To preface this, I'm a student who likes the idea of 3d modelling and animation. Because I'm a student, and both Autodesk and Maxon offer student licenses to download their products for free, price is not an issue. I've taken Maya out of the equation after reading a few reviews, leaving me to decide between C4d, 3DS Max, and Blender. Originally I thought to steer away from Blender because it is free - how could a free software out-perform $1000-$3000 ones? However, some reviews have told me that point is nill. I was wondering if anyone in this forum could point me in the right direction. Mostly, I'd be using this to composite with After Effects, but I could think of other uses as well.
Learning any of the major players in 3D will get you a long way toward your goals. The key elements exist in all of them - modeling (polygon, patch, and NURBS), texture mapping, lighting, animation (object and character), camera animation, and some other more marginal capabilities such as motion capture (which you may need to learn if you want to do human and quadruped motion).
C4D is widely used in the broadcast television industry, 3DS Max (which I use) is used somewhat less in the broadcast industry, but widely in the gaming and entertainment industries. Blender, although perceived as a "hobbyist" 3D package, has a lot of power for free, and, although I've played with it, I find the interface to be a bit clunky (although that may be because I've used Max for so long).
There really is no right or wrong direction - look at what you like to do most at this point in the curve, then look at the feature sets and galleries of what's being created by the end users, then kick the tires with the trial versions. There may be one of them which just feels right, and you get it. Go with that one...