Learning visual effects, animation and games is an ever-changing landscape with new software packages disrupting the market constantly. Aside from all the new titles, there are also software packages that have stood the test of time and are essential for all aspiring digital artists to learn.

If you are an artist looking to get serious about a career in games, vfx, animation or similar creative industries I would highly recommend you take a look at the following software packages. The reason you should start with this list is because this is what the best art schools in the world are teaching their students.

How did we rank the software?

The following results were based on data collected from entrants of Rookie Awards 2019. The contest received 3,458 entries from digital media and entertainment artists across 89 countries. Over 500 academic facilities and schools had their students submit work for review by the industry panel. Each entry was tagged with software package tags. This data was used to determine the most popular packages for visual effects, animation and games artists in 2020.


1. Maya

Autodesk Maya, commonly shortened to just Maya, is a 3D computer graphics application that runs on Windows, macOS and Linux. It is used to create assets for interactive 3D applications (including video games), animated films, TV series, and visual effects.

2. Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is a raster graphics editor developed and published by Adobe Inc. for Windows and macOS. It was originally created in 1988 by Thomas and John Knoll. Since then, the software has become the industry standard not only in raster graphics editing, but in digital art as a whole.

3. ZBrush

ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing and painting. It uses a proprietary "pixol" technology which stores lighting, color, material, orientation, and depth information for the points making up all objects on the screen.

4. Substance Painter

Created by Adobe, the main purpose of Substance Painter is to texture models. Its advanced masking and procedural texturing tools allow you to make textures that are much harder to achieve in purely 2D programs like Photoshop.

5. Unreal Engine

The Unreal Engine is a game engine developed by Epic Games, first showcased in the 1998 first-person shooter game Unreal. Although initially developed for first-person shooters, it has been successfully used in a variety of other genres, including platformers, fighting games, MMORPGs, and other RPGs.

6. Nuke

NUKE is a node-based digital compositing and visual effects application first developed by Digital Domain, and used for television and film post-production. The Nuke Family offers cutting-edge toolkits for node-based compositing, editorial and review, with unparalleled flexibility and collaborative workflows help you get the highest quality results - fast.

7. Substance Designer

Created by Adobe, the industry standard for creating custom materials, Substance Designer gives you complete authoring control. Design tileable textures and patterns, and edit complete texture sets. Use pre-made resources or create materials from scratch in this non-destructive, node-based environment, and take advantage of Designerโ€™s ever-expanding scripting capabilities.

8. After Effects

Adobe After Effects is a digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing application developed by Adobe Systems and used in the post-production process of film making, video games and television production. Among other things, After Effects can be used for keying, tracking, compositing, and animation

9. Marmoset Toolbag

A full-featured 3D real-time rendering, animation, and baking suite, providing artists a powerful and efficient workflow for all stages of production. The third release of Toolbag, our real-time rendering suite, ushers forth a new standard in image quality. A slew of exciting new features ensure that youโ€™re able to tackle any challenge, while our modular shaders and responsive scene editor empower you to work at the speed of light.

10. Premiere Pro

Premiere Pro is the industry-leading video editing software for film, TV and the web. Creative tools, integration with other apps and services and the power of Adobe Sensei help you craft footage into polished films and videos. With Premiere Rush you can create and edit new projects from any device.

11. Arnold Renderer

Arnold is an advanced Monte Carlo ray tracing renderer, built to stand up to the demands of VFX and animation production. It offers a powerful, yet easy-to-use rendering experience that delivers beautiful and predictable results, and lets you focus on being creative, rather than spending hours going through settings.

12. Mari

Mariยฎ is 3D painting without limits, combining the power and performance to handle even the most complex assets with artist-friendly 3D paint tools that make the most of your creativity. Mari was originally developed by Weta Digital for the productions of King Kong and Avatar.

13. Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D is the perfect package for all 3D artists who want to achieve breathtaking results fast and hassle-free. Beginners and seasoned professionals alike can take advantage of Cinema 4Dโ€™s wide range of tools and features to quickly achieve stunning results. Cinema 4Dโ€™s legendary reliability also makes it the perfect application for demanding, fast-paced 3D production.

14. Marvelous Designer

Marvelous Designer allows you to create beautiful 3D virtual clothing with
our cutting-edge design software. Marvelous Designerโ€™s innovative pattern-based approach has already been adopted by top game studios such as EA Konami and can be seen on the big-screen in animation films including The Hobbit and The Adventures of Tin Tin, created by Weta Digital.

15. Houdini

Houdini is built from the ground up to be a procedural system that empowers artists to work freely, create multiple iterations and rapidly share workflows with colleagues. While the nodes are what makes Houdini unique and give it power, there are lots of viewport and shelf tools that allow for artist-friendly viewport interactions. Behind the scenes, Houdini builds up the nodes and networks for you. Houdini lets artists explore different creative paths because it is easy to branch off a new node to explore alternative solutions.

16. V-Ray

Created by Chaos Group, V-Ray Next Scene Intelligence delivers faster ray tracing, cleaner sampling and more accurate rendering. That means you work smarter โ€” not harder โ€” by automating steps that used to take up valuable time. Spend less time waiting and more time being creative. Deliver your best work and never miss a deadline.

17. Unity

Unity is the worldโ€™s leading real-time 3D development platform, providing the tools to create amazing games and publish them to the widest range of devices. The Unity core platform enables entire creative teams to be more productive together.

18. SpeedTree

SpeedTree is a group of vegetation programming and modeling software products developed and sold by Interactive Data Visualization, Inc. that generates virtual foliage for animations, architecture and in real time for video games and demanding real time simulations.

19. Blender

Blender is a free and open-source 3D computer graphics software toolset used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, motion graphics, interactive 3D applications, and computer games. Blender is a public project, made by hundreds of people from around the world; by studios and individual artists, professionals and hobbyists, scientists, students, VFX experts, animators, game artists, modders, and the list goes on.

20. Redshift Renderer

Redshift is a powerful GPU-accelerated renderer, built to meet the specific demands of contemporary high-end production rendering. Tailored to support creative individuals and studios of every size, Redshift offers a suite of powerful features and integrates with industry standard CG applications.


Looking for more resources? Head over to our Resources Database that is filled with everything you need to get creative.

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