July 24, 2002

Blender: Riches to rags to recovery

- 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.

Category:

  • Open Source