Animation & Special Effects Software

A digitally animated horse.

Film and video editing has unarguably entered the digital age, with many special effects created almost entirely within a computer. Three-dimensional animation software allows users to create these effects, which can include anything from lens flares to digital creatures to fully 3D-animated movies. There are numerous commercial animation and special effects software programs available, each with advantages and disadvantages.

DAZ Studio

DAZ Studio is a free program aimed primarily at beginners. It is used for 3D animation and rendering and allows users to import 3D models (which can be purchased from DAZ’s website or created in a separate modeling program). Using this software, you can create 3D scenes with lighting, backdrops and props and animate your characters. You can then render the scene as a single image or as an animated clip. DAZ Studio is best suited for creating fully animated movies, but it can be used to create animation to import into video clips using separate video editing programs.


Autodesk Maya is a high-end program that can be used for modeling, animation, visual effects and rendering. Maya is a relatively expensive program with a steep learning curve that is tuned more toward the professional market. It allows for seamless integration into film and video. The program includes accurate camera tracking, in-depth modeling, photo-realistic hair and textures, and thousands of other professional features. In fact, Maya’s suite of tools is so high-tech that it has been used on films such as “Avatar,” “Ice Age,” “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra,” “Kung Fu Panda,” the animated show “South Park” and dozens of other films and TV programs. Maya is available for download from the Autodesk website starting at around $3,000.

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FXHome is a video editing program that allows users to incorporate special effects such as particle effects (like shooting stars, rain or explosions) and muzzle flashes for guns; filters that allow you to change the look and feel of a scene (night filters or fog); and lens flares that are a common sight in sci-fi films. The program works like standard video-editing software, though it is packed with features and also allows for the use of compositing: layering images on top of one another to create a single image. This technique is used to apply green- or blue-screen effects, which can be seen in almost every feature film. The software is available in different bundles from FXHome’s website, priced relatively inexpensively at around $150.