Maya vs. 3ds Max


I have heard many aspiring 3D artists ask for help in deciding whether to learn 3ds Max or Maya, yet it seems like a lot of the pros tend to dismiss or scoff at the question. I have explored the high and low for both to find a definitive message. After some research and hands-on experience, I find Maya to be more comprehensive than 3ds Max, while 3ds tends to be more intuitive and has a slightly less steep learning curve. But it goes much deeper than this. You may still wonder “Why and how.” To simplify, I am happy to share my views!

Before I start with the details, it is important for you to know that Maya and 3ds are under the Autodesk umbrella. 3ds Max has belonged to the Autodesk brand for many years. Autodesk acquired Maya recently. Both are considered industry standard for modeling, animation and rendering. Autodesk chose not to merge the two competing products primarily because an entire generation of professionals had become extremely skilled at using one or the other program.

In many ways, Maya and 3ds Max are very similar. We use the Transform gizmo in Max to move, rotate, and scale an object. Maya uses a similar tool. Max still does have some features that are more fun and intuitive to use. On the other hand, I find Maya to be a refreshing improvement to much of the functionality that 3ds Max has to offer.  Both Maya and Max use Mental Ray as the secondary rendering engine, giving the artist the power to achieve a photorealistic look.

Max has always focused on game designers. Contrary to this, Maya has its focus on CG film animation. Broadly, they perform the same tasks; they can model, render, and animate. However, speaking of differences…What is the ‘big’ difference if they are so similar? Well…the difference lies in their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Design custom 3-d objects
  • Freely manipulate each individual vertex, which allows for its great sense of control and flexibility
  • Lightning settings and texture tools that will enable you to make the objects more realistic
  • Create multiple characters easily
  • With the ‘Bi-Ped’ function, you can create a dummy human skeleton and quickly animate characters by giving them human movement
  • Create multiple characters easily
  • Lack of the Bi-Ped feature like 3DS Max results in manual creation of skeletal structures, which can be time consuming for a movie or video game
  • The interface may be confusing/complex for a first time user
  • Ability to make credible visual scenes with complex lighting is tedious and time consuming
  • Difficulties in creating landscapes due to camera especially if it involves large objects
  • Ability to make credible visual scenes with complex lighting is tedious and time consuming
  • Difficulties in creating landscapes due to camera especially if it involves large objects

Max has become extremely popular in architectural and visualization market. In the game and TV/Broadcast market, Maya and Max have equal influence. However, Maya dominates Max in the Film industry.

If you are an aspiring game designer, Max might be a better choice primarily due to its character rigging, motion capture handling, and animation layering. Maya, on the contrary, is known for its fluid effects. So the next time you want to play with pyrotechnics such as fire, explosions, and nuclear blasts; space such as clouds, steam, mist, fog, smoke, and viscous effects such as molten lave and mud, Maya will do the trick. A CG film animator may find Maya to be a better deal.

After being acquainted with Maya, I was inclined towards it, particularly, due to its NURBS modeling. For those unfamiliar with NURBS, they are complex surfaces with low face count. For instance, if you want to create a sphere using polygons, you might end up using over 100 faces. With Maya’s NURB modeling, you will be able to create the shape with a single face. There are no limits to your creativity. Imagine an animation with water seeping down rocks…That’s Maya!

A comparison between the two is no rocket science. Here is a comparison table that will help you make an informed decision.

Focus Market



Learning curve to productivity

< 2 months

< 3 months


CAD style, Clean and powerful, slightly more intuitive

Like a Forge, flexible and powerful, less intuitive than Max

Rendering quality



Quality w/plugin



Animation tools

Very good


UV tools (Unwrap, Pelt…)

Very good




Very good



Very good



Very good

Top unique feature


PaintFX  Fluids Nucleus

The biggest Con

No new features

Learning Curve

Complete Package for Game Development


Very good

Complete Package for Film Production



So getting back to the original question, ‘Which should I choose, 3ds or Maya?’ I find the paint tools, fluid effects, and NURBS modeling in Maya to be simply brilliant. However, the question is not which program is preferable, but what will you use the software for.

