and can be challenging to learn. It is also expensive, especially for hobbyists and students.

Overall, ZBrush is a great tool for digital sculpting, but it is important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether or not to purchase it.

5. Mudbox

A screenshot of a web page showing the features of Autodesk Mudbox and the pricing. Autodesk Mudbox is one of the Best 3D Modeling Software discussed in this article.

Overview

Mudbox is a digital sculpting and painting tool developed by Autodesk. It is used by artists to create high-resolution 3D models for use in movies, games, and animations. Mudbox is known for its intuitive sculpting brushes and its ability to handle large amounts of polygons.

Mudbox is used by a wide range of artists and professionals in the entertainment industry, including character artists, prop artists, and environment artists. It is also used by game developers, illustrators, and concept artists.

Here are some of the key features of Mudbox:

  • Sculpting: Mudbox provides a variety of brushes and tools for sculpting 3D models.
  • Retopology: Mudbox’s retopology tools allow users to create clean and efficient topologies for their models.
  • Texturing: Mudbox’s texturing tools can be used to create realistic and detailed textures for models.
  • Rendering: Mudbox’s rendering tools produce high-quality images and videos.

Features

Mudbox offers a number of key benefits, including:

  • Intuitive sculpting interface: Mudbox’s sculpting interface is designed to be as intuitive as possible, making it easy for artists to create high-quality models.
  • Powerful sculpting tools: Mudbox provides a wide range of powerful sculpting tools, including brushes, alphas, and masks. These tools allow artists to create complex and detailed models with ease.
  • Ability to handle large amounts of polygons: Mudbox can handle large amounts of polygons, making it ideal for creating high-resolution models.
  • Industry standard: Mudbox is one of the most widely used digital sculpting tools in the entertainment industry. This means that there are many resources available to help users learn and use the software and that Mudbox files are easily compatible with other 3D software applications.

Pricing

Features

Mudbox is a powerful and versatile digital sculpting tool that is used by professionals in a wide range of industries. It is a good choice for artists and professionals who need to create high-resolution 3D models.

However, Mudbox is a complex software application and can be challenging to learn. It is also expensive, especially for hobbyists and students.

Overall, Mudbox is a great tool for digital sculpting, but it is important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether or not to purchase it.

6. Cinema 4D

A 3D image creation in progress using the Cinema 4D, one of the best 3D modeling software.

Overview

Cinema 4D is a professional 3D modeling, animation, simulation, and rendering software solution developed by Maxon. It is used by designers, motion graphics artists, VFX artists, game developers, and all types of visualization professionals to create stunning 3D content.

Cinema 4D is known for its fast, powerful, flexible, and stable toolset, which makes it a popular choice for both beginners and experienced professionals. It also has a strong community of users and developers who create a wide range of plugins and tutorials, making it easy to learn and use the software.

Here are some of the key features of Cinema 4D:

  • Modeling: Cinema 4D provides a variety of tools for creating 3D models, including NURBS surfaces, polygon modeling, and sculpting.
  • Animation: Cinema 4D’s animation tools allow users to create realistic and expressive character animations.
  • Simulation: Cinema 4D’s simulation tools can be used to create realistic effects such as hair, fur, cloth, and fluids.
  • Rendering: Cinema 4D’s rendering tools produce high-quality images and videos.
  • Compositing: Cinema 4D’s compositing tools can be used to combine multiple images and videos into a single scene.

Features

Cinema 4D offers a number of key benefits, including:

  • Comprehensive toolset: Cinema 4D includes a wide range of tools for creating 3D assets, from modeling and animation to simulation and rendering. This makes it a one-stop shop for many 3D artists.
  • Flexibility: Cinema 4D is a highly flexible application that can be used to create a wide variety of 3D content, from simple objects to complex characters and scenes.
  • Ease of use: Cinema 4D has a user-friendly interface and a strong community of users and developers who create a wide range of plugins and tutorials, making it easy to learn and use the software.
  • Affordability: Cinema 4D is more affordable than many other professional 3D software applications, making it a good choice for hobbyists and students.

Pricing

Bottom Line

Cinema 4D is a powerful and versatile 3D software application that is used by professionals in a wide range of industries. It is a good choice for artists and professionals who need a comprehensive toolset for creating high-quality 3D assets.

Cinema 4D is also a good choice for hobbyists and students who are looking for an affordable and easy-to-learn 3D software application.

Overall, Cinema 4D is a great choice for anyone who wants to create 3D content. It is a powerful and versatile tool that is easy to learn and use. It is also affordable, making it a good choice for both beginners and experienced professionals.

7. Blender

A 3D model in progress designed using Blender, one of the best 3D modeling software listed in this article.

