7 Best VFX Software 2024 (Movie Quality Visual Effects)

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated November 23, 2023

Expert Verified by Leandro Langeani, BBA

Disclosure: We test and review software products based on an independent, multi-step rating methodology. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Read full disclosure and rating methodology.

Today there are 73 different VFX software. We spent 119 hours comparing the top 50 to find the seven best you can use to create stunning, movie-quality scenes.

What is the Best VFX Software?

  1. Adobe After Effects — best of the best
  2. Autodesk Maya — best for animators
  3. Autodesk 3ds Max — best for businesses and studios
  4. SideFX Houdini — best for procedural 3D animation
  5. Blender — best for small to medium-sized projects
  6. Unreal Engine — best for architectural visualizations
  7. Unity — best for indie game developers

Our Verdict — Best Of The Best

Price: Starts at $31.49/month

Adobe After Effects is the industry-standard software for creating stunning visual effects and motion graphics. We think it’s the best because of its 2D and 3D support, advanced compositing features, and extensive library of effects.

The Best Part:

  • Seamless Adobe integration. Adobe After Effects can be seamlessly integrated with other Adobe products such as Premiere Pro, Photoshop, and Illustrator, making it a breeze to integrate your VFX work with video editing, image manipulation, and vector graphics projects.

The Worst Part:

  • Steep learning curve. Adobe After Effects can be intimidating for newbies with its many features-packed interface.

Get it if you want to create Hollywood-level visual effects without breaking the bank.

I recommend you start with the 7-day free trial, then get the Yearly subscription for $20.99/month.

(7-day free trial)

Best For

Adobe After Effects is best for creative hobbyists and professionals who want to create captivating motion graphics and visual effects.

Top Features

  • Become the master of weather. Generate realistic weather effects such as rain, snow, and fog with just a few clicks.

  • Let the party-cles begin. Create stunning particle effects such as explosions, magic spells, or confetti showers in no time.

  • Keep it tidy. Keep your projects neat and organized with compositions, for a clutter-free workspace.

  • It brings your projects to life. Create mind-blowing VFX projects with Adobe After Effects' support for VR/360° video editing, making your viewers feel like they're part of the action.

  • Let JavaScript do the heavy lifting. Save time and effort by using Adobe After Effects' handy scripting feature to automate and streamline complex animations.

Pricing

Adobe After Effects offers three pricing plans:

  • Monthly: $31.49/month for newbies who want a flexible plan to create stunning visual effects on a month-to-month basis.
  • Annual, paid monthly: $20.99/month for creatives and artists who are in it for the long haul and want a cost-effective plan to access powerful VFX tools, with the convenience of monthly payments.
  • Annual, prepaid: $239.88/year for dedicated professionals who want the best bang for their buck with a one-time payment, securing an entire year of limitless creative projects.

Annual plans provide a 36% discount.

Try Adobe After Effects today with a free 7-day trial.

Our Verdict — Best For Animators

Price: Starts at $235/month

Autodesk Maya is a must-have software for people looking to create jaw-dropping effects in entertainment media. We think it’s the best for animators because of its extensive 3D modeling capabilities, impressive rendering features, and comprehensive suite of effects.

The Best Part:

  • Exceptional UV mapping capabilities. Autodesk Maya's UV editor provides a comprehensive and intuitive toolset for creating and editing UVs, making precise texture mapping on 3D models a piece of cake.

The Worst Part:

  • Complex layer management. Working with lots of textures in Maya can be a slow and tough process because of its complicated layering system.

Get it if you want to level up the VFX game of your animations.

I recommend you take advantage of the 30-day free trial, then get the Monthly plan for $235/month.

(30-day free trial)

Best For

Autodesk Maya is best for animators who want to create breathtaking video fx.

Top Features

  • Set yourself up for success. Customize Maya's interface with handy dockable panels and slick layouts to boost your productivity.

  • Stunning 3D models. Maya's robust sculpting tools allow you to craft detailed 3D models and organic shapes without breaking a sweat.

  • Generate breathtakingly fluid simulations. Tap into Maya's top-notch simulation tools to create lifelike, fluid effects that'll leave viewers in awe.

  • Light it up. Autodesk Maya's advanced lighting tools will make your scenes shine like never before.

  • Tackle detailed cloth animations. Take advantage of Maya's nCloth system to gain unmatched control over cloth movement, making your animations look perfect.

