Is there a way to start making 3-d art so that you get some results easier than what you make? It's overwhelming to think of learning to do things at the level that you are at. Are there some entry-level projects? Maybe a ball with a shadow? I'm familiar with POV-Ray although I don't know how to use it yet either.
I need to start trying some of the dA tutorials...
Sorry for the late reply, I somehow missed this comment. I learned 3ds max using the free video tutorials on 3d buzz, you can still watch them here if you sign up to the site: [link] Some of the tools have changed a bit in newer versions of 3ds max, but overall it's pretty similar. It took me a loooong time to figure out what the hell I was doing, but once you get it it becomes easy. You have to take baby steps when learning 3d.
Also look on google for tutorials and forums. Whenever I have a 3d problem, a quick google search always answers it within 5 minutes. Every 3d question has already been answered, somewhere out on the great internet ocean, you just have to find the answer.
[link] Blender is a free and open source 3d program with the same kind of functionality as 3ds max or Maya, I haven't used it much personally but lots of great 3d artists do amazing work with it. There are also various renderers for blender that are similar to Vray, the renderer I use in 3ds max. If you're going to be learning 3ds max for school though, I would recomend just sticking with that though. Both programs have very different interfaces, so once you master one you probably wont want to change. That's my experience anyway.
[link] TopMod is the free program I use to make most of my weird 3d models. It's a specific modeling tool to apply certain operations to geometry, but you need another program like 3ds max or blender to export the topmod models to in order to render. There's loads of tutorials scattered around the web.