Blender, the open-source 3D application, has come a long way. According to a 2007 comparison of 3D applications published on the TDT 3D (The Dream Team) Web site, Blender performed well against Maya, Softimage XSI, Cinema 4d, and Lightwave. And considering each of the others costs at least $500, Blender should be especially appealing to a low-budget filmmaker.
As the comparison chart shows, Blender scored Good or Very Good in animation, rendering, particles, and dynamics. In fact, it outscored Cinema 4D in character animation, and Lightwave and XSI in UV tools. It was also listed as the only package with built-in compositing; though, XSI's higher-end versions (the entry-level version was used for the comparison) do have compositing as well.
Blender does need work in some areas. It scored poorly in NURB and curves modeling, and low in 3D painting. Plus, it's still doesn't have an industry-standard interface. But the developers are constantly working on updates, and there is a tremendous 3rd party community adding plug-ins and scripts all the time.
Blender's growth can mean a lot for those who need to use CG for their movies but can't afford a $500+ price tag. Do you need matte paintings, pyrotechnics, space ships, dinosaurs? Try Blender. It's free!