Pricing

Autodesk Maya offers two pricing plans:

  • Subscription: $235/month for visual artists who want to test the waters with pro-grade VFX.
  • Flex: $300 for 100 tokens, offering 16 days of access over one year, for occasional users and pro visual artists who require Autodesk Maya for one-off projects.

Annual plans provide a 34% discount.

Try Autodesk Maya today with a free 30-day trial.

Our Verdict — Best For Businesses And Studios

Price: Starts at $235/month

Autodesk 3ds Max is a powerful 3D rendering software with robust features for creating high-quality visual effects. We think it’s the best for businesses and studios because of its robust collaboration features, customizable workspaces, and efficient pipeline integration.

The Best Part:

  • Streamlined collaboration. Autodesk 3ds Max's efficient collaboration tools — such as real-time feedback, built-in version control, and pipeline integration — help businesses and studios keep their teams in sync, turning project management and hitting deadlines a breeze.

The Worst Part:

  • It’s resource-intensive. Autodesk 3ds Max sure loves to munch on computer resources, so be sure you have a beefy system to keep things running smoothly.

Get it if you want an industry-leading VFX software that can handle the demands of both small and large-scale projects while delivering showstopping results.

I recommend you get started with the 30-day free trial, then get the monthly plan for $235/month.

(30-day free trial)

Best For

Autodesk 3ds Max is best for animation and VFX studios that want a reliable, feature-rich solution to create high-quality visual effects.

Top Features

  • Make it move. Bring your creations to life with Autodesk 3ds Max's comprehensive animation features, from character rigging to physics-based simulations.

  • Render like a pro. Crank out mind-blowing visuals with 3ds Max’s cutting-edge rendering engine and fine-tune your output with all the detailed settings you need.

  • Capture the perfect shot. Set up impressive camera angles and animations by using 3ds Max's camera controls and depth of field options.

  • Work smarter, not harder. Speed up your workflow with the software's customizable interface, hotkeys, and automation capabilities.

  • Keep it organized. Manage your assets like a champ with the software's built-in asset tracking and scene management tools.

Pricing

Autodesk 3ds Max offers two pricing plans:

  • Subscription: $235/month for visual artists who require access to powerful VFX tools for tackling high-scale projects.
  • Flex: $300 for 100 tokens, offering 16 days of access over one year, want the most cost-effective choice for one-off projects and casual use.

Annual plans provide a 34% discount.

Try Autodesk 3ds Max today with a free 30-day trial.

Our Top Three Picks

Here’s a quick summary of our top three picks:

  1. Adobe After Effects — best of the best
  2. Autodesk Maya — best for animators
  3. Autodesk 3ds Max — best for businesses and studios

Here’s a quick comparison of our top seven picks:

Tool

Entry Offer

Pricing

Adobe After Effects

14-day free trial

Starts at $31.49/mo

Autodesk Maya

30-day free trial

Starts at $235/mo

Autodesk 3ds Max

30-day free trial

Starts at $235/mo

SideFX Houdini

Free plan

Starts at $269/yr

Blender

None

Free forever

Unreal Engine

Free plan

Custom

Unity

30-day free trial

Starts at $185/mo

Here are the top 50 VFX software we considered in this review:

  1. Adobe After Effects
  2. Autodesk Maya
  3. Autodesk 3ds Max
  4. SideFX Houdini
  5. Blender
  6. Unreal Engine
  7. Unity
  8. Blackmagic Design Fusion
  9. SynthEyes
  10. PFTrack
  11. Mocha Pro
  12. Silhouette FX
  13. ZBrush
  14. Substance Painter
  15. V-Ray
  16. KeyShot
  17. OctaneRender
  18. Adobe Premiere Pro
  19. Adobe Photoshop
  20. DaVinci Resolve
  21. Lightwave 3D
  22. Softimage
  23. Rhino
  24. RenderMan
  25. Modo
  26. Katana
  27. Natron
  28. HitFilm Pro
  29. Clarisse iFX
  30. Vue
  31. SpeedTree
  32. RealFlow
  33. FumeFX
  34. Krakatoa
  35. Golaem
  36. Avid Media Composer
  37. Boris FX
  38. Substance Designer
  39. World Machine
  40. Terragen
  41. Adobe Animate
  42. Reallusion iClone
  43. Mari
  44. Phoenix FD
  45. X-Particles
  46. Massive
  47. Toon Boom Harmony
  48. Nuke
  49. Cinema 4D
  50. Redshift Render

Which is the best software for VFX?

