Blender 3D Vs Maya – Which Should I Learn?

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit

Ever since the release of Blender 2.8, we’ve been watching it’s ascendancy from a piece of freeware mostly used by hobbyists to a tool powerful enough to compete with the likes of Maya.  Has it reached such a point yet? Is it at the stage where it’s viable for mass industry adoption? Is it something that you should use, or is it still lacking some major features beneath the hood?

Let’s take a look.

Blender Vs Maya

If we’re going to compare these two softwares, the first thing we should examine is use cases: What is it that you need to get out of a 3D package? Though Blender and Maya may seem very similar at first glance, they don’t necessarily fill the same niche. Blender is very clearly trying to be the swiss army knife of 3D software. You can start with the default cube and end with a cinematic featuring fully rigged 3D characters complete with particle effects, hair and cloth simulations. It does everything from the modeling and sculpting to animation and rendering, and it does it all pretty well.

Maya isn’t trying to do this. Maya is trying to be the absolute best when it comes to things like modeling and retopology, building character rigs, and animation. Maya does not want to be sculpting software, or to be where you do your texture work. Rather, it was built to fit into an industry pipeline that consists of zBrush, Substance Painter and Houdini, all of which are pieces of software that are the absolute best at what they do—and good for little else. Maya is no exception to this rule.

Naturally this leads to the next question: If I want the best results, does that mean I need to use Maya and zBrush over Blender?

Getting the Best Results

The reason major studios have had this pipeline for so long is because it’s assumed the artists are as good as they can be. In a production, the final quality of the result is all that matters, so it would make sense that these companies would be willing to drop money on expensive software suites. To them its an investment, even if that investment only makes a 5% difference in the final quality of the product.

If you’re a hobbyist however, or someone new to the world of 3D, this isn’t necessary and it might even be a crutch. While Blender may not be as good at zBrush for sculpting, or as good as Maya for building character rigs, it shares all the same foundational pillars. It’s similar enough that smaller studios with tighter budgets are opting to use Blender anyway. If you are a current Blender user and you’re thinking of switching to Maya or these other tools, ask yourself why.

If the reason is you want slightly better results, the simple truth is you’re probably better off improving your craft first.

Quite often we see art created in Blender and it doesn’t look great, whereas what we see made with the Maya pipeline does. This doesn’t mean that Maya is that much better than Blender, but rather that the people using Maya are. Maya has been the industry standard for decades, so most professional level art we see is made in Maya.

Blender is free and serves as an entry point for lots of aspiring 3D artists, so it stands to reason that most of the Blender art we see online isn’t of the same calibre. But this is like the rookie artist trying to figure out what pencil the professional uses, and completely missing the fact that the professional could still produce a beautiful portrait with crayons.

Blender is still an extraordinarily powerful piece of software, and there is a reason it’s starting to see industry adoption.

Why Should I Learn Maya?

So what’s the case for Maya then?

Well the first and most obvious is the fact that it’s the industry standard. If you want to do this professionally, you should know the toolset that most studios use—it’s that simple. 

With that aside, Maya also has a couple things that Blender doesn’t which are critical for large productions. It’s a very mature piece of software and with that comes stability. In addition, major studios usually have a dedicated helpline right to the engineers that build the software, and finally, it’s closed source. 

Yup, closed source. 

As it turns out, in a world where competitive advantage is directly tied to profits, lots of major studios aren’t interested in the source code of their proprietary tools being freely available to the rest of the world, and it is in these tools where Maya shines.

Maya has had over two decades of use and plugin development—plugins built by professionals to solve specific problems for large scale productions. That’s the major distinction here: While Blender and Maya may look similar on the surface, Maya’s has been built with a large scale production pipeline in mind. 

It has better collaborative project management. It’s better optimized so it can handle heavier scenes, and it’s features are more stable. 

It’s the little things, like pressing undo in a large scene not freezing the software up for ten seconds.

Why Should I Learn Blender?

That was a long-winded way of saying Maya is built with production in mind, and if that’s where you plan to head, you should learn it. But if you’re a Maya user, is there a reason to pick up Blender instead? 

As alluded to earlier, Blender does everything. This makes it great for education and practice, and having no price tag is a massive draw, especially when the licensing costs for Maya are in the thousands.

In a professional context, Blender is great for concept art and look development. With all the tools bundled up in one place it’s incredibly easy to build up sketch pieces quickly.

There’s no need to use zBrush to do basic sculpting if you’re not going above a million polygons, and if you’re just posing a character up quickly, Blender’s Rigify addon can get this done in a matter of moments. 

Blender’s addons shouldn’t be overlooked either. There has been a lot of work done in the Blender community developing addons that vastly enhance the user experience for specific tasks: Hardops and Boxcutter come to mind for hard surface modeling, and Retopoflow for retopology. 

There’s no need to use zBrush to do basic sculpting if you’re not going above a million polygons, and if you’re just posing a character up quickly, Blender’s Rigify addon can get this done in a matter of moments. 

Finally, the community surrounding Blender is by far one of the most helpful around. There are a ton of free tutorials all over the internet for everything from sculpting to scripting, and quite often people are more than willing to share the process they took to create such a piece of art.

So Should I Learn Blender 3D or Maya?

Well, it depends on what your goals are. If you’re looking to go pro, knowledge of the industry pipeline is a must. While some productions are switching to Blender in light of the 2.8 release, the vast majority of studios still do a lot of their work in Maya because the tool is incredibly mature, and it integrates into the greater pipeline of more specialized tools. When you’re being paid to do work by a studio, they’ll also be paying for you to use the best tool for the job, and they’ll expect you to know your way around it.

However if you’re a hobbyist or an indie studio, Blender is legitimately a good choice. Maya may be great, but it is also expensive. If you’re developing assets for a mobile game, you won’t be going over a couple thousand polygons and you don’t need Maya’s optimization or sophisticated rigging tools.

And finally, if you just want to iterate on an idea quickly—Blender is king. 

Lets Wrap it Up

At the end of the day, don’t stress about the tool too much. It’s the artist holding the pencil that matters, not the pencil itself. But if you want to be a professional, it’s expected you have the right tools. You can learn to sculpt in Blender, but you will need to know zBrush. You can learn rigging in Blender, but Maya leads the pack. But if you need to do everything, and you need to do it quickly, Blender is the way to go.

Want to learn from the pros?

Come join our community!