The Longest Journey Of My Life


On November 11th of this year, I am going to turn 60 years old. Since 1977, I’ve dedicated my life to making music. This November will be exactly 40 years. In that time, I’ve pretty much done all I could do musically, creating symphonies, piano concertos, Broadway like soundtracks, pop tunes, rock tunes and just about anything you could possibly think of. There really is nothing left for me to do after writing and recording thousands of songs.

During that entire time, especially after Star Wars came out, I always dreamed about doing animation. But I always put it off, early on because there was no real software for doing it and later on because I kind of figured what was the point so late in life?

But I am finding that I don’t really have a lot to take up my days any longer. And that desire to do animation is still there. So I figured, what the heck? If nothing else, it will keep me very, very busy, probably for the rest of my life.

The problem is, I have zero clue where to start. There are only two things I am fairly certain of, based on the limited research that I’ve done.

  1. The software for doing this from my home is going to come with a monster price tag. I’m sure at least a grand or more.

  2. Having limited artistic ability as far as drawing (I do an online comic called Stick World where you can see just how bad an artist I am) I know that this is going to be ridiculously difficult for me, if not close to impossible.

So why am I here? Simply, hoping to get any piece of info that might help me even a minuscule amount. A nudge in the right direction. Anything. I know that finding a college that specializes in teaching CGI is my best option. I just don’t have the finds to go back to school to learn this, especially since it’s just going to be for my own enjoyment.

As a veteran of many forums over the years, especially music forums, I know the general attitude towards people like me is pretty much “Look man, don’t waste our time. We’re all professionals here and we don’t have the time to get you on your way. Go somewhere else.” I understand that. I also know that every once in a while, there is that one person who actually cares and tries to help. I am hoping to meet that one person here who can at least give me a nudge in the right direction, even if it’s just “try this forum, they’re more receptive to people looking to get into doing CGI.” It is through a Google search that I found you guys. In case you didn’t know, it’s the number 1 result for animation forums. So you should all be very proud.

If I have done of said anything inappropriate, please accept my apologies. But as a man lost in the desert with no food or water, I just didn’t know where else to go or what else to do.

My ultimate goal is to do the stereotypical flying saucers attacks earth thing and hopefully score it as well. I have tons of music just right for such a movie.

Thank you for whatever help you can give me, again, even if it’s just “try this other forum.”


Well, not necessarily. We need to know what kind of animation are you looking for. You were inspired by Star Wars, so I assume we are talking more about 3D animation or more like Visual effects
There are a few free options, The most complete package is called Blender. It has a great community and you can do most of the stuff in it.
Blender Website
Another option is Houdini apprentice. This is severely limited, like it has some watermarks on the final images, but I think you can start with it and then upgrade the license if you are ok with it, Houdini Indie is 200$. And of course the full version is a couple of thousands.
Houdini Apprentice

Now the paid options:
Maya, or 3ds max from Autodesk, you can get their demo, play with them 30 days and then maybe is for you, maybe not. Maya costs about 250$ a month, it is the most used app for animation.
Autodesk Maya
Autodesk 3ds max
The next are, Cinema 4D or Modo. Both are widely used, especially in smaller places. both cost around 1000$. But the good part is you buy it once and you have it, they don’t nag you every month to pay up.
Cinema 4D animation features
Modo features

One more: Lightwave. This had a great userbase a few years back, somehow it almost got forgotten. Still, is a great package, it costs about 700$, actually is the father of Modo.

There are some other options, but this is what comes to mind right now.
I would call your attention not to be mislead by the images on these sites. Of course they all want to inspire you. Look around on youtube for videos regarding the use of these apps. All of them are capable of doing things from start to finish - with the note - you may still need a compositing software, but is too early to talk about that.

Regarding the process, this is what you want to look for:
Modeling - you create the objects, these are basically sculptures.
uv mapping, texturing and materials/shading- these models have no materials, this is the step where you use images to give surface details and set the surface properties (bumpiness, reflectivity, colors, patterns, many things)
rigging and animation - before you animate you need to set them up, so it’s easy to manipulate. You may need deformers to bend, squash, etc, ot just a few controls to move around. Then animate these to get the effect you want
particle effects - this is how you generate lots of effects, like pixie dust, fire, smoke, rain, explosions, nukes…quite a few things.
rigid body and cloth simulations - basically animation controlled mostly by the laws of physics. You set up the mass, the initial velocity and BAM! let things fall, break to pieces. everything you wanted to do as a child.
rendering - what you do in these apps are basically a huge amount of data, represented as a simplified version. Rendering is the step where all this data is put together in the final image. This is the step where the lighting/shadows are correctly calculated, for example.

So…have fun, there are lots of thing to look for, maybe you just want to pick a program and zip through all these with simple ideas - a UFO flying in and out the frame is a great start because it doesn’t bog you down with lots of details. Then when you get the hang of it with simple setup you can move on to something else.
I strongly suggest to use Blender, because as I said it’s free and there are lots of people using it. So you may get answers quite fast.

Almost unbelievable. Unfortunately this is the internet.
Most of us have to explain to our parents, that when they give to someone the skype ID they don’t have to give the password too. Then explain it again. We have to constantly remind them that the email promising a free iPad is probably a scam and who knows what else. You are a great inspiration - for me at least.
Actually your music experience will be a great help. A know two other people who are animators with music education. Both are great. Somehow they have this great sense for the beat of actions, for timing.

Maybe you can check out this book, it’s a bit dated, but is the best for beginners who want to get an overview:
Inspired 3D Short Film Production


Leonard, thank you so much for getting back to me. As I wasn’t even sure if my post would be approved, I started out on my own and decided to download Blender because it was free. I have to far watched a half dozen tutorials in the last two days. I’m not totally lost but I am struggling to grasp the controls. I know what I want to do but, like learning any software, I click on something and nothing happens. Some of these tutorials I may have to watch more than once as my retention at my age isn’t what it once was. But that’s okay. I didn’t expect this to be easy. It took me years to make my first breakthrough with my music and just recently, after close to 40 years at that point in time (2014) I won my first award. And making music is a lot easier than doing this stuff. So I’m not expecting miracles. This is really just to give me something enjoyable and challenging to do.

Ironically, my first song writing partner’s name is Leonard who happens to be the author of Phoenix, The Rise And Fall Of Video Games. He’s become quite a celebrity and I’m very happy for him.

Anyway, thanks again. I’m pretty sure I can handle it from this point on. It’s just a matter of study, study, study and practice, practice, practice.

Just like with music.

My best to you.


I can relate, I just turned 60 this year. I’ve had C4D quiet a few years, 7 of those years I wasn’t able to really use it as I moved my dad in with me and took care of him. anyway, C4D prime will run about $1K USD. it has an easy interface to get use to. yeah $1K does sound like a lot, and it is, buy there are other hobbies and habits which are not all that cheep. there are other 3D software out there, download the demo of them and try, see which feels good to you. also lots of tutorials to help you learn them.