I’ve been told many times that you won’t be taken seriously in the CG film industry unless you know Maya. While 3ds Max and Maya appear to be used in equal measure in video game development, Max is considered the industry standard for gaming.

It’s important to settle on your software of choice before getting started. Some artists consider looking into a switch from one to the other, but once you are adept at using one of them, it’s best to stick with it. I find no sense in making a switch as each program involves a steep learning curve. Once you are adept at working with either one, there is almost no difference in what you can create. It is all about how you use the right tools.

Autodesk 3ds Max 2011

Autodesk Maya 2010


2 pings

  1. Isaac says:

    Maya Interface Is Very Easy to jump Between the Tools.But Both Of Them Rocks In my PC.Some Times Maya Says I’m Great Then Max Says You Can’t Do Games Then Maya Says You Can’t Do Movies.So They Both of them Fights All The Time And I Should Die To Solve Their Issues Because New Rockstar LightWave Has Joined My Fighting Club.

  2. ferraneitar says:

    Muy bueno! Me has ayudado muchísimo a entender las diferencias y a tomar una decisión. Muy buen posta. gracias.

  3. FIlbones says:

    After being drawn here from a comment at I thank you so much for taking the time to make this site. I’d love to work with video games, but for know will stick with Maya as I’m doing a degree in screen and media.

    My Question however, and it may be a very noob one, But can you create and rig a character in 3dsmax then use it in Maya.

  4. Ben says:

    Fllbones, I believe you can don’t take my word for it. I know that with certain custom rigs made in Maya you CANNOT bring into max. A lot of it involves the scripting. Take the rig that everyone knows, Lowmax. it was originally made for Maya, and could not be brought into max until someone made a version for max. So a lot of it I believe is all in the code for the script. I would do some research on that subject if I were you though.

  5. mpho says:

    whoa! thanks for this maaan, im a complete noob to both 3ds max and maya (im a degree student studying creative multimedia) and this coming half of the year (next semester) we are goin to be doing animation nd character modeling so i wanna know what i could use to familiarize myself with 3ds max(coz thts wha the lecturer says we goin ta be using). . . i’ve bought two books so far “modeling in max” and “cheating in maya”, plz rsvp asap(lol)

  6. Zeipka says:

    Thank you for this article. I want to learn modelling but have been confused as to what program I should chose. This break down made it a lot simpler to make a choice. So thanks ^.^

  7. Mark says:

    3ds Max, Painting – None? Vertex painting doesn’t count?

  8. Nafiseh says:

    which better for animation?MAYA?

  9. Jason van Dongen says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this and put it out there.

  10. Sai says:

    Brilliant breakdown of facts, definitely helped me reaffirm my choice. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

  11. Todd says:

    Good Job. This was only of the better maya vs 3ds posts I’ve read. Unbiased and simple.

  12. Bob says:

    It needs to be pointe dout that yes, out of the box, Maya is defintiely the better product. HOWEVER, the universe of plug-ins for MAX far outweigh what is available for Maya, and those plug-ins can often allow Max to do things even better than Maya – or at the very least provide equal capability (such as fluids). Also, Maya has a reputation for being far buggier than Max.

    To be clear, I have not decided on one of the other yet – still n that process. But I’m aware of these realities. I’m probably leaning towards Maya, but not looking forward to the notoriously more difficult learning curve.

  13. Leviathan says:

    I just got both Maya and 3ds Max. Student licences for both. I also have Blender 6.3a and 4.9 dual installed. Lol. Going into game design. Problem is, my computer has a heart attack when I mess with hair or cloth in Maya, so I need to get a new one…. *sighs*

  14. Mick says:

    I have used Max & Maya since ver.2 I began with 3DS Max.
    now we’re into ver. 2013 & things have changed a lot ….

    I used Max for a year and felt modelling was ok…
    MAX: Modelling: Max uses a Stack work flow that allows you to move up and down to view your history as you model. It is intuitive but feels a little how can I say.. almost child like.. so simple. But having said this, it is easy to master which makes it more appealing than Maya.

