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Open Source 'Blending' Into Animation

Open Source software continues to make inroads across all verticals, and with the latest release of the tool Blender3D, it looks like animation may be next.

Blender3D version 2.33, released this week, includes numerous significant enhancements, most notably the restoration of some of the core functionality it had when it was a proprietary, closed source program. Blender began its life as a closed source program and officially became open source under the GPL license in October 2002.

Blender is a fully integrated 3D graphics creation suite allowing modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, real-time interactive 3D, game creation and playback, with cross-platform compatibility. The restored functions of the program now include the Game Engine, which had been closed source, but has now been freed. Also included in the latest release are numerous filters and feature enhancements that bring the open source tool closer than ever to its proprietary closed source counterparts.

According to Blender3D original Programmer, and open source Blender Foundation Founder Ton Roosendaal, the program had over 2 million downloads in the past year, and he estimates that 80 percent of them were for Windows users. Still, Blender's creator believes that it is going through the classic phases of any open source project.

"From an open source perspective Blender is still very young, we're going now through a couple of classic phases that projects went through as well, like Open Office or Mozilla, finding good teams to support certain parts in restructuring code, to make it more easy to maintain in open source," Roosendaal told internetnews.com. "I see there is interest from companies now in getting paid support, so for the Blender Foundation the aim is to build a good support network for this."

Jupiter Research Analyst Michael Gartenberg agrees that support is the cornerstone of greater adoption.
"For businesses in the marketplace that are looking for this type of environment, but can't afford one of the more expensive packages, it fills that niche quite nicely," Gartenberg told internetnews.com. "But at the end of the day for many companies, especially when they are building applications on top of the environments that Blender is providing, those folks are going to want and need a full level of tech support that just isn't available from an open source product." (Jupiter Research and this publication share the same parent company.)

Robin Rowe, founder of Movie Editor.com and leader of the open source Cinepaint project, believes that open source software has had an impact on the movie industry, though animation so far has been dominated by proprietary products. "Linux is open source and is now the dominant operating system in animation and special effects at large motion picture studios, so it's definitely not a barrier," Robin Rowe told internetnews.com. "Alias Maya dominates motion picture animation. Maya, SoftImage, and Houdini are the top packages at Linux-based studios. All three are proprietary commercial packages."

Industry leader Maya is a product of Alias Wavefront, which was recently sold by its owner SGI as part of a corporate restructuring.

Blender's creator however doesn't believe that the movie industry is the be-all and end-all for animation. "In many ways Maya is an excellent tool, and superior, but it is not free nor open sourced and doesn't run nicely among so many platforms (we have OS X, Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Linux PPC, Solaris)," Roosendaal told internetnews.com. "Maya has the disadvantage that it's targeted to the movie industry and that's a small market."

"Blender is the first and still only open/free 3D creation suite that offers the full package. Maybe it's not Maya, but still most enterprises/business/agencies are not in the movie business and can use Blender very well, and I know they do," Roosendaal told internetnews.com.

"I am proud that we showed to be at comparable support and quality level with open source as we did with a 20 to 30 person company in the past, and that for a budget less than 5 percent."