I've been gradually learning to use a lot of open source software (and also starting to contribute to various OS projects), and I thought I'd post this.
This is probably very old news to many people here, but I am continuously surprised how few people actually realize they can get professional-grade software for free (without piracy!). Here's a list of four excellent pieces of graphics software that are completely free, along with some links to tutorials and resources.
Blender (see also: Wikipedia) is an amazing piece of 3D software. That such a feature-rich, industry grade, 3D program is free is absolutely incredible. For Mac users used to commercial 3D software ported to OS X (like LW for OS X), the interface and controls will seem a bit "un-Mac-like" at first, but the software is absolutely amazing. Like any major program, Blender demands some adaptation before you reach proficiency, but it is a very professional piece of software, with a fabulous community and documentation. Also, to anyone who has tried out previous versions of Blender and decided it wasn't comparable to commercial software, please check it out now. There has been so much progress over the past few versions.
Some Blender links:
The 2.3 user guide. The current version is 2.42, so this guide is not quite up-to-date (most importantly, it doesn't mention the Mesh Modifiers system, an important new feature), but is otherwise a great and thorough introduction to Blender.
Blender 3D: Noob to Pro. This wikibook is the ultimate Blender tutorial.
Blender 3D: Tutorial Links List: a massive list of links to tutorial.
The Blender Wiki. A lot of additional documentation in wiki format.
Wings 3D is a subdivisions modeler that is a great addition to Blender 3D (you will hear this from a lot of people, I think some Blender documentation files actually list Wings as a companion software). It is very good at modeling organic-looking ships. There are some tutorials and a user guide available on the site.
The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is probably one of the best known open source projects (except maybe for Linux and Firefox, but I'd wager many people don't even know that one is open source). Anyway, for most purposes, GIMP is a great alternative to the pricey Photoshop. If you are used to the latter, transitioning will probably require some effort. The Wikipedia entry has a ton of links.
For all your decal/logo/emblem design needs. Inkscape is the open source equivalent of Adobe's Illustrator. The project's website has some documentation available, but I learned Inkscape mostly by trial and error. There are many tutorials around.
I hope this actually helped someone and wasn't just old stuff that's been posted a thousand times. I also hope these great project will motivate you to release your own free-time projects under free licenses, and to contribute to open source projects; it's very difficult at the start because you have so much documentation to read and source to figure out, but you'll learn a tremendous amount simply from reading code if you are an intermediate-to-advanced programmer.
This post has been edited by pez : 31 July 2006 - 02:51 PM