Douglas T. Ross coined the term computer-aided design (CAD) in 1959. A software called Sketchpad was invented by Ivan Sutherland in 1963 for his PHD thesis. It was a two-dimensional drawing software. Between 1966 and 1968 Pierre Bézier did some mathematical work concerning surfaces and he developed UNISURF to ease the design of parts and tools for the automotive industry. UNISURF then became the working base for the following generations of CAD software.
In 1971 Dr. Patrick Hanratty developed ADAM. It was an interactive graphics design, drafting and manufacturing system written using Fortran.
The 1980’s saw the introduction of several CAD programs that are still used today, such as CATIA and AutoCAD. AutoCAD, created by Autodesk, was the first 2D CAD software made for PCs. John Walker founded Autodesk in 1982. In 1985 AutoCAD 3D was released. In 1992 AutoCAD was released on Windows.
Ed Catmull created a computer animated hand in 1972 and went on to start Pixar, an independent company in 1986. Pixar was backed by Steve Jobs and they were working on films, rendering software, hardware and commercials. In 1995 they released the full-length computer animated movie Toy Story.
3D Studio MAX was created for the DOS platform in 1988 by Gary Yost and published by Autodesk. In 1996 it was released for Windows and it’s written in C++. The product name was changed to 3Ds Max to comply with the naming conventions of Discreet, a Montreal-based company that Autodesk purchased.
Maya was originally an animation product based on code from The Advanced Visualizer by Wavefront Technologies, TDI Explore, PowerAnimator by Alias and Alias Sketch!. The IRIX-based projects were combined and animation features were added; the project codename was Maya. Disney collaborated closely with Maya’s development during its production of Dinosaur. Disney requested that the user interface of the application be customizable so that a personalized workflow could be created. This was a particular influence in the open architecture of Maya, and partly responsible for it becoming popular in the animation industry.
After Silicon Graphics Inc. acquired both Alias and Wavefront, the technology was merged into Maya. SGI’s acquisition was a response to Microsoft Corporation acquiring Softimage 3D. The new subsidiary was named “Alias|Wavefront”.
In the early days of development Maya started with Tcl as the scripting language, in order to leverage its similarity to a Unix shell language, but after the merger with Wavefront it was replaced with Maya Embedded Language. Sophia, the scripting language in Wavefront’s Dynamation, was chosen as the basis of MEL.
Maya 1.0 was released in February 1998. Following a series of acquisitions, Maya was bought by Autodesk in 2005. (source)
Cinema 4D was developed for Amiga computers in the early 1990s and the first three versions of the program were available exclusively for that platform. With v4, however, Maxon began to develop the application for Windows and Macintosh computers as well. It’s a popular package for Adobe users due to their partnership.
Blender was created by Ton Roosendaal in 1994. Originally, Blender was planned as an in-house application for NeoGeo. It grew from a series of pre-existing tools, including a ray-tracer built for the Amiga. This early version of Blender was intended to address a perennial frustration among creatives: when a difficult client requires multiple changes to a project, how do you implement those changes painlessly? Thanks to its highly configurable approach, Blender aimed at providing an answer.
Roosendaal bought a Silicon Graphics workstation and launched Blender 1.0 in January 1995. In 1998 he founded a company (NaN) to market and distribute Blender commercially. In 2002 he started a non-profit, the Blender Foundation, with the intention of making Blender open-source.(source)