It has come to my attention, just beyond any previous inquiries I'd made on Google and Autodesk's main site, that 3DS Max WHICHEVER VERSION YOU WANT (in my case, 2012) is available for free, non-commercial download and use through their education/student program. I'm not going to go into the particulars on getting it. To be honest, getting the thing took very little effort, effectively requiring me to make an account on their Education Community site to keep track of and regulate those who use it for free, which is beyond awesome of them to do. The program does take around 2 hours to download, whereas itty-bitty Blender takes about three to four minutes, but seeing as how, to get a decent amount of cred in any sort of professional industry that requires 3D development, Max (or Maya) needs to at least be like a second language to an artist or animator. I'm still a lot happier with Blender, seeing as how it's small in size, yet, as with the latest 2.5 builds, extremely fleshed-out and professional. I'll also note that, for what it's worth, I personally find it to be...more convenient, for a handful of reasons:
- It doesn't feel overloaded with button-based functions and tools. Given, it's got a few of those, but in contrast, Max is just notorious. First of all, 2.5x versions of Blender have a left toolbar separate from the tab-nav toolbar to the right of everything else. I'll get back to the difference between these two in a bit. Looking at the tabs in the right toolbar gives you a pretty good idea of what they do. You have a rendering tab, a world tab, an object tab (for naming and whatnot with the objects in your scene), a modifier tab, a materials tab, and a tab for controlling the selected material's textures, along with a few other, less-used tabs (that also have practical uses to those who do other jobs outside of modeling). Inside each, whenever you come across the areas where options can be change, they are all organized into groups of buttons dedicated to sub-tasks that relate to the tabs they inhabit. Each group can also be collapsed. This is arguably the nicest and sleekest way to do the button thing. On top of it all (literally, because it's right on top of the right toolbar), is the list of objects and lamps/cameras in your scene, and it manages to be extremely non-cluttered.
- One thing the right toolbar is NOT filled with is editing functions. For one, all objects automatically become "editable polys" when they are added to the world/scene. There is no modifier that governs whether or not the objects vertices, edges, and faces can be edited.The ability to edit them is simply there within Blender the moment you add in an object. Simple. That said, without the modifier panel containing all of the necessary functions to edit the mesh, how does this variation to the process work? Well, on the aforementioned left panel, the buttons that are displayed there change depending to the "mode" you're in. By default, you're in object mode. This means that you have all the objects with all of their modifiers and materials applied (if you've added any), but you cannot make edits to the mesh itself in this mode. But, similarly to how you can click the editable poly modifier in the modifier stack to "turn it on", the mode allowing you to do the same in Blender exists within the same mode list as object mode (along with a set of other, less-used modes, excluding the awesome and useful sculpt mode, which gets a fair share of use in and of itself). This means that you can select an object, then switch to edit mode and go to town as you would in Max. Editing it and making it the way you want it becomes very simple and immediate. The things you can do in edit mode then appear in the left panel, if you ever need them. This too is simple.
- Max's management of certain "obscurites" goes out the window in Blender. As stated, you have a readily-available material tab at your disposal. One thing that goes a bit deeper is the idea of the object origin and the 3D cursor, and how that relates to creating and editing objects and shapes. Max objects do indeed possess origins. In Blender, this still applies. One thing, though, is the inclusion of a 3D cursor. What this is is a movable point, set at the (0,0,0) position by default (though it is movable, and can be reset once moved), that defines where an added object is created, and also where its origin is located. Things such as cubes and planes also start out with the same dimensions every time you make a new one. A new cube will always be 2*2*2 Blender Units by default. You can then change that in edit mode to your liking, but it will at least start you off on the grid if you wish to remain snapped to it. You can also use the 3D cursor as a pivot point. Placing it in a particular position will allow you to use it as a pivot for rotation and scaling. This last bit is something I feel Max probably lacks that could turn out helpful if implemented (though I've not discovered all of its secrets yet). I'll try my best without it for the time being, though.
- Hotkeys, hotkeys, hotkeys! Graphite functions aren't worth zip, I want a fully fleshed-out hotkey setup and I want it now. This has been the burden I've had most with 3DS Max. The sparse, sometimes nonfunctional attempt at a hotkey setup has me pounding my desk with rage just about every day, at least twice each day. I don't care about the option to customize hotkeys. Sometimes, THAT doesn't even work. That's something that should be put on the big "to-do" list, in my opinion. Right now, it's just awful.
- Those who have used max know that W, E, and R allow you to switch the widget/gizmo to move, rotate, or scale mode. Problem? I certainly have one. Let's say, for a moment, that you can select something in a viewport, then magically press a button, say R, and immediately, the rotation of your selection reflects your mouse movement, without the need for you to touch the widget or hold down any buttons after you've pressed R. Then you click, and the translation is confirmed. You just rotated something. You didn't need any sort of rotate widget, you just pressed a button and did your thing, then clicked and now it's rotated. You can then do the same thing, or press other buttons, say G(rab) or S(cale), and do those functions by moving your mouse then clicking. Blender has this. I find this makes stuff a trillion times faster. No need to mess with your viewport position or to mess with highlighting the right arrow on the widget to move what you want to move. No, you can move, rotate, then scale anything you've selected within about four seconds. You don't have to change the widget's mode. You don't then need to drag the widget in any way. If you want to move down a certain axis, or do another function such as rotate or scale down that same axis, then you just press the X, Y, or Z keys to lock it (or hold down Shift then click any of those axis to exclude it and move/rotate/scale your selection on a plane defined by the remaining two), then you move and click the mouse to make your translation.
- YOU CAN MODIFY THE CRAP OUT OF EVERYTHING. Viewports can be scaled, broken off, split, ect., with ease. This alone makes it magnificently convenient for those fond of using multiple monitors. 3D window on one side versus UV editor on the other side. It lets you modify your workflow to match your needs and appeal to the hardware setup you have going on. If you don't quite have the 3D hardware resources to push two monitors of Max, Blender will still work on your system with dual-monitors. Not to mention the fact that you can maneuver a viewport to any new position on your screen. This might not mean too much to you, but it most likely means a whole lot to several other people.
I will admit that I haven't used Max for that long, so it'll take even more getting used to. I'll try and learn all of the functions I've used regularly for blender so I can model just as smoothly as possible in Max. I wouldn't be surprised if Max, in all of its glory, was as superior overall as I've been told. I'm understandably better at Blender than I am at this new program. That said, I'm still sceptical of Max's workflow obstacles. It seems that, even with this shiny new 2012 version of Max, there's still something to be fixed to help make its use a bit less cumbersome (I'm looking towards beginners when I say this, but also to veterans of Max and other programs as well).