Overview

Blender is a free and open-source 3D creation suite that supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, motion tracking, video editing, and 2D animation pipeline.

Blender is used by a wide range of professionals and hobbyists, including filmmakers, game developers, visual effects artists, and graphic designers. It is also used in academia and research.

Features

  • Free and open-source: Blender is free to download and use, and its source code is available for anyone to modify. This makes it a great option for people on a budget or who want to contribute to the development of the software.
  • Powerful and versatile: Blender is a powerful and versatile 3D creation suite that can be used for a wide range of tasks. It has a wide range of features and tools, and it is constantly being updated with new features and improvements.
  • Large community: Blender has a large and active community of users and developers. This means that there is a wealth of resources available online, including tutorials, documentation, and support forums.

Pricing

Blender is free and open-source software. There is no licensing fee required to use it.

  • Price: Free (open-source software)
  • Source
  • Blender: Blender

Bottom Line

Blender is a powerful and versatile 3D creation suite that is free and open-source. It is a great option for people on a budget or who want to contribute to the development of the software. Blender has a large and active community of users and developers, which means that there is a wealth of resources available online.

Recommendations

Different 3D software tools offer different benefits, making them suitable for a variety of users with diverse needs. Here are some recommendations based on the tools discussed:

  1. Students or Beginners:
    • Blender: Since it’s free and open-source, students or those just starting in the 3D industry can benefit from Blender. The vast community and the wealth of resources available online can also aid in the learning process.
    • Cinema 4D: Its user-friendly interface and affordability make it a great option for beginners and students who are looking for a comprehensive yet easy-to-learn 3D software application.
  2. Hobbyists or Independent Artists on a Budget:
    • Blender: Again, its free nature combined with a powerful toolset makes it suitable for individuals who don’t want to invest heavily but need comprehensive features.
    • Modo: Known for its intuitive user interface and more affordable pricing, Modo is a great alternative for hobbyists and independent artists who are looking for a less expensive but still powerful solution.
  3. Professional Character Artists or Sculptors:
    • ZBrush: With its powerful sculpting tools and high-resolution modeling capabilities, ZBrush is a top choice for professionals focusing on character design and sculpting.
    • Mudbox: Like ZBrush, Mudbox is tailored for digital sculpting and painting, and its integration with other Autodesk tools can be an advantage in a professional pipeline.
  4. Game Developers, Visual Effects Artists, or Animators:
    • Autodesk Maya: Its extensive toolset and industry-standard reputation make Maya a top choice for many professionals in the entertainment industry.
    • Autodesk 3ds Max: Particularly popular in the game development and architectural visualization industries, 3ds Max offers robust modeling and animation tools.
  5. General 3D Artists or Designers:
    • Modo: With its comprehensive toolset for modeling, animation, and rendering, Modo is suitable for a range of 3D tasks.
    • Cinema 4D: Known for its flexibility and strong motion graphics capabilities, Cinema 4D is a favorite among designers and motion graphics artists.

In conclusion, the best software really depends on the specific needs and preferences of the user. It’s often recommended for individuals to try out multiple programs, as many offer trial versions, to find the one that aligns best with their workflow and requirements.

What Is 3D Modeling Software?

3D modeling software is a computer program that allows users to create three-dimensional objects and scenes. 3D models can be used for a variety of purposes, including video games, movies, animation, architecture, product design, and engineering.

3D modeling software typically works by allowing users to create and manipulate shapes, such as polygons, NURBS surfaces, and primitives. These shapes can then be combined to create more complex objects and scenes.

Once a 3D model has been created, it can be textured, rendered, and animated. Texturing adds color and detail to the model, while rendering creates a realistic image or video of the model. Animation allows the model to move over time.

Here are some of the benefits of using 3D modeling software:

  • Allows you to create realistic and detailed three-dimensional objects and scenes.
  • It can be used for a variety of purposes, including video games, movies, animation, architecture, product design, and engineering.
  • Visualize your ideas and create prototypes of new products.
  • Create realistic marketing materials, such as product renders and animations.
  • Create special effects for movies and TV shows.

If you are interested in learning more about 3D modeling software, there are a number of resources available online and in libraries. You can also find tutorials and courses that can teach you how to use specific programs.

How Can 3D Modeling Software Elevate Your Game Design? 

It can elevate your game design in a number of ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Create more immersive and realistic game worlds: allows you to create highly detailed and realistic game worlds. This can help to create a more immersive experience for players.
  • Create unique and memorable characters: allows you to create unique and memorable characters. This can help to make your game stand out from the crowd.
  • Create more dynamic and interactive gameplay: allows you to create more dynamic and interactive gameplay experiences. For example, you can use 3D modeling software to create destructible environments, moving objects, and complex puzzles.
  • Make your games more visually appealing: this allows you to create visually appealing games. This can help to attract players to your game and keep them engaged.

