As any 3D modeler knows, creating realistic and detailed models is a painstaking business. Traditionally, if you wanted to create quality 3D models you needed a high end PC and software that could cost several hundred dollars. Fortunately, things have moved on, 3D modeling is now just as possible with a low-spec machine and with various free software applications widely available on the internet.
Whether you want to create realistic landscape, furniture models, or new characters for game mods, you can now do so without having to pay a fortune for software packages. From creating wireframes and rugged landscapes to rendering 3D models, this list of free software has the right tool for almost any 3D modeling project.
Available on all major platforms, Blender’s latest release (2.62) features a host of new features to complement the existing modeling, texturing, animation and rendering package. The new object motion-tracking tool is a particularly excellent addition. While the learning curve is steep, Blender is one of the best 3D modeling tools available and it is completely free!
Daz3D’s latest reiteration of Bryce, Bryce 7, is free for any non-commercial use. It takes its name from Bryce Canyon, a rugged area of Utah, which gives a clue to the software’s main application – the making of fractal landscapes. Available on both Mac and PC, the interface is a bit unusual, but for making realistic landscapes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better tool.
A very flexible modeling and animation package, K-3D has a familiar interface that is consistent with other applications of a similar type, which reduces its learning curve. It has a plug-in orientated engine, which makes it highly flexible and versatile, allowing you to adjust properties interactively and see the results in real time. Ideal for polygon modeling, it has a handy mirror tool allowing you to work on one side of a model, mirror it and weld the parts together.
Autodesk’s free version was developed specifically for game modders, and is free for non-commercial use. This free modeling and animation software plugs into most popular game engines, including Valve’s Source Engine and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Using the Microsoft XNA toolset, it is a powerful application ideal for all sorts of game modding and development
ZModeler is one of the most widely used 3D modeling application out there. Not only is it free (with the usual non-commercial proviso) but you don’t need a powerful machine to run it (the application only needs 20MB of hard drive space). Ideal for game modding, it is commonly used by Grand Theft Auto and Test Drive 2 mod developers, the files of which are officially supported. The only downside to ZModeler is the lack of support for making final scene renderings.
While an extremely basic 3D modeling tool, Google’s free package does have the advantage of being simple to use. Ideal for the beginner architect, one nifty feature is its interaction with Google Earth that allows models to be placed in-site to see how they look with the surrounding buildings. You can also search, download and contribute your own creations to Google’s 3D Warehouse, which features thousands of existing 3D creations.
This OpenGL-based package is only small, under 2MB, and therefore is not as powerful as some other programs, but it does contain all the basic features for creating and animating 3D models. It includes tools for mesh modification, extrusions, beveling, warping and lathing.
Previously known as 3D Canvas, the basic 3DCrafter modeling and animation package is free and has an easy to use an innovative drag and drop system. While simple to use, 3dCrafter contains all the necessary tools to create complex models. You can also pay for an upgrade to packages that are more sophisticated.
Aimed more for mechanical engineers and designers than gamers, FreeCad allows motion simulation of 3D models. With a clever physics engine it allows designers to see how mechanical systems will operate once constructed. FreeCad is available on all platforms, including Linux, and as its name suggests, is totally free.
While AutoQ3D is not strictly free, a trial version includes all the basic tools necessary for creating basic 3D models on any Android or Windows smart phone. One of the first 3D modeling tools available for smart phones, AutoQ3D is a great package that useful for working on your 3D models while away from your PC.