Edited by Ben Jacklin
February 9, 2021
8 Best Free 3D Animation Software in 2021
The world fondly appreciates the year 1908 when Émile Cohl, French cartoonist, animator, and caricaturist, created the first animated film Fantasmagorie. Of course, animation tools have evolved so much since then. The hard part about creating a 3D animation today is choosing the best free 3D animation software to use.
If you are not new to digital art, you probably know of professional graphics tools that are good to own for video and graphics editing. An excellent example of a versatile editor is Movavi Video Editor Plus, which can do almost anything with an image or video. Below, you'll find a curated list of the eight best downloadable 3D animation software for amateur filmmakers and professionals.
Top 3D Animation Software for Beginners
Source Filmmaker – Free Animation and Editing Tools for Everyone
Source Filmmaker, abbreviated to SFM, is a 3D graphics animation software for PC that uses a Source Game Engine to create animated films. This is the very tool that Valve used to create over 50 popular films and games, including Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2.
How SFM works is revolutionary. It is essentially a game software in which you can create separate scenes as movie clips. The tool lets you use game assets in the movie and vice-versa.
OS: Available for 32-bit versions of Windows XP, 7, and 10 only
- Simple-to-use clip editor and motion editors that record, edit, and arrange shots
- Better image recognition. SFM uses a sophisticated engine to arrange assets, adjust motions, and blend animations
- Graph editor that supports pose-for-pose animation
- Has the rendering power of a modern PC game engine
- Free to download and use
- Easy to use
- Some features are as the engine it runs on is old
- Low-res effects, characters, props, and map
Daz3D – Create Your Own 3D Universe
Daz3D was designed and built from the ground up with one purpose: to help storytellers create visual narratives. The 3d animation tool uses aniMate2, a tool by GoFigure 3D, to make animating 3D cartoons as easy as puppeteering.
This tool scores highly in ease of use and exclusivity of animation tools. If you are a beginner looking for a simple animation tool, you should try Daz. You should create animations with realistic simulations within no time just by following detailed tutorials on the software's wiki site.
OS: Available for Microsoft Windows
- Create seamless animations by arranging scenes and using exclusive tools
- Selection of physics-based clothing and hair simulation models
- Robust tools to edit and visualize transitions in real-time
- Highly customizable user interface
- Free to use
- Rich learning resources and models
- Daz Studio cannot create models to be used in animation
Clara.io – Model, animate, and render online
As Software as a Service increasingly becomes a thing, some developers have created free 3D animation tools accessible right from the browser. One of the best examples is Clara.io, a web-based online modeling platform that a modern artist could dream of.
3D modeling software typically uses up a lot of computer resources - memory, and processing power. Clara.io was developed to help artists with limited resources to create awesome 3D models and animations with ease.
Clara offers a myriad of exceptional designing options and tools. The layouts are complete with polygons and keyframes and most effects are just a button tap away.
OS: Works on Firefox, Chrome, IE11, and Edge among other browsers running on Windows, Apple OSX, Linux, Android or iOS
- Wide selection of customizable 3D models
- Easy sharing and embedding of 3D models and animations
- Intuitive and familiar UI with exciting themes and workflow progress
- Accessible right from the browser, no installation required
- Easily import and export 3D models and files
- Offers excellent collaboration features
- The WebGL engine it uses is prone to crashing on some browsers, causing loss of work
- Limited features and some tool functionalities
Blender – an Open-source 3D Software for Beginners
Blender is one of the most incredible open-source 3D animation tools you can use today. The plethora of 3D animation tools it comes with can be overwhelming. Compared side-by-side, Blender may have even more tools than the full versions of some of the best-selling graphics software in the market. These include texturing, body simulation and sculpting, video editing, rigging, composing, coloring, texturing, and 3D modeling tools.
Blender is the all-in-one 3D animation tool that hobbyists can use to create 2-second animated memes, and the professionals use it to design 3D architectural structures. If you look forward to creating award-winning 3D animations, the right 3D software to learn to use is Blender.
OS: Open-source project available for Windows, Linux, and Mac computers
- Use textured brushes and masking to create 3D surfaces and paints
- Download and use add-ons and customized animation tools with Python scripting support
- Supports both auto and manual tracking for smoother 3D animations
- Powerful rendering support using GPU and CPU power
- Robust camera restoration and VR rendering
- Does not get regular updates or patches
- Steep learning curve
Professional 3D Animation Software
MakeHuman – an Open-source tool to create human 3D characters
The development of MakeHuman started off as a creation of a module for blender. Eventually, the 3D animation tool was made open source and available as a stand-alone application.
MakeHuman is an application you can use to create h3D human characters. The app allows you to model and animate, then export in various formats.
The app features multiple tabs for the different categories of character data such as body and facial features. The software is very popular for use as a prototyping tool for photorealistic humanoids.
OS: Linux, Mac OS X, Windows
- Simple to use tool to create human characters
- Intuitive and fast access to a large database of morphing targets
- Models created in MakeHuman can be imported into Blender for editing
- Uses fuzzy logic rules to process inputs
- It is free to use
- Easy to use interface
- Simple tools to create realistic static poses and animations
- Limited customizing options
Wings 3D – a Simple Polygon Modeller
Are you an artist looking to learn 3D animation in a short time but would wish to make all types of animations? Wings 3D comes off as a simple 3D animation software for users with small budgets, but it is a cheap powerhouse of tools.