    Many artists shy away from the Maya interface as there are hidden (right click interface tools ) that must be mastered to understand the Maya workflow.. This workflow becomes very intuitive once mastered and can be faster than Max.. A professional will use a Wacom tablet and this is where Maya shines with its right click interface. you can change from vertex,edge,face in nano seconds…

    Most users like Max’s Bi-Ped system as its intuitive and allows you to create a rig in seconds.. the poly cage is weighted well in Max straight out of the box… this used to be the main attraction for Max.. but now both Maya & Max are turning towards a new Rigging tool called Characterisation. Maya uses a new technique when weighting a mesh called “Heat Map” which is very fast and accurate… ( great job Autodesk )
    Texture mapping still sucks in Maya but having said this most pros will export to Z-Mesh to unwrap a mesh.

    This is the other important aspect when choosing which platforms suits your goals.
    Export/Import to Z-Brush / Unity3D etc… MotionBuilder Mixamo etc… ( I won’t go there now but these programs are worth considering before making a decision )

    There is a lot to take in … play around for at least several weeks with each platform to get a feel of their general workflow then you will understand which is best suited for your needs…

    ENJOY p.s there are loads os aspects I have not covered here.. it would require an entire evening to sift through the differences…

  15. Patrick says:

    So max is better for game development but if i use maya, maya will still work for it?

  16. Gabe says:

    @Patrick– Yes, that’s correct :-D I use Maya for game and virtual world development and it has everything I need.

  17. Tyler says:

    I have been using Max for years and just got a class requiring Maya. I am going for visual effects and animation and enjoy doing things in Mac with RayFire, FumeFX, Krakatoa, etc such as making the ground crack, tornadoes, floods, energy formations to create cool effects and so on. I do a lot of camera tracking to 3D Software to After Effects. Should I totally convert to Maya or continue with Max?

  18. Gabe says:


    In my experience, it’s best to stick to one if possible. Switching between the two constantly is something I’ve found incredibly confusing! If there’s no compelling reason to stick with Max, I’d say prepare for the switch to Maya.

    Good thing is, if you ever absolutely have to work with Max again, you’ll have the knowledge at the back of your head to do what u need to do.

  19. Himal says:

    Hi guys I’m really stuck I want to do heavy texturing for animations not games ;) . Like displacement mapping, normal maps etc etc. So which is the best for texturing and rendering Max or Maya. I want to make animations look realistic with realistic texturing and rendering please let me know soon thanks for help :) .

  20. Kili says:

    Need to create ocean-going voyaging canoes… Max or Maya?

    May want to create a tropical village… Max or Maya?

    (Yes, I’m a noob!)

  21. Anubis says:

    Thank you for this Article.
    Being very very green to the 3D world I was getting confused at the difference between the two programs as they seem to be practically the same, you have broken these programs down to their basic elements which is a huge help thank you!
    …. All I need now is to figure out what industry I want to aim for.

  22. says:

    I personally had been seeking for strategies for
    my own website and noticed ur blog, “Maya
    vs. 3ds Max

  23. sanjiv says:

    i am a mechanical engineering student and now i think i shoul stick with 3ds max for better modeling and if we wish to do some film animations for fun i thnk i can even use maya easily..?is it..?
    help me out!
    thanking you everyone!

  24. salifu luqman says:

    i have used 3d max for some years but when i started learning maya 3d it appear to be simple to me .i think 3d max is hard and maya 3d is simple.i am known fully maya user .i like how maya animates than max . The secrete is that there workflows are the same.when u master one u can use all 3d software

  25. tornike says:

    i want to learn rigging skinning character animation and somebody please give me advice to wich is better? maya or max?

  26. 財布 ブランド 通販 says:

    プラダ 香水 メンズ

  27. Tika says:

    Thank you very much !!

  28. Some Guy says:

    I know some people who model in Maya for games, but I prefer Max since I already learned it, and don’t see a point in re-learning for new workflow.

  29. rees cgi says:

    I am planning on learning max or maya for films and tv but was wondering whether it is possible to create the model in maya then send it to max so that I can use rayfire, fume and Krakatoa. This way I would learn the modelling tools for maya and the rigging and plugin tools for max.

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