A little background before I get into this, I have barely touched animation before in my entire life, I have some cash that wouldn't be too put out by spending if I thought I was getting something good, and I am currently interested in doing this as a hobby, starting with the small stick man animations, building up into more creative projects. The thing is I am fairly terrible at drawing but I have, what I would like to think are, a few good ideas that randomly pop into my head but are forced to stay there because I have very little artistic ability.
With that out of the way I came here to ask for advice and recommendations for some animation software that anyone who currently works with animation as a profession or just on a daily basis would give to someone who is looking to start it as a hobby. In other words, if you were able to go back to whenever you started working with animation and give your younger self a software from today that you believe would best get you into working with animation. Nothing extremely fancy or difficult, just something to get your feet wet with.
So basically I would like a good piece of software that I can use now and further on down the line, when I decide to try more ambitious projects. I do not mind buying something as long as I know it is fairly good, not being extremely difficult to understand or learn but also having the tools to allow me to expand when I want to.
One more thing, I am not opposed to having to learn how a program works, meaning that I am willing to sit and watch a tutorial or read about it if I can reasonably say that it would be worth my time.
(Wings3D was modeled after Nendo/Mirai when it was built. The result is that software is the most friendliest of ANY 3D modeler out there, pure easy workflow).
For whatever reason that little gem has stayed below the radar (and probably best because Autodesk buys up every competitor...still upset of XSI being bought out, finally an affordable pro level 3D program for under $1,000...poof gone by the Autodesk monster).
Also, if you're going to get into animation and use conventional $$$$ programs it's best to learn one. Like programming and learning languages you will specialize in one. Program of choice is Maya (both in art school/college) and in the CGI/3D animation business. In the old days (like 5 years ago!) it was 3DSMax for gaming, Maya for animation. Now it's Maya for basically both.
For 3D modelling do get Wings3D, though. Even the pros use it due to how fast to model in it (it doesn't have like Blender's horrible UI to get in the way), and so easy to use in one weekend a newbie can be making complex objects.
They do require a valid school, and if you try to produce anything for money you owe them a ton of money off the jump. Blender is the best option for early learning and it is a free resource.
It's free, but has the worst UI in the history of programming, period. Would take more time learning how to get around that UI than working with it, and an hindrance to those not used to using 3D software.