Wings 3D is fully-featured enough to enable the creation of any form of digital art, from basic stick animations that take minutes to animate to 3D realistic characters with cool 3D animations. The software offers handy modeling tools to create 3D effects and even includes a forum where users can collaborate and communicate.
OS: Available for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems
- Support for lights and materials effects
- UV mapping system
- Virtual mirror feature that simplifies symmetrical modeling
- Open-source, meaning it is completely free to use
- Has advanced 2D and 3D modeling and animation tools that other tools do not
- The interface is a little dull and clunky
Houdini Apprentice – Create Non-Commercial Projects
Houdini is one of the most versatile and capable 3D modeling and animation tools in the market. The Houdini Apprentice version of the software is free and feature-limited, marketed as a tool for hobbyists and students.
Houdini Apprentice is designed for creators and learners working with 3D animation and visual effects (VFX) on TV, video games, or VR. This tool, unlike others on this list, relies on a node-based procedural workflow. This makes it easy for the artist to explore iterations in real-time as they refine their work.
OS: Available for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems
- Uses the powerful Mantra rendering engine
- Offers an open environment with support for API scripting for Python and other languages
- Procedural nature of Houdini makes it possible to have a powerful but flexible non-linear development environment
- Highly flexible and customizable interface
- Provides all the tools a visual effects artist and a 3D animator would need
- Provides a flexible work environment to create CG effects as well as shaders
- Houdini Apprentice is a limited version of Houdini VFX
- Not ideal for beginners as it has a steep learning curve
K-3D – a Free 3D Modeling Tool with a Visualization Pipeline
The dynamic 3D animation software K-3D is popular among video makers and artists because it simplifies animation. K-3D combines multiple plugins to make the animation process a breeze and achieve more for less.
K-3D is highly customizable and can be personalized to suit the preferences of the artist. The power of this handy software, however, hides in the capabilities of its visualization pipeline architecture.
OS: Available for Linux, macOS X, FreeBSD, and Windows platforms
- K-3D uses the platform's framework to generate its views. Therefore, it adopts the native look and feel, making it a good platform for first-time digital artists
- Powerful features with handy property adjustment capabilities
- Highly flexible for basic or complex workflows
- A wide selection of plugins
- Lacks of user tutorials
|Source Filmmaker||.vtf, .vmt, .mdl, .vvd, .qc, .smd, .dmx||Uses game engine to create animated graphics|
|Daz3D||.3ds, .sdmf, .bvh, .daz, .dxf, .fbx, others||Easily manipulate ready-to-use figures and models to create art|
|Clara.io||.obj, .3js, .stl, .fbx, and .dea||Web-based 3D modeling and animation platform|
|Blender||.3ds, .dae, .fbx, .dxf, .obj,others||Motion capture, keyframe animation|
|MakeHuman||.fbx, .dae, .obj, .stl, others||Interactive modeling tool to create photo-realistic 3D human characters|
|Wings 3D||.ndo, .3ds, .ai, .lwo, .lxo, .obj, others||Model and texture polygon models in low to mid-range complexity|
|Houdini Apprentice||.geo, .bgeo, .dxf, others||Free version of Houdini FX for artists, hobbyists, and students to use to create 3D projects|
|K-3D||.stl, .obj, others||Uses Pixar Renderman to render high-quality images and smooth animations|
Ranking Criteria for Free 3D Animation Programs
3D animation software tools are used to create animation videos, video effects, 3D movies, motion graphics, and visual effects. These programs come in all types and sizes. Many lightweight tools, including apps that run on browsers and phones, often come with limited features to create limited animations from object templates.
This post is for you if you are looking for tools with more functionality to create powerful 3D animations. We have ranked the easiest-to-learn and use software suitable for beginners and seasoned digital artists alike. This post analyzes free and trial 3D animation tools for beginners based on:
- Animation features and functionalities
- The simplicity of interface and controls
- Rendering support
- The learning curve for beginners
- Software-specific features
Anyone from hobbyist creators trying 3D animation for fun to professionals working on 3D animation projects will find that practicing with a free 3D animation software helps. However, mastering 3D animation is only one part of the equation.
The other side of the equation involves learning and practicing with video editors. You will need one to turn the 3D animation into a final film. Movavi Video Editor Plus is a powerful and intuitive tool you can use to edit animations created using any of these eight free 3D animation software on this list. Try it out today and discover what it can make you do.
Frequently Asked Questions
There’s plenty of free 3D animation software available out there, so it might be pretty challenging to choose. Take a look at Source Filmmaker – a powerful tool that’s rather easy to master.
2D seems easier at first but it’s extremely time-consuming. In comparison, 3D can be easier at this point, but the more you get into 3D, the harder it may get. All in all, it all depends on the situation.
Movavi Video Editor Plus
Your next step in video-making
- Edit video clips, images, and audio on a timeline
- Add transitions, filters, titles, and stickers
- Animate objects using keyframes, use more built-in media
- Export videos in any popular format
* The free version of Movavi Video Editor Plus has the following restrictions: 7-day trial period, watermark on the output videos, and, if you’re saving a project as an audio file, an ability to save only half the audio length. Learn more