Can you describe your intent in more detail? How many parts and what level of detail do you anticipate? Blender is capable of many things but it may not be ideal for animating complex machinery depending on what you want to do. It does have fluids, particles/smoke, body collisions, cloth sim etc and artistic capabilities/effects you wont find within SW itself and lately Cycles the native unbiased renderer produces pretty decent photo realistic results. Blender can also be used with other renderers like Octane. In the next release of Blender in a few weeks there will be a non realistic renderer included - sketchy outlines and shading for anime style/line drawings etc, although this is a bit of a memory hog- Something like Blender also allows you to have character animation or for instance text and arrow animations as part of your scene. If Blender was suited to the job it might be easier to pay someone who is familiar with it to do the work. Blenderartists.org forums might be a good place to advertise once you decide it could be suitable. Usually there is someone lurking who would like a paid job for their skills. Most likely employing them for stuff you cant manage presently would be cheaper than buying new commercial software and easier than learning it yourself. There is a free macro available here on the forums for exporting .obj and simple materials out of Solidworks that ought to be ok for deriving a mesh cg apps can work with. Modo has the ability to read SW files. Possibly thats a better option in terms of ease of use. Not a user Modo myself so I cant answer what artisitic/animation capabilities it has in respect of what you want to accomplish..
I would like to get the highest level of detail possible in the long run. Most of my assemblies would be about 50 parts but could get up to the area of 500 at times. Basically I am looking for a outcome like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akHV3zgwG-U . I would be doing assembly videos as well in the future.
My two main concerns are performance and training. As far as outsourcing I would prefer to try and complete this myself as this will eventually be used on quite a regular basis.
What about PhotoView 360 and Animation in SolidWorks?
Look at Rob Rodriguez stuff at AxisCAD and Paul McCrorey at McCrorey Digital. They use PV360 and Modo. They have examples on their website on what is possible.
Modo 701 is the latest and will open SolidWork models directly.
Also take a look at KeyShot.
You will be still using your workflow of saving out individual frames and doing post in PhotoShop or After Effects and then compiling the video.
Thanks for the links I have seen their videos before and that is the outcome I will eventually be hoping for. I currently use Photoview 360 for all of my single frame images. I have played with some animating in Solidworks and while it does look decent I find it not as smooth as other animation software (of course this could be my inexperience) Hopefully these appearances will get a little better once we upgrade to 2013 since I know it supports Luxology appearances now.
I will be downloading the trial of MODO 701 as soon as it becomes available to try my hand at that again. Really I am trying to find a beginning start into 3D animation with program, training and computer specs. I am well aware that I cannot excpect to see the visuals created by someone who has had years of specific training and usage in 3D animation. I am fairly confortable with Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro. Its just the basic animation creating that I have only been doing for about a year and not nearly to the extent these programs offer.
Guess my bottom line would be where to start keeping in mind I do use Solidworks. Would want the best program that will be good to learn yet not be obsolete after a year of learning. Meaning I would like a program that has room for growth as my skills enhance. I am leaning towards MODO (but all these programs look impressive along with Cinema4D) since I know they are a Solidworks partner so may be more compatible.
Also if anyone could tell me what kind of hardware upgrade I am looking at to be able to run any programs like this I would be grateful. Would rather go more power to support growth than a just get by system. I already experience very slow render speeds so I know I will need a upgrade before tackling any of this.
My current specs are:
Intel(R) Xeon(R) W3505 @ 2.53 GHz 2.53
12.0 GB Memory
64 bit system
Running Windows 7 Professional.
I think you will want to check out the SolidWorks 2014 beta program, and PhotoView 360, perhaps with Modo. There may be some new functionality there to suit your purposes.
Derek, you're asking about a really important issue in software: the divide between CAD and animation software.
While the model accuracy and rendering capabilities of both types of software have imporved dramatically in recent years, there's still a fundimental separation of tools. CAD makes mechanical mates very easy. Animation tools make particle effects and sub-object animation very easy. Neither does it all at this point and the loss due to translation is horrible so it's almost like if you're going to anything with particle effects or deformation, you might as well not bother to do anything more than apply color to your parts because anything you do in SolidWorks with appearances or mates is wasted effort as far as Maya or Blender is concerned.
Be prepared to lose it all.
Having said that, you can take
If SolidWorks labs had made good on their Collada exporter that was supposed to have included the animation tracks, and textures, then you might have a reasonable workflow for going to Maya. But as it is, the plug-in won't load in SolidWorks 2013-probably because of the changes to VBA
As it is, I advise you to chose the projects you want to render in Maya, Blender or Max, import and render only the components you need their unique abilities for and make really clever use of compisiting/editing software.
Things they are a-changing, and for the better. Please check the Modo CAD Loader plug-in :
...and you also need to check out the animation export features in 2014 beta.
Taken together, you can model in SW, and import quad geometry into Modo, then you have render- and animation-friendly geometry, carrying textures and channel animation from one world to the other.
If you are clever about making simplified configurations, you can reduce polys during export as needed.
That is very encouraging. I didn't realize you could do particle effects in Modo.
Have you tried Realflow by Nextlimit? I havent used it myself but I have seen the demos and it could be another option for you.