Monday, August 22, 2011

SIGGRAPH 2011 opens up new avenues for Blender

This year's SIGGRAPH seems to be a solid turning point for Blender and it's developers. According to Ton, there was quite a bit of interest in Blender from the professional industry, which is amazing news to the entire Blender community since for years it has been bashed as a "hobby" app. Over the years Blender has been evolving and in such a fast rate that it is almost hard to keep up, however one of the most impressive changes is of course the interface, which on the surface level is pleasing to the eye and thus people are more inclined to explore more of Blender, from there they understand just how powerful this open source app really is. Shame it took them this long to figure this out, however Blender was a different beast even 5 years ago when the Blender to Renderman community was just a tiny speck compared to what it is now. Just in two years Blender evolved again into a very formidable piece of software. In turn other software that are commonly used in conjunction with Blender is evolving too, thus opening even more possibilities to the community at large. Then there is the community, of which had it not been for the large number of users that devote vast amount of time working with, or on, Blender, none of this would have happened in the first place. Blender truly is now making some serious headway into becoming a widely adopted tool for content creation and it all started as an internal tool for a game company. Amazing how events unfold over time.

From the Blender. org website.

Tradeshow booth
  • During three days, 9-11 August, Blender Foundation presented Blender + art showreel at 6x3m booth at the tradeshow floor. 
  • Link to showreel download & youtube coming soon! 
  • HP provided us 4 fast workstations and 30" displays. 
  • 100 Blender shirts and 1500 Blender DVDs were handed out (also thanks to sponsors Lumikuu & 
  • Demo DVD made for FMX by Francesco Siddi & Sebastian Koenig & Thomas Dinges, thanks! ISO download is free to spread and use. 
  • Booth attracted visitors from all over the world, all over the industry... including artists from Pixar getting personal demos. 
  • Our OpenCL (Cycles render, compositing) projects attracted visitors from all main Graphic cards vendors (Intel, NVidia, AMD/ATI). They are seriously committed to help out with Blender testing and advising us on best usage of of OpenGL and OpenCL features. 
  • Early demos of motion tracking did people's head turn too. It appears we're providing the first cross platform free/open tracking tool for film makers here. 
  • Met with author of MeshFlow, a Blender based research paper accepted for Siggraph. 
  • Had a good meeting with Khronos, discussing our COLLADA support and established tight connections to get further support. 
  • Talked to many journalists; including 3D World, 3D artist, Renderosity. 
  • Interest from new developers, among which Ari Shapiro of ILM/R&H fame 
  • Several film/vfx/animation studios interested in integrating Blender in pipeline, but they need consultants to help them. (will be via Blender Network) 
  • In general: so cool to see so many artists dropping by who already were using Blender professionally and with great results. 
You will note that one of them involves integrating Blender into pipelines at studios, a HUGE step forward and something that has been dreamed about by many Blender users, developers and of course Ton himself. THIS is what we have been looking forward to and now it looks like the professional industry is finally coming together and looking at Blender as a viable tool, not as a hobby toy. In the past few years many studios have released open source projects for visual effects and animation, which some of these in turn ended up in Blender, so it makes sense to look at Blender to do certain tasks which is compatible with said projects. Hence the purpose of open source.

The other factor is cost, as we all know the world economy is not exactly great and this does have a strain on the entertainment industry, since they are paid from the money we spend on their products, people are not spending as much so thus the industry is not making as much as before. A studio used to be able to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software alone, during the early 90's this was no big deal since it was new and exciting, producers were willing to fork over millions to make the next blockbuster. Now visual effects are common in nearly every film made, so the luster is gone and the cost is rising each year to make even non visual effect heavy films, studios are looking to cut costs. One such measure was taken by replacing expensive SGI workstations with PC's, since hardware costs kept going down and computing power increased every couple months. 3D software in the early 90's were really a niche market and the internet was not as expansive or utilized then either, some software had to be purchased over the phone it was so specialized and expensive. The software that was affordable by the general public was not as powerful either. In the following decade studios have switched from expensive operating systems to Linux, an open source and cost free OS that functions exactly as the costly UNIX systems of the past. In general studios were forking over millions on hardware and software alone, something they can no longer afford to do. 3D software still costs a small fortune, even with recent price drops across the board so it only makes sense for these places to look at an open source and cost free software, one that can be modified at whim, one that can be installed on as many hard drives possible without licensing fees, one that is quickly becoming compatible with projects they developed, one that used by nearly every aspiring 3D artist world wide. THAT I think is the best cost solution, young talent cutting their teeth and all done without them having to spend anything on software, imagine the pool of talent in the upcoming years all trained on Blender.

Pixar artists looking at Blender is a certain glowing point for us on the Renderman area of Blender, as you can imagine, so even though it is no secret what we are doing in this corner of the internet, it feels good to know that certain people from Pixar have had a chance to see Blender itself and we just hope that this only adds to our cause.

Which comes down to our connection, the people involved with Blender and Renderman at least. In the post, there is mention of the "Blender Network", which is a proposed network of Blender professionals that would be contracted to provide support, or something to that degree. Some people have already been doing this in their own way, including some of us. Morpho Animation Studios is beginning to incorporate Aqsis into their pipeline, as they already use Blender and Pixar's RenderMan with RIBMosaic, this should be fairly simple, though risky since Aqsis has not been used in commercial work. Regardless they are taking that gamble and have requested our help. This in turn almost requires the assistance of the various developers themselves so even though they may not directly have contact, due to people's network of connections, they are all interconnected, they also help each other out since the publicity generated works out in favor of all involved.

Funny about the image at the top, with Ton and Co. standing in front of the AutoDesk booth, the slogan "don't blend in stand out" behind them, almost nearly seems that the company is afraid and in some ways, they should be.

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