A contribution from Eric Hunting, based on personal experience with different packages:
“I’ve lately been using SketchUp, largely because it’s free and well suited to simple architectural visualization, albeit lacking in precision CAD features. Though probably only suited to rough design, it’s the most intuitive in user interface of the programs currently available. (not that this completely precludes periodic fits of hair-pulling rage. That simply comes natural with 3D modeling…) What impresses me most about SketchUp is the on-line catalog of community-created objects. This can save huge amounts of time when you need stuff to fill the background or want to see how other people have solved modeling problems. What frustrates me the most about it is a severely lacking basic set of textures and materials and the squirreliness of some of its automated positioning functions. I also ended up wasting money on a Connexion 3D mouse which still doesn’t work right with it even on a high-performance MacPro.
My favorite modeling program to date was the Deneba CAD package, which was also designed for architectural applications. Very well suited to people who tend to quickly layout ideas first in plane drawings and then go to 3D. This was one of the most cost-practical architectural CAD packages in existence -until it succumbed to a combination of a succession of too rapid OS upgrades and executive incompetence.
I have also used Hash Animation Master, which is the lowest-cost spline modeling system around -not to mention the lowest cost comprehensive 3D character animation package. Of course, that animation is way beyond my skills, but I’ve used it for exploring free-form organic architecture, which is impossible without either spline or NURBs modeling -which with packages like Maya require a second mortgage… But it’s a bit cumbersome because of a user interface derived from first generation PC based CAD. All this ever-branching object directory tree stuff that uses up all the space on even a 21″ monitor and needs the ‘knowledge’ of a London cabby to navigate.
I have also used Strata 3D and Bryce which are particularly good in terms of rendering quality for the price. Strata is especially popular for industrial designers and artistic 3D modelers, simply because -for the price- it produces the best looking output. Its texture and materials libraries and tools for custom texture creation are great -if a little complex. It was a favored program for Marco Patrito; an astounding 3D artist known for his Sinkha series of transhumanist SciFi multimedia comic books. (http://www.patrito.com/) Strata is a predominately ‘primitives’ based modeling environment -and often frustratingly so- but Patrito has had this uncanny ability to produce very complex organic forms and photo-realistic characters with it that I’ve never seen anyone else pull-off with primitives. I once corresponded with him briefly, trying to coax his secrets out of him, but to no avail.
I’ve tried out temporary demos of the Maya package which seems to remain one of the leading ‘professional’ 3D packages for character animation and industrial designers. It’s complex, powerful, and fairly manageable in user interface and tops the performance of all in rendering and kinematics but it suffers from the simple fact that not enough people can actually use it when it costs as much as a car and demands a comparably expensive computer to go with it.
As you can see, I’ve experimented with a lot of software, basically trying to find tools that I could synchronize with sufficiently to offer some means of compensating for an essential lack of drawing talent. A head full of too many ideas that one can’t get out when one lives in an age were semi-literacy and short attention spans are the norm and text is a dead medium for anything longer than a ‘tweet’. Generally, 3D modeling -regardless of software brand- still sucks like the voids of deep space and a compulsion of companies to carve out market niches the old fashioned way through proprietary software they cling to with the desperation of drowning sailors clinging to a life preserver means that no 3D package can be actually called comprehensive in capability. I’m often frustrated by how technologies very key to the breakout of modeling to a mainstream media tool get stuck in niche software only a few people can use. Like procedural modeling and kinematics as we see in the game Spore and which could form the basis of extremely accessible low-end modeling tools that can be directly applied to mainstream applications like VR chat. We were promised this capability in common modeling programs 20 years ago, and it’s still not here. Hell, even simple things like collision detection, joints, and simple physics simulation have been eluding these programs forever. Developers of modeling software seem to remain chronically narrow-minded, short-sighted, and full of excuses -and the software reflects that.”