I'm curious to know what 3D programs I should be able to use professionally before graduation. A lot of firms use SketchUp and different plug-ins for that... But what plug-ins and what other programs would those in the LA world suggest? SketchUp, 3D Max, Maya, Rhino? Which one is best??

 

It might help if I say that I'm interested in urban design - not so much residential design.

 

For instance, what programs are used with this?

 http://www.land8.net/blog/2011/08/16/james-corner-field-operations-...

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When I was in college I didn't even know Rhino, or Maya existed. Hand graphics were encouraged and many of my colleagues and professors seemed a bit anti-technology. When I graduated a lot of firms I interviewed for asked if I knew any of the programs you mentioned...

 

My advice. learn and master all of them. After a few months with all the programs, you'll know what program JCFO used.

Why don't you write to Corner and ask. Most shops do share that kind of info.
What's Corner?
James Corner Field operations is his shop.
That looks like either 3d Max or Rhino to me...
Choosing what software to use depends primarily on who's paying for it, the learning curve, and what's commonly used in firms.  For general conceptual stuff you can't go wrong with Sketchup coupled with a nice renderer like Shaderlight, VRay, Maxwell, etc.  If you want to develop more advanced skills any of the dedicated animation packages like Blender, 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema4D, Lightwave, Modo will do fine.  These packages are very deep and geared more for visualization, film, TV, and games as opposed to dedicated CAD apps like Rhino, Sketchup, AutoCAD, Bonzai3d.  Modo and CInema4D are easier while Blender, 3ds Max, Maya, and Lightwave all have higher learning curves, especially Maya and Blender.  That being said Sketchup and 3ds Max dominate the US design market and will most likely be used in the potential firms you want to work for.  Consequently, they also have the most landscape architecture/urban design oriented plugins available. Personally, I like Sketchup, Bonzai3D, Modo, and Cinema4D. The best advice I can give you in learning them is don't try to just open them and figure them out.  Check out good books, visit online sites for inspiration(cgarchitect.com), and find tutorials geared toward your respective program and focus.  This will save you tons of time.

Depends on the scale and caliber of work: 

Rhino (VRay,Maxwell,Grasshopper), AutoCAD, Revit, Microstation.

I'd assume FO uses a fair amount of Rhino - look at Penn student work; or better yet their job postings in the past.

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