I finally got around to trying Sketchup. I'm a Blender user so I didn't know if it was worth looking at or not. I'm very impressed. It's the most intuitive modeler I've ever used. They have about 4 twenty minute videos to bring you up to speed. It's a cad program, actually, so I can use it for some building projects I do once in a while, plus, I'm going to see what the export is like because I'll probably use it for architecture instead of Blender. They've actually changed the export to collada so there shouldn't be much fuss. It used to be a zipped collada that had to be renamed.
You should use 3 or 4 programs. Scetchup for too low poly or for levels. Blender/3D max/Maya for characters, vehicles etc., Zbrush for High-poly.
Yes, I agree. I haven't tried Zbrush, yet, though. I've already run against a problem with Sketchup, though. It doesn't do a very good dae export. It crashes Blender a lot. Don't know if it's just my computer or what. I've been using a plugin script and doing dxf exports with it right now. I have to texture it in Blender that way. The models are enormous in Blender too. They have to be scaled way down.
IMO there's no such thing as a good Collada exporter/importer. The format almost floats on dreams of being a universal standard. Almost no app properly implements it, or greatly abuses it by using extensions instead of the standard elements. Blender in particular does not fully implement the standard, so it's not unusual to cause problems when you import from another app. I wouldn't be surprised if SketchUp implemented their own version of Collada either. I remember reading a blog post from a Google employee about using Collada for web presentations and seeing his very narrow view of the Collada format. It was because of that I ended up writing my own importer instead of using Google's.
I haven't used ZBrush, but the sculpting features available in Blender work fairly well from what I have done with it. Personally I'd rather work with nurbs, but it totally depends on what you're modelling. I don't even pretend to be able to model characters, so playing with squishy polygons doesn't cut it for me.
IMO there's no such thing as a good Collada exporter/importer.
Yeah. I've found there's one standard worth using and it's fbx. All the others are deficient in one way or another. They don't include camera, they allow too much variation, they don't have bone animation, etc, etc. It might not be open source, but it's open enough and it works. Blender is horrible about keeping up their exporters. They don't seem to care if they work or not. The md2 has been broken since version 2.30. I know a lot of people that would still like to use it. It comes in handy. But I'm pretty sure this is Google because I tried a free convertor from whoever makes fbx, can't think of their name, but it just showed an empty model when I imported it converted to obj. It was just a simple model, too. Some of them work, some don't. The dxf seems pretty consistent.
I've seen the FBX format once in an XNA skinning demo for WP7. I found it a bit "texty" for my liking. Surprisingly the file loaded quite fast on the phone, but I figure if you had to load several dozen files in that format you would be sitting around for quite some time. One format that is renouned for excellent support, albeit basic in features, is the OBJ file. If you just need geometry storage, that's a solid format to work with. And if portability is not an issue, you might as well role your own format. The blender plugin I posted in code forum here is the format of choice I use today. It works very nicely and I don't regret putting the effort into it. I can actually work with keyframe animations instead of that horrid BVH format.
You can save fbx in either text or binary. The binary is pretty fast. Yeah, obj works good for simple static models. In Unity, I think it's saving the models in it's own format once the game is written unless they are specifically saved. I could be wrong about that, though. The trouble with roll your own is it takes time away from game writing and it's one more individual format that works for one specific purpose and doesn't share well. For a while I learned OpenGL, and even wrote a simple exporter for it from Blender, but I found it was too much trouble keeping up with everything. With an engine, that falls on someone else's shoulders and I can just write games which is what I'm interested in. All the little incompatibilities that crop up, that turns into a full time job. I want to just write a game and move on. Learning is fun, but it's enough for me to learn modeling and engine functions.