Software package (take one)
My personal feeling is that platform independence is key to the success of this project. This is due to the fact that, failing some sort of organizational epiphany that I don't forsee (logically), the animators will be working from their own computers, and their own computers may or may not be SGIs (ha!)
Given that requirement, I figure I am looking at a short list of options: we have...
Maya, which I would guess is probably the most respected of the choices out there. A lot of people know it, it's very very powerful, but it costs $2,000 (or $7,000 if you go for the fullest version). So if you don't go it, you won't get it, and we get nowhere. It's a cool program, tho.
Lightwave 3D, which is a very nifty program too. Well-known, if somewhat overshadowed by Maya and 3ds max. It costs about $1,600. So it's cheaper, but still a big investment. So again, if you're not in, you're not likely to get in.
Blender, which works on every platform on the planet, is open-source, and is comparitively unknown. From what I see, it had a lot of cool features, but I can't say that I see all the features we'd probably want. Being free, it makes the barrier to entry very low, and being open, if there is some specific we are lacking, we theoretically could find someone to write us that feature and tack it in there. Still, a question of familiarity...
So given these options, I'm still not sure where to go. I think it may be obvious that I'm leaning towards Blender, but that's purely my personal idealology clouding my judgement, and I await someone with a passion of Maya to come and whoop my ass back into shape.