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Feature: Open Source

Blender: Riches to rags to recovery

By on July 24, 2002 (8:00:00 AM)

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- by Tina Gasperson -
Blender is a 3D computer animation tool that runs on Linux (and other platforms) and is popular in Open Source circles. Though originally a proprietary product, Blender is headed toward becoming Free Software, all because the company that created Blender went bankrupt.
The Blender story

Once upon a time, back in 1998, a little Amsterdam company called Not a Number was born, created specifically for the purpose of fostering development and growth of a little rendering program called Blender. Blender was originally the in-house animation tool for the NeoGeo animation studio, headed up by Ton Roosendaal and founded in 1989. After NeoGeo grew to be the largest business of its kind in all the Netherlands, it was bought by another company, and then Roosendaal was free to perfect Blender and share it with the community at large, with the eventual goal of releasing it as Free Software.

Blender picked up a user base of more than 250,000 people. Not a Number, or NaN, worked on commercial addons to the product, introducing the C-Key in early 1999. The Blender site puts it like this: "C-Key holders get first access to new Blender features. In fact, they are the investors that help NaN developing Blender." Users who paid for the C-Key would get "the most advanced features" of Blender for 95 Euros.

Blender gets rich

By the middle of 2000, NaN was looking to hire more developers.

"Thanks to the successful introduction of the C-key in the first half of 1999 we were able to finance the presentation of Blender at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles in July. The interest and attention this generated contributed to the continued rapid growth of the community, and has created a sound financial footing for NaN. This stability confirms our belief in offering Blender to the world as freeware."

NaN also wanted to expand.

"In February we will relocate the main offices to the cosmopolitan centre of Amsterdam, keeping offices in Eindhoven as well. We are also investigating the possibilities of establishing offices in London (England) sometime in 2000."

A look at the archived site that was online a couple of months later shows a marked difference -- slicker, more graphics, and a big increase in the job openings -- now NaN was looking not just for developers, but for sales managers, service managers, artists, and help desk support.

"NaN is currently situated in Amsterdam, Eindhoven (Netherlands) and Tokyo (Japan). We are also investigating the possibilities of establishing offices in Berlin (Germany), London (England), Sillicon Valley, San Francisco (USA) sometime in 2000. We will offer employees an exciting and well equipped workplace, an excellent and flexible compensation and benefits program (including stock options!) and the most exhilarating working environment you will ever experience!"

Blender's Mac climax

The rising star of Blender seemed to reach its zenith with the release of the beta for Mac OS X, for after the announcement in late 2001, there were no more Web site updates, no more news from the company. Nothing, until March 2002, when this brief notice went up:

"The digital media market has shown that it is not quite ready for the Blender technology offering, both for the Internet and for wireless applications. Continuation of these products, including the Creator, Publisher and our wireless initiative, will require additional investment of human and financial resources."

Depending on the kindness of the community

Shortly after that demise of Not a Number and the commercial Blender, the Blender Foundation sprung up. Now, Roosendaal is spearheading an effort to get the source code for Blender released from the NaN holding company. He has apparently negotiated a deal with the holding company that will accomplish the release of the sources, for the price of 100,000 Euros.

Roosendaal et al are conducting an Internet fundraising campaign to ransom Blender. "Fortunately we've got a very large user base (last registered count was 250k). So I felt quite optimistic about it. Most surprising of course is the approval all shareholders in the company, to backup the plans and agree with the -- for an investor relatively low -- fee of 100k."

Not all of the money collected is going to pay the investor's 100k fee. "I guess about 95% is directly for paying off the license," says Roosendaal. "But running the foundation services also costs money. We plan to organize a great Web portal, both for artists as well as coders, around the open-sourced Blender. A donation campaign will just continue, including interesting offers for sponsorship. It's non-profit, a great charity goal, and all focused at keeping access to Blender free." He calls that continuing campaign "mindshare technology."

If Roosendaal needed proof that his Blender is a popular product, he got it while shopping for "Free Blender" T-shirts to hand out at SIGGRAPH, the computer graphics conference going on this week in San Antonio, Texas.

Roosendaal relates: "In Amsterdam, where I live, I just went to the closest textile printing company. When I showed him the logos the company owner looked at me and asked, 'you're not Ton Roosendaal, are you?' Then he proudly showed me proud almost every product we've had in our e-shop the past years, and his 3D work on the company site. You can imagine the T-shirts were ready in 24 hours, for a more than reasonable price."

So far, the Blender Foundation has raised almost ð40,000. If you'd like to contribute, go to the Free Blender Fund Campaign page.

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on Blender: Riches to rags to recovery

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Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 25, 2002 12:18 AM
Sounds more like anyone contributing to this fund will go through a blender. I would guess that 95% of this money is going in this guys pocket not to license's.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: J. J. Ramsey on July 25, 2002 01:54 AM
"Sounds more like anyone contributing to this fund will go through a blender."

Oh, please. I've kept track of Blender (and even used it for a bit) before NaN even came into being.
If you are going to be cynical, be cynical about things of which you have a clue.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 25, 2002 02:41 AM
For your information:

NaN and the blender projects credit-balance is something like over two million dollars BACK (if I recall correctly 2.4 or 2.5 million dollars) at this point (investmentcosts, most salaries I would expect), so even if they bring this money in they aren't much better off really.

It's a financial disaster like too many other IT-companies out there.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 25, 2002 06:27 AM
"NaN and the blender projects credit-balance is something like over two million dollars BACK (if I recall correctly 2.4 or 2.5 million dollars) at this point (investmentcosts, most salaries I would expect), so even if they bring this money in they aren't much better off really."

For your information:

You appear to have your issues confused.

