The ‘best’ program…? Probably 3D Studio Max because it’s compatible with countless different rendering solutions. It has multiple plugins for animation, particles and soft-body physics. It’s a modeler as well as a manipulator, has a swiss-army knife’s worth of features and has been used for countless feature movies, both fully animated cartoons and live action CG.
Of course, you also pay a lot more for it, and have a lot more to learn and master.
There’s an understatement. The best software in the world has little value, if you can’t learn how to use it.
If you want to go with the classroom and instructor approach, your choices will be limited. After that you’ll need plenty of cash, four years to spare, and you’ll probably need to move.
If that’s a bit rich for you, as it is for me, you may already have discovered that the forums are crucial. Books are often in short supply. Videos have limited use. Only the forum can give you the opportunity to ask questions. These programs tend to be complex. If you can’t ask questions, you won’t live long enough to learn to use them.
For lack of a curriculum, I’ve spent a year evaluating four or five programs and the learning resources that are available for each of them. I’ve learned that each forum has a culture of its own. Some have overbearing “topic police” for moderators. Some have a high-testosterone environment that is given to endless arguing. Others are just plain unresponsive, packed with passive observers.
IMO, anyone setting out to learn any CG program would be wise to take the available learning resources into account when choosing a program.