Here are some specific examples of how 3D modeling software has been used to elevate game design:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: 3D modeling software was used to create the vast and detailed world of Breath of the Wild. The game’s developers used procedural generation to create a variety of different landscapes, from lush forests to towering mountains.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: 3D modeling software was used to create the realistic and immersive world of Red Dead Redemption 2. The game’s developers used a variety of techniques to create realistic characters, animals, and environments.
  • Minecraft: 3D modeling software is used by players to create their own unique worlds in Minecraft. Players can use the software to create everything from simple structures to complex machines.

Overall, 3D modeling software is a powerful tool that can be used to elevate your game design in a number of ways. If you are serious about creating high-quality video games, then you should consider learning how to use 3D modeling software.

Buyers Guide: How We Selected the Best 3D Modeling Software

When scouting for the top 3D modeling software for game design, we factored in:

  • Pricing: The overall cost and value for money.
  • Features: The breadth and depth of tools available.
  • Drawbacks: Any limitations inherent to the software.
  • Support: The availability of community, tutorials, and official support.

To present you with a comprehensive comparison of the aforementioned 3D animation products, I meticulously employed a selection process. I wanted to ensure that my recommendations were not just based on personal biases or surface-level evaluations. Instead, my goal was to deliver insights derived from a well-rounded examination of each software’s core strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s the systematic approach I used:

Pricing:

Understanding the financial aspects was crucial. I thoroughly compared the software’s price points, considering both upfront costs and recurring subscription fees. For each product, I gauged its cost-effectiveness, looking beyond just the price tag and into the value it brings for its cost. This includes recognizing the benefits of free or open-source solutions and weighing them against their premium counterparts.

Features:

A software’s potential is deeply entwined with its feature set. I dissected the arsenal of tools, functionalities, and capabilities each software offers. The evaluation ranged from core modeling functionalities to intricate animation capabilities, ensuring a tool’s features align with what modern 3D animators and modelers seek.

Drawbacks:

In presenting a balanced view, I didn’t shy away from pinpointing the shortcomings of each product. By acknowledging these limitations, I believe users can make an informed decision, knowing fully well what challenges they might face with each tool.

Support:

3D animation, with its complexities, often requires robust support. I assessed the strength of the community and resources around each product. I considered the availability and richness of online tutorials, official documentation, forums, and direct customer support. A tool backed by a vibrant community and robust official support often makes the learning curve smoother and problem-solving quicker.

Leveraging this process, I crafted a comparison that is both detailed and objective, ensuring that you, my readers, are equipped with the insights needed to choose the 3D animation software that best aligns with your needs and aspirations. I hope that my rigorous comparison aids you in making an informed decision in the multifaceted world of 3D animation.

Conclusion/Wrapping Up

In the dynamic realm of game design, having the best 3D modeling software in your toolkit can be a game-changer. With the right tools, you can create immersive and realistic game worlds, unique and memorable characters, and dynamic and interactive gameplay experiences.

When choosing a 3D modeling software for game design, it is important to consider your specific needs and budget. Some software programs are more expensive than others, but they may also offer more features and capabilities. Other software programs are free and open-source, but they may have a steeper learning curve.

Here is a summary of the key factors to consider when choosing a 3D modeling software for game design:

  • Features: What features are important to you? Do you need a software application with a comprehensive toolset, or are you looking for a more specialized application?
  • Ease of use: Is the software application easy to learn and use?
  • Compatibility: Is the software application compatible with other software applications that you use?
  • Support: Is there a good community of users and developers who can provide support and assistance?
  • Price: What is your budget?

Once you have considered these factors, you can start researching the different software options available. There are a number of different 3D modeling software applications available, so it is important to do your research and choose the one that is right for you.

I hope this helps you to choose the best 3D modeling software for your game design needs. Good luck!

FAQs

How long does it take to learn 3D modeling for games?

While it varies, with consistent practice and the right resources, mastering the basics can take a few months to a year.

Which software do big gaming studios use?

Larger studios often lean towards industry standards like Autodesk 3ds Max, Maya, or ZBrush.

Are there any online courses for this software?

Absolutely, many platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and even the official websites of the software offer comprehensive tutorials.

Head of Business, Content Creator, and Author at Kevin Scolaro, MBA | The Leadership Toolbox | Website | + posts

Kevin Scolaro, MBA: Navy veteran, acclaimed entrepreneur, and digital marketing maestro. With dual degrees in Business Administration (MBA) and 3D Emerging Media (BFA), Kevin blends strategic acumen with creative prowess. His decade-plus experience in digital marketing, content creation, and education has cemented his reputation as an industry luminary and thought leader.

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