I'd strongly suggest you invest your time learning Cinema 4D- the partnership between Maxon and After Effects, the intergration of the two programs that if you are starting from scratch that's where I would invest my time. The next version of AE + C4D will really merge the programs, here's a couple of reviews about the soon to released features.
"I have not failed 700 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
---THOMAS EDISON on inventing the light bulb.
As a long-time user of 3D Studio Max, who started in Truespace a long time ago, I think you should take a look at all the major players. 3DS Max has similar integration built between AE and 3DS, and has had it for over a year. The only thing is that you have to have purchased a subscription to Max updates to get it. It's worth a look.
And whichever you choose - Max, Maya, Softimage, C4D, take a look a the feature set to make sure that it has the features that you need without adding expensive plugins to the initial cost. C4D has been adopted by the broadcast industry, and is relatively easy to get started with - that said, all of them have deep feature sets, and if you go in the wrong direction, you may have already invested a year's time (and that's nothing when you're learning 3D), and not want to jump to another. And of course, there's also Blender, which is free...
I suggest you look at the features of each, maybe install a couple of trial versions, and see which interface and feature set look the most inviting to you.
[Joseph W. Bourke]"3DS Max has similar integration built between AE and 3DS, and has had it for over a year."
Until CSNext launches, then Maxon is ahead of the curve again with Cinema 4D and Cineware :)
As a Cinema 4D user the one caveat I will mention is that I find it's support for OpenEXR and interoperability with other applications (Nuke, I'm looking at you) to be less than stellar. It's still very usable, and you'd never know the difference if you weren't trying to use OpenEXR or another compositing package, but the workflow gets a little less elegant when you move away from the C4D <-> AE model.
As John says, if you're an Ae user, C4D is a very logical choice.
Different 3D packages have different strengths and thus attract different industries or kinds of users. What sort of work is it that you're looking to do?
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