Adobe After Effects is renowned as a leading player in the realm of visual effects software. It sets the standard for the industry due to its powerful tools, advanced compositing features, and extensive library of effects. One of its key features is its seamless integration with other Adobe products such as Premiere Pro, Photoshop, and Illustrator. This interoperability makes it easy to combine visual effects work with video editing, image manipulation, and vector graphics projects, providing an all-in-one solution for creative professionals.

Additionally, Adobe After Effects is not limited to just 2D effects. It supports 3D space and provides tools for 3D compositing, which is particularly useful when creating realistic visual effects or motion graphics. Features like weather simulation and particle systems allow artists to create realistic weather effects and stunning particle effects like explosions or magic spells. It also supports VR/360° video editing, which brings viewers right into the action.

Despite its powerful capabilities, one downside is its steep learning curve. Adobe After Effects is packed with advanced features that can be intimidating for beginners. However, with the right training and practice, artists can leverage this software to create Hollywood-level visual effects.

What software does a VFX artist use?

Autodesk Maya is a staple in the visual effects and animation industries, particularly among 3D artists. It is a powerful tool that provides a wide range of features for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and simulation. Its extensive capabilities make it a popular choice for blockbuster movies and series, such as "Game of Thrones" and "Harry Potter".

The software excels in areas such as UV mapping, providing an intuitive toolset for creating and editing UVs for precise texture mapping on 3D models. It also boasts top-notch fluid simulation tools for creating lifelike atmospheres and fluid effects, and advanced lighting tools for creating perfectly lit scenes. Maya's nCloth system provides unmatched control over cloth movement, making animations look professional and perfect.

One of Maya's potential drawbacks is its complex layer management system, which can make working with many textures slow and difficult. However, its robust features and capabilities far outweigh these minor challenges, making it a must-have tool for visual artists and professionals.

Is making VFX hard?

Creating Visual Effects (VFX) can be a complex process, given the variety of skills and technical knowledge required. Software platforms like Adobe After Effects and Autodesk Maya offer a multitude of advanced features for VFX creation, from motion tracking and 3D compositing to particle systems and more. While these powerful tools are indispensable for professional artists, they can be overwhelming for beginners.

The degree of difficulty often depends on the complexity of the visual effect you want to create. Some effects can be achieved relatively easily, especially with user-friendly interfaces and intuitive tools, such as those found in Adobe's Creative Cloud suite, which provide comprehensive video editing tools for a wide range of skill levels.

For instance, applying color grading to RAW footage or adding simple 3D elements to a video might be relatively straightforward. In contrast, creating intricate 3D animations or realistic particle effects like those seen in blockbuster movies such as "Game of Thrones" or "Harry Potter" requires more skill and experience.

Does VFX require coding?

VFX doesn't necessarily require coding, but having some programming knowledge can indeed enhance your capabilities as a VFX artist. Many VFX programs have built-in scripting or expression languages (like JavaScript in Adobe After Effects),

Is being a VFX artist worth it?

Becoming a VFX artist can be incredibly rewarding. Not only does it offer a creative outlet, but it also opens up a wealth of opportunities in various industries, from video games and movies to advertising and beyond.

Blockbuster movies, popular video games, and TV shows like "Game of Thrones" all rely heavily on the skills of talented VFX artists. DreamWorks Animation, for instance, is known for its visually stunning work, much of which is thanks to the VFX artists who bring their creative visions to life.

Moreover, the demand for VFX artists is on the rise as more content is being produced than ever before, and the advancements in technology continually push the boundaries of what's possible in visual effects.

However, it's also worth noting that the VFX industry can be competitive and demanding, with tight deadlines and high expectations. It requires continuous learning and adaptation to new software, tools, and techniques.

Overall, if you have a passion for creating and manipulating visuals and are excited by the idea of contributing to the worlds of film, television, and video games, a career as a VFX artist can be worth the effort.

The Bottom Line

To recap, here are the best VFX software to try this year:

  1. Adobe After Effects — best of the best
  2. Autodesk Maya — best for animators
  3. Autodesk 3ds Max — best for businesses and studios
  4. SideFX Houdini — best for procedural 3D animation
  5. Blender — best for small to medium-sized projects
  6. Unreal Engine — best for architectural visualizations
  7. Unity — best for indie game developers

How to Make $100K Per Month

A 150 page playbook on how to make $100,000+ per month using a blog + smart AI for anyone serious about making money online.

>