In 1988, Ton Roosendaal co-founded the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo. NeoGeo quickly became the largest 3D animation studio in the Netherlands and one of the leading animation houses in Europe. NeoGeo created award-winning productions (European Corporate Video Awards 1993 and 1995) for large corporate clients, such as multi-national electronics company Philips. Within NeoGeo, Ton was responsible for both art direction and internal software development. After careful deliberation, Ton decided that the current in-house 3D tool set for NeoGeo was too old and cumbersome to maintain and upgrade, and needed to be rewritten from scratch. In 1995 this rewrite began and was destined to become the 3D software creation suite we all now know as Blender. As NeoGeo continued to refine and improve Blender, it became apparent to Ton that Blender could be used as a tool for other artists outside of NeoGeo.
In 1998, Ton decided to found a new company called Not a Number (NaN), as a spin-off of NeoGeo, to further market and develop Blender. At the core of NaN was a desire to create and distribute a compact, cross platform 3D creation suite for free. At the time this was a revolutionary concept, as most commercial modelers cost several thousands of (US) dollars. NaN hoped to bring professional level 3D modeling and animation tools within the reach of the general computing public. NaN’s business model involved providing commercial products and services around Blender. In 1999 NaN attended its first Siggraph conference in an effort to more widely promote Blender. Blender’s first 1999 Siggraph convention was a huge success and gathered a tremendous amount of interest from both the press and attendees. Blender was a hit and its huge potential confirmed!
On the wings of a successful Siggraph in early 2000, NaN secured financing of €4.5m from venture capitalists. This large inflow of cash enabled NaN to rapidly expand its operations. Soon NaN boasted as many as fifty employees working around the world, trying to improve and promote Blender. In the summer of 2000, Blender v2.0 was released. This version of Blender added the integration of a game engine to the 3D suite. By the end of 2000, the number of users registered on the NaN website surpassed 250,000.
Unfortunately, NaN’s ambitions and opportunities didn’t match the company’s capabilities and the market realities of the time. This over-extension resulted in restarting NaN with new investor funding and a smaller company in April 2001. Six months later NaN’s first commercial software product, Blender Publisher, was launched. This product was targeted at the emerging market of interactive web-based 3D media. Due to disappointing sales and the ongoing difficult economic climate, the new investors decided to shut down all NaN operations. The shutdown also included discontinuing the development of Blender. Although there were clearly shortcomings in the then current version of Blender, with a complex internal software architecture, unfinished features and a non-standard way of providing the GUI, with the enthusiastic support from the user community and customers who had purchased Blender Publisher in the past, Ton couldn’t justify leaving Blender to disappear into oblivion. Since restarting a company with a sufficiently large team of developers wasn’t feasible, in March 2002 Ton Roosendaal founded the non-profit organization Blender Foundation.
The Blender Foundation’s primary goal was to find a way to continue developing and promoting Blender as a community-based Open Source project. In July 2002, Ton managed to get the NaN investors to agree to a unique Blender Foundation plan to attempt to release Blender as open source. The “Free Blender” campaign sought to raise €100,000 so that the Foundation could buy the rights to the Blender source code and intellectual property rights from the NaN investors and subsequently release Blender to the open source community. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, among them several ex-NaN employees, a fund raising campaign was launched to “Free Blender”. To everyone’s surprise and delight the campaign reached the €100,000 goal in only seven short weeks. On Sunday October 13, 2002, Blender was released to the world under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). Blender development continues to this day driven by a team of far-flung, dedicated volunteers from around the world led by Blender’s original creator, Ton Roosendaal.
Blender’s history and road-map:
- 1.00 – January 1995: Blender in development at animation studio NeoGeo.
- 1.23 – January 1998: SGI version published on the web, IrisGL.
- 1.30 – April 1998: GNU/Linux and FreeBSD version, port to OpenGL and X.
- 1.3x – June 1998: NaN founded.
- 1.4x – September 1998: Sun and GNU/Linux Alpha version released.
- 1.50 – November 1998: First Manual published.
- 1.60 – April 1999: C-key (new features behind a lock, $95), Windows version released.
- 1.6x – June 1999: BeOS and PPC version released.
