Once you've read my article 'An Effective Art Method,' you should understand what I'm about to say. It's best when starting in Digital Art to First get familiar with digital painting and using Wacom drawing tablets. 3D Software should come later. Don't work for your software. Design what YOU want to create, and then make the software work for You.
Here's how I recommend you go about developing your digital art skills:
Get yourself a copy of the most current version of Photoshop you can, and then get yourself a Wacom tablet. (Industry professional artists typically use the larger HD style, so you're essentially painting on your computer monitor, but it's best to go with whatever will work for you personally. Take a couple pieces of paper and cut them to the exact dimensions of the available tablets, and take a pen and pretend like you're painting using the paper. Use this to determine what size would be right for you before you buy.)
Then you need Training and a good understanding of how to use these tools. So purchase either the Matte Painting DVD's by Dylan Cole, the Interior Spaces DVD's by Mark Goerner, or the Concept Design DVD's by Feng Zhu (for digital painting his best DVD's are: 1, 2, and 3), to get an understanding of how to use your new tools to create industry-competitive concept art and digital painting. You can also work through several free Photoshop tutorials found online to get even more education. Work at becoming as proficient at speed-painting as you can, and then start to turn that into an ability to quickly create completed Matte Paintings.
Once you've worked through this and have become skilled at Digital Painting, you can now start to add 3D Graphics to your skillset. I recommend that even if you're on a budget, you try to start out with the best program you can, rather than settling for a cheaper program. Demo and then Get yourself a copy of 3ds Max or Maya (whichever works best for you - both are industry leading tools), and work through every Modeling, Texturing, and Lighting Tutorial you can find, both those that come with the Software and anything you can find online (I list the top training providers in my Art Training links page). Work at becoming as proficient as you can at speed-modeling, so when you digitally paint your concept, you can quickly model it in 3D without it costing so much time you begin to lose your vision.
Once you have these skills down, you can then start to add 3D Scenery and 3D Characters to your scenes. I recommend Vue for Scenery, World Machine for realistic and amazing terrains, and Poser for Characters (design the character you want, then export the model to Max or Maya and animate them there, as Poser and DAZ Studio both have very limited animation tools). A great place to buy Models for Poser is DAZ3d.
Once you've first developed a strong digital painting foundation, the ability to use all the other software together to create incredible, professional, and competitive Digital Art should come a lot easier than if you'd started out in a 3D program instead. Remember, design what you want first, then make your software work for You. Follow these recommendations in the order I've shown here and you'll quickly be on your way to developing Hollywood-Competitive Digital Art!
For a list of all the best Software available for creating Digital Art, check out my Software links page.