Let’s get started by talking about the software. There are a lot of 3D modelling software packages out there to choose from. The price range fluctuates between free and tens of thousands of dollars. What you want is something that is high quality, nimble, can be used to learn on and yet be able to offer room to grow. It should also be highly customisable and have a great support community.
I like Rhinoceros 3D made by McNeel and Associates; this software is affordable, accessible and fast. Windows users can download a trial and Mac users can download a demo. The trial is limited to 25 saves, but it is fully functioning and doesn’t expire. So have fun with it and don’t be afraid to just keep it open as it is really lightweight software for your computer to run.
Aside from being a really great way to start to learn 3D modelling, Rhinoceros 3D is excellent for importing all sorts of external file types (see the image to the right for a list).
You can download all sorts of free models from the internet. I recommend going over to Google Sketchup and downloading some models and see how easy it is. The SketchUp model extension (.SKP) is fourth from bottom on the above list. The models are opened fairly quicly and are a great resource if you want to hack something together. I use them all the time for internal presentations to save time.
Not only is the application small to install, the native 3DM files are as well. You can model your heart out without worrying too much about hard drive consumption consumption.
When I started learning how to 3D model, I began in AutoCAD and then worked over to Z-Brush. It was a long and arduous journey. When I picked up Rhino in 2003, I immediately saw how easy it was to learn and decided to stick with it. It is what I still use for nearly all of my modelling needs to this day.
If you find that Rhino isn’t a good fit for you, there are plenty of alternate software options out there. I recommend either Sketchup or to start. They are both free to download and will get you on your way.
I use Rhinoceros as it is the most flexible and accessible package to use while offering the most room for growth. SketchUp is a great second choice, but doesn’t offer the range of robust surfacing tools that you need to make the more dynamic models.