I remember when Maya used to cost $15,000, and the SGI workstation necessary to run it cost even more. In terms of rendering quality, the stuff produced in those days is vastly inferior to what we can do today with a copy of Maya 2008 Complete and a modest workstation. Total cost maybe $3500. It's easier and much faster to work with as well. Of course Maya Unlimited will set you back another $3000, but it's still a lot better than 10 years ago.
But top-shelf animation software is still not free, and wouldn't it great if it were? Enter stage right: Blender. It may be finally getting to the point that it can be a real alternative for professionals:
Big Buck Bunny - Official Trailer from Andy Goralczyk on Vimeo.
Not bad. The renders are certainly up to today's standards, and the animators were able to get decent results as well -- though there's not a whole lot of action in the trailer. Anyways, it's a heck of a lot better than the hideous Elephant's Dream, the first film attempted with Blender. It probably indicates that the software has come a long way. The interface is still a Byzantium train wreck, but I suppose if one uses it enough, he might get used to its quirks.
Here's a toast to the continuing progress of Blender (another one pulled from my archives):