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Originally, the program was developed as an in-house application by the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo (not to be confused with the NeoGeo game console); the main author, Ton Roosendaal , founded Not a Number Technologies (NaN) in June 1998 to further develop and distribute the program. The program was initially distributed as proprietary software available at no cost (freeware) until NaN went bankrupt in 2002. The debtors agreed to release Blender as free software, under the terms of the GNU General Public License, for a one-time payment of €100,000. On July 18 2002, a Blender funding campaign was started by Roosendaal in order to collect donations and on September 7 2002 it was announced that enough funds had been collected and that the Blender source code would be released in October. Blender is now an actively developed open source program by the Blender Foundation , the newest version being 2.36 that was published in December 23, 2004.
Blender has a relatively small installation size and runs on several popular computing platforms. Though it is often distributed without documentation or extensive example scenes, the software is rich with features that are characteristic of high-end modelling software. Among its capabilities are:
- Support for a variety of geometric primitives, including polygon meshes, NURBS, metaballs , and vector fonts
- Conversion from and to a variety of 3D application file formats, including Wings 3D, 3D Studio, Lightwave and others.
- Animation tools including inverse kinematics, armature (skeletal) and lattice deformation, keyframes, non-linear animation, constraints, vertex weighting and static or dynamic particles aware of meshes
- Basic non-linear video editing capababilities
- Interactivity features such as collision detection, dynamics engine and programmable logic, allowing the creation of stand-alone, Real time applications ranging from architectural visualization to videogame construction.
- Versatile internal rendering capabilities and external integration with the YafRay open source ray tracer
- Python scripting for automating or controlling various tasks
Features compared to other 3D programs
Since the opening of the source, Blender has improved and experienced substantial refactoring of the initial codebase. This made the fast addition of features easier, which had a noticeable effect on lowering the price of 3D software. Although Blender (as of version 2.36) is posed to catch up with proprietary 3D tools soon and currently provides workarounds to achieve practically all 3D tasks possible, it still differs from programs such as Maya, Softimage or Cinema 4D. Among the things still lacking are a feature rich and more flexible Non-Linear-Animation system, armature joints (can only be emulated with work intensive constraints), an optional non-binary-dump native file format, better numerical measuring and manipulation, and, due to the fast developement of Blender, a consistent and up-to-date documentation.
The first large professional project which Blender was used as the primary tool was the animatics pre-visualization for the Hollywood movie Spider-Man 2.
- "As an animatic artist working in the storyboard department of Spider-Man 2, I used Blender's 3d modeling and character animation tools to enhance the storyboards, re-creating sets and props, and putting into motion action and camera moves in 3d space to help make Sam's vision as clear to other departments as possible." - Anthony Zierhut, Animatic Artist, Los Angeles
Artists using blender as primary tool
Since the community of blender users has been steadily growing since blender was first released into the public it is nearly impossible to overlook all the professional grade quality still and animation artwork done with blender. Yet among the most notable artists using blender as their main or only tool are Andreas Goralczyk, winner of two subsequent Suzanne Blender Awards (2003 - Best Animation, 2004 - Best Still) and Stefano Selleri (Suzanne Blender Awards 2003 - Best Still), as well as Bassam Kurdali (Suzanne Blender Awards 2004 - Best Animation).
Blender has had a reputation as a program that is difficult to learn. Nearly every function has a direct keyboard shortcut, with the amount of functions blender offers resulting in several different shortcuts per key. Since the open-sourcing, there has also been effort to visually enhance the user interface further, with the introduction of GUI-color-themes, transparent floating widgets, a new and improved object-tree-overview and other small improvements (color picker widget, etc.).
Blender user interface has the following distinguishing concepts:
- Editing modes. The two primary modes of work are Object mode and Edit mode, which are toggled with the Tab key. Object mode is used to manipulate individual objects in general, while Edit mode is used to manipulate the actual object data. For example, for polygon meshes, Object mode can be used to move, scale, and rotate the entire mesh, and Edit mode is used to manipulate the individual vertices of the mesh. There are also several other modes, such as Vertex Paint and UV Editing modes.
- Very heavy use of keyboard hotkeys. Most of the commands are given from keyboard. Until the 2.x and especially the 2.3x versions, this was in fact the only way to give commands, and this was largely responsible for creating Blender's reputation as a difficult-to-learn program. The new versions have more comprehensive GUI menus.
- Fully Object Oriented Workspace Management. The blender GUI is made up of one or more screens, which each can be divided into sections and subsections that can be of any type of blender's views or window-types. Each window-type's own GUI elements can be controlled with the same tools that manipulate 3D view - for example, resulting in the strange feature of being able to zoom in and out of GUI-buttons in the same way one zooms in and out in the 3D viewport. The GUI's layout and setup is fully controllable by the users, making it possible to setup up the interface for specific tasks such as video editing or UV mapping and texturing and hiding other features that aren't needed for that specific task.
Although blender (as of Version 2.36) still lacks features found in current proprietary systems (i.e. strong and flexible Non-Linear-Animation or skeletal joints), blender's workspace management is considered to be amongst the most innovative GUI concepts for graphical tools and has already inspired commercial software vendors' interface design (Luxology's Modo).
Owing in part to its open source nature, Blender is officially available for several operating systems, including FreeBSD, IRIX, GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Solaris, as well as several unofficial ports to other systems.
Due to the fact that there are approximately 250,000 people using Blender worldwide, the support that has sprung up is incredible. The most popular way to learn Blender is through tutorials that various users have written. Another popular way to learn about Blender is through the forums that litter the web. The largest and most notable of these is Elysiun (http://www.elysiun.com). Also, the community has launched a documentation project. You can find this documentation in the help menu in Blender.
- Official Blender site, aimed at end users
- Blender developer site
- elYsiun - Unofficial Blender forum and community website
- Star Trek, Blender style
- Star Wars, Blender style
- Babylon 5, Blender style
- Modelling a realistic human from scratch
- Blender photo gallery
- Blenderman, model archive for Blender, and targeted at making a Blender Magazine
- Category at ODP
- Blender Battles - contest and 3d challenging website
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