I am very new to AE but looking around it appears that you are able to do create some significant 3D animation within the program via Elements 3D, is this correct? What's the word on going this route as opposed to say working in Maya?
[Charles Wickware]"What's the word on going this route as opposed to say working in Maya?
Maya is a dedicated 3D application with a myriad of modelling and animation features that are not available in Element 3d or After Effects.
Element 3D is a 3rd party add on for After Effects that allows the use of pre-made 3D Models (OBJ and C4D files) for animation using openGL rendering. It is very nimble, well implemented for use in After Effects but far more limited than a 3D application.
[Charles Wickware]"Thank you, if one were to learn a 3D program, between 3DSMAX and Maya, which one would be best?"
For working with Ae? None of the above. C4D has some cool new integration features in Ae CC -- and C4D Lite will come bundled with Ae CC when it's released next month.
Max also has a pretty interesting-looking bridge to Ae, but I've never used it.
For a better answer to your question -- what sort of work are you looking to do in 3D?
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No, not to work specifically in AE. Just in general, which of the two is considered better? I'd like to begin building and animating 3D models. Specifically something like the rotating aircraft diagrams one would see in the "Dogfights" Military channel show.
[Charles Wickware]"which of the two is considered better?"
Tough call ask 5 people and you'll get 8 answers. There are several professional applications Maya, C4D, 3DS Max, and some open source as well. Blender is an amazing free product and a good place to start. http://www.blender.org
Look at the examples of work done in Blender. As Walter says, if you're working in After Effects and 3D, Cinema 4D is the way to go. Particularly now that C4D is integrated into After Effects CC.
For this kind of animation you can use either Element 3d or Zaxwerks Invigorator/proanimator.
Element is a bit pretentious as to what it can import and how the files need to be prepared but it gives you really neat compositing options. Zaxwerks can import just about anything and it allows for some modeling and messing around with the textures.
You can find good examples for Element 3d on the videocopilot website.
Here's one for Zaxwerks and AE that I did:
You can find plenty of free to use 3d models on the web, so no need to model them yourself unless you want something specific.
Here's a good resource: http://thefree3dmodels.com/