- 1.80 – June 2000: End of C-key, Blender is a full freeware again.
- 2.00 – August 2000: Interactive 3D and real-time engine.
- 2.10 – December 2000: New engine, physics, and Python.
- 2.20 – August 2001: Character animation system.
- 2.21 – October 2001: Blender Publisher launch.
- 2.2x – December 2001: Mac OSX version.
- 13 October 2002: Blender goes Open Source, 1st Blender Conference.
- 2.25 – October 2002: Blender Publisher becomes freely available.
- Tuhopuu1 – October 2002: The experimental tree of Blender is created, a coder’s playground.
- 2.26 – February 2003: The first true Open Source Blender.
- 2.27 – May 2003: The second Open Source Blender.
- 2.28x – July 2003: First of the 2.28x series.
- 2.30 – October 2003: Preview release of the 2.3x UI makeover presented at the 2nd Blender Conference.
- 2.31 – December 2003: Upgrade to stable 2.3x UI project.
- 2.32 – January 2004: Major overhaul of internal rendering capabilities.
- 2.33 – April 2004: Game Engine returns, ambient occlusion, new procedural textures.
- 2.34 – August 2004: Big improvements: particle interactions, LSCM UV mapping, functional YafRay integration, weighted creases in subdivision surfaces, ramp shaders, full OSA, and many many more.
- 2.35 – November 2004: Another version full of improvements: object hooks, curve deforms and curve tapers, particle duplicators and much more.
- 2.36 – December 2004: A stabilization version, much work behind the scene, normal and displacement mapping improvements.
- 2.37 – June 2005: A big leap: transformation tools and widgets, softbodies, force fields, deflections, incremental subdivision surfaces, transparent shadows, and multithreaded rendering.
- 2.40 – December 2005: An even bigger leap: full rework of armature system, shape keys, fur with particles, fluids and rigid bodies.
- 2.41 – January 2006: Lots of fixes, and some game engine features.
- 2.42 – July 2006: The Node release. Over 50 developers contributed nodes, array modifier, vector blur, new physics engine, rendering, lipsync, and many other features. This was the release following Project Orange.
- 2.43 – February 2007: The Multi release: multi-resolution meshes, multi-layer UV textures, multi-layer images and multi-pass rendering and baking, sculpting, retopology, multiple additional matte, distort and filter nodes, modeling and animation improvements, better painting with multiple brushes, fluid particles, proxy objects, sequencer rewrite, and post-production UV texturing. whew! Oh, and a website rewrite. And yes, it still has multi-threaded rendering for multi-core CPUs. With Verse it is multi-user, allowing multiple artists to work on the same scene collaboratively. Lastly, render farms still provide multi-workstation distributed rendering.
- 2.44 – May 2007: The SSS release: the big news, in addition to two new modifiers and re-awakening the 64-bit OS support, was the addition of subsurface scattering, which simulates light scattering beneath the surface of organic and soft objects.
- 2.45 – September 2007: Another bugfix release: serious bugfixes, with some performance issues addressed.
- 2.46 – May 2008: The Peach release was the result of a huge effort of over 70 developers providing enhancements to the core and patches to provide hair and fur, a new particle system, enhanced image browsing, cloth, a seamless and non-intrusive physics cache, rendering improvements in reflections, AO, and render baking; a mesh deform modifier for muscles and such, better animation support via armature tools and drawing, skinning, constraints and a colorful Action Editor, and much more. It was the release following Project Peach.
- 2.47 – August 2008: Bugfix release.
- 2.48 – October 2008: The Apricot release: cool GLSL shaders, lights and GE improvements, snap, sky simulator, shrinkwrap modifier, python editing improvements.
- 2.49 – June 2009: The Pre-Re-Factor release added significant enhancements to the core and GE. Core enhancements include node-based textures, armature sketching (called Etch-a-Ton), boolean mesh operation improvements, JPEG2000 support, projection painting for direct transfer of images to models, and a significant Python script catalog. GE enhancements included video textures, where you can play movies in-game (!), upgrades to the Bullet physics engine, dome (fish-eye) rendering, and more API GE calls made available.