The first 3D animation program I learned to use was Truespace 3D in the mid 90's. I would later go on to use, autocad, power animator, maya, and 3DSMax. The list of peripheral modellers, raster art programs, vector art programs, video editors, video compositors, design programs, cad/cam programs, and programming languages I've used sits about nipple deep. This is just stuff I’ve used to do work, mind you. The junk I get up to for fun is an equally goofy pile. Software tools in equine choking quantities.
Blender is a bit of a conundrum.
I have very easily cast off Photoshop and Illustrator, replacing them with free and cheap tools that do all the same things. I can go back to them, like putting on a pair of comfortable old pants from the back of the closet, but I never feel the need to. Not using Maya to animate is like losing an arm. Or at least losing a few hotkey fingers. I’ve spent more than a decade using Maya, and I’ve grown a bit complacent. Sure I’ve used other programs for this and that. I even had to change entirely to Max for a while, but I could always slip back into Maya. I think it’s time to switch to Blender.
There has been a copy of Blender on my computer since the NaN days. I would fire it up, update to the latest version, and fiddle around until I got annoyed and close it down again. I could always see promise in the program, but the interface was really terrible. I would hunt around on different forums, read or watch some tutorials, and still the interface was really terrible. When anyone would comment on how user ignorant the interface was, how it was like jabbing a hot poker at anyone with any familiarity with 3D modelling software, there was a blind uproar of zealotry from the faithful. The tacit adherence to being different, for the sake of being different, was off putting. I could dive into XSI or Modo and feel fairly comfortable in a few hours. Not so with blender.
I figured, as long as they didn’t change their interface to be more welcoming and flexible, Blender would remain an odd curiosity. Well a couple of versions ago, there was a major overhaul of the entire interface. I started it up and almost instantly everything felt more comfortable and useable. I could manipulate models and tweak verts, apply and adjust materials. Tools were where I expected them to be. More than that, everything was user configurable. It was everything I wanted from the program. I still did not switch.
Truth is, that sometimes it's hard to learn new things. Especially when the old things are working just fine. I didn't switch to Blender because I didn't feel the need. There was no incentive to push myself out of the Maya comfort zone. The latest version of Maya seems great, like always, but I think I'll be dedicating my time to learning Blender.
There is a change coming. The days of software that costs tens of thousands of dollars are pretty much done. The days of software that costs over a thousand dollars are numbered. Sure, there are a lot of large corporations shackled to expensive legacy software, but the the cost to stick with the old is beginning to outweigh the cost of switching.
Open source, or inexpensive alternatives are increasing in quality and quantity rapidly. Tools that can't be had cheaply, or for free, are often available through subscription and royalty licences. I think that programs like blender, lightworks, gimp, and unity are paddling well out ahead right now, and they will be the first to ride that wave. It's not just that I am cheap (I am). I think that autodesk, and to a lesser extent, Adobe are not ready for this change. They have been beaten on price, and you only have to do a quick sided by side comparison with these other tools to see that it won’t be long before they are matched, or beaten on quality.
Photoshop and Maya might be industry standards, but so was Lotus Notes. Creativity software serves an industry with a product cycle from a few weeks to a few years. It wouldn’t take much of an exodus for something new to become the industry standard.
Probably, I’m only justifying to myself why I would go through the annoyance and headaches of learning a new animation program, but I really do think the high ticket price software model is doomed. If Maya was suddenly available for a sub $200 yearly subscription, I would likely run back in an instant. For now though, it’s Blender for me.