If your design program is anything like the Landscape Architecture Program at UW then you have run into this dilemma, or one similar. It's this. Some software is free to students, software like autocad, or pretty much any Autodesk software, some is deeply discounted, such as Rhino 4.0, Adobe Suite, and well pretty much everthing. The issue? Sometimes even though the original software is deeply discounted the plugins (ad-ons that make the software a whole lot more helpful) can cost just as much if not more than the software's original price, even when discounted. I've found myself in this very situation when redoing a project last quarter where we used the Rhino Terrain plugin for Rhino 4.0 to import GIS data directly into the model in 3D. BUT now my Rhino Terrain trial has expired...what to do? Well here is a work around that is MUCH more work but gets the same thing accomplished more or less.
First thing you want to do is to get your GIS data properly clipped, oh and if you take any GIS course you can most likely get a year license for free. If not, you might be stuck using a school PC or you are just SOL.
Next thing you want to do is download the trial plugin of Rhino Resurf. Now what Resurf more or less allows you to do in this case is to fit a NURBS surface to a point cloud....something not built into the naked Rhino. Now what I did here most likely isn't the most efficient way but its a way nonetheless that I arrived at through trial and error!
I then opened my data set in ArcScene and turned the contour lines into a 3d model and exported the scene as a VRML file. Luckly Rhino cad import this file type, the only issue is that everything comes in unaligned, but with a little tweaking its not that big of a deal.
You can then have the 3D contour lines exported form arcscene, using the point tool to make a point cloud, then use the Rhino Resurf plugin to make your nurbs surface! Viola!
here where I got some of my help from. Hopes this helps people in the same boat. There is always a work around!
Until I have unlimited funds for software!