First of all there are 3 organisations involved:
1)Blender Foundation
2)Nan Bv Technologies
3)Nan Holdings

The donation money is being collected by the Foundation with the intention of buying out the code. It has only come to be over the past few weeks, and is not bankrupt.

It is Nan BV which went bankrupt and is on the wrong end of the credit-balance.

The Code belongs to NaN Holdings which is not bankrupt. And it is therefore to them that the money is going to free/buy out Blender.

Your message is talking about NaN BV.

So NaN BV might not be better off but that is quite irrelevent to this topic as they have nothing to do with the code, the Foundation and Nan Holdings (at least as far as this topic is concerned).

Unfortunatly you are right about the several finacial disasters at the moment<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:(

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 04:09 AM
Yes, i mixed them up, sorry for that.

However, the total sum of invested money versus the return is still a disaster no matter who is who.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 25, 2002 03:18 PM
You have no idea do you now?

For several years 'this guy' ton roosendaal has given away Blender for FREE. He has even invested alot of his own money into Blender.

I have met Ton on occasion and he is a great guy. I am 100% sure he would never put the 100k into his own pocket. And even if he wanted to he couldn't because the money belongs to the Blender Foundation, which is a non-profit company and HAS to follow strict guidelines.

I think next time you make such a bold statement you should do a bit more research and know a bit more about the person you making the statement off. Ton Roosendaal deserves quite a bit more respect than you have given him.

cya

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 30, 2002 06:40 AM
I agree with the previous poster : I met Ton
at SIGGRAPH 2002 last week and he *definitely*
didn't seem to be driving multiple Porsches<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)

I believe him to be sincere, and I was one of those
who paid for the manual lo these many years ago
to help fund NaN (it wasn't much<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.. something like
$35 or so).

I wish him well in his endeavors and think he
ought to be heralded as a visionary and
outspoken advocate of Open Source.

Charlie Lindahl
Graphics Enthusiast
Houston, TX

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See what happens!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 25, 2002 12:30 AM
This is the reason for advocacy of FREE software (GNU). I have used the Blender software on occasion, but never consistently because I am wary of any non-Gnu software like this. Not because of some religious idealism, but because the company can spontaneously combust like NaN, cutting off further development. GNU-like software will never go-away like Blender has, thanks to the licensing.

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Re:See what happens!!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 27, 2002 09:31 AM
GNU-like software will never go-away like Blender has

Like Blender -did-, you mean.
1 week and they're halfway to the 100k they need.
Seems like a 'new' piece of free software on the way.

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Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 25, 2002 10:45 PM
Blender brings a fully professional 3D design and rendering environment to the masses. It is the single most innovative and efficient software I have ever seen. The executable is only 1.2MB's! Blender can be scripted via Python.

Some would say that the user interface is difficult to learn. However, when it is mastered, the user is more efficient at design and users coming from other tools rave about it's raw power.

There is nothing else like it and it's been free to use for years. I've bought books, C-Key's, T-Shirt's, etc. from NaN. Using a well supported OpenGL video card on Linux and running Blender is completely amazing! It's very fast and very powerful.

I look forward to Blender's fanbase buying it so it can be GPL'd. The NaN investors deserve a return on their investment. I personally will donate money to help make it happen.

If you have any interest in graphics or 3D, you should checkout Blender! Download it, try it out! Just give it a fair chance by going through the tutorials and learning the interface. You will find it's a very efficient design. You just have to unlearn all the bad GUI designs you've learned over the years. You use two hands with Blender, one on the three button mouse and one on the keyboard and numeric keypad. You switch modes and select options with the keyboard and use the mouse to draw, rotate and move the scene.

If you took the time to learn the Linux command line tools, emacs, or vim then you understand the rewards in learning an interface.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 04:06 AM
"Blender brings a fully professional 3D design and rendering environment to the masses. "

*LOL*, ok, so where is the undo/redo function<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:) There isn't even a fraction of the most basic features that are simply required to do basic 3d work.

There sure is a lot of zealots out there.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 03:12 PM
thats a pretty broad statement to make based on the lack of one trivial function. i have been using blender for three years, and the undo has never bugged me. i just learn to save.

sure, there is not a "make beautiful picture" button. anyone can press buttons and place premade objects. it takes talent to create.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: zangdesign on July 27, 2002 12:10 AM
Undo/redo has been a standard function of most GUI based software for several years (and much longer than Blender has been in existence). It falls in the category of functions that should automatically be in almost all software in some form or fashion (along with cut/paste/save/help).

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 27, 2002 04:07 AM
so add it yourself.

430000 euro and counting.

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Re:Blender

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 27, 2002 05:31 AM
Worse than an RTFM. If it doesn't have what you want, Write It Your Self. Or go out ang get a product that doesn what you want.

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examples?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 12:37 AM
Blender has been getting a lot of press lately, yet even the almight google doesn't turn up much in the way of what people are raving about. Can anyone recommend some good content sites?

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Re:examples?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 11:41 PM
Well, for one http://www.elysiun.com has a gallery and some tutorials on it...

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Re:examples?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 11:51 PM
Most of these areas on the site are currently unavailable, unfortunately.

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Re:examples?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 27, 2002 04:05 AM
they will be operational within the week. Kib's getting a new server.

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Blender...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 26, 2002 05:39 AM
Has certainly had its share of missteps - but it's not unique, since many products do. For Ton to engage as much of his time and effort into Blender itself, and now, the post-bankruptcy Blender, is an indication that his motives are genuine. I don't fully understand what is behind some of his comments, but overall, this is a worthwhile effort in my opinion.

The interface needs some adjustment, and some new features need to be added, but once this takes off, it could become the substance of legend. Since there's already a significant codebase, there's no telling how good it might become.

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