Blender

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= Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite, available for all major operating systems under the GNU General Public License.

URL = http://www.blender.org/

Description

"Blender is the leading open-source 3D graphics application that can be used for free, and by anyone to create “Hollywood-style” art and video animations. While there are over 50,000 people participating in the online community, the “active” development team is composed of about 50-60 people." (http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/wintercamp/2009/03/07/blender-is-too-much-self-reflection-and-network-theory-bad-for-the-network/)


Discussion

Governance Structure

Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff:

"When you enter the domain of the Blender network, the first thing that strikes you, especially when compared to many other networks present at Winter Camp, is their level of professionalism. Their meeting consists of elements such as targets, planning and design&development problems/solutions. It’s clear they have a common goal, a product, intersecting at a common believe in the strength of the open source method.

Blender is one of those networks that do not reflect much on their own network topology on a conscious level. For them the questions raised at Winter Camp are for a great deal obsolete or too theoretic. One of the main developers for the Blender Foundation, Tom Roosendaal, believes (although brought in a humorous way) that once you start reflecting on what you are, what it means to be a network, it’s the end of the road, its gone. Going into the discussion of what kind of network they are, does, however, bring to the surface some main topics of Winter Camp; what are the dependencies and constraints of a distributed network diagram in relation to being able to professionalize. What could be a possible business model for new networks of production?

Blender is an international group with members from all over the world working together on the free open source 3D content creation suite. They work on products online and have offline conferences where they join up to have more hands-on sessions. Although the group is managed by Tom Roosendaal, and the Foundation does seem to have some authority concerning planning, at the same time the way they work is very distributed. The members work autonomously to tackle their own part of the puzzle, sometimes to improve or customize their own in-house release of Blender and sometimes to work on shared project such as the animated movies series.

Rosendaal’s way of managing the team is based on finding a balance between setting specific targets in the near future, having long term goals, all grouped together in projects where it’s fun to find solutions to complex problems. An example of this is the animated movie Big Buck Bunny, where the characters had to be hairy furry animals. Making those hairs move as envisioned also means solving complex development problems. The upcoming project will be more of an action movie with kung-fu fighting and other nice heavy action stuff, undoubtedly posing more interesting development challenges.

Hearing that some of the members also have a daytime job, gave the impression that they might be working for free. This is however not the case, there are some different models working simultaneously so their work is rewarded properly. One member for instance is working for a company which is using Blender software. At the same time he is a developer for Blender which actually allows him to work partially on the Blender project within paid working hours of his company. Another one of the members is a graduating student, being financed by the university to work on Blender.

Overall I believe that they have found a nice balance between using a more hierarchical structure to drive the projects and retaining the distributed structure so that people can work in a manner they feel comfortable with. In the end, I believe that its good to think critically and theoretically about new networks, but it starts with having a good platform and a motivated community." (http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/wintercamp/2009/03/06/the-blender-business-model/)


Blender's Open Film Funding and Business Model

TechnoLlama:

"The videos we saw were funded by a combination of crowdfunding, private donations and public grants from the Netherlands Film Fund. There was no indication of percentages, but it seems like donations are an important part of the funding, members of the public can make contributions to have their names in the final credits, which seems to be an important incentive. Besides this, people can buy the DVD which contains, amongst other things, all software and studio data to recreate the film from scratch.

Whichever way you want to look at it, Blender’s achievements are impressive. Big Buck Bunny is a top quality piece of work that has nothing to envy other animation output out there, and if you don’t believe these biased words of praise I would encourage it to watch the short and judge for yourself. I was less enthusiastic about the other two features, but this does not detract one bit from their impressive technical accomplishments. It seems like BBB and Elephants Dream are truly original pieces of work, and this is where Blender shines. Sintel and Tears of Steel were less successful perhaps because they are trying to be more commercial, you cannot out-Hollywood the competition.

To me, the most important question from the event is whether Blender’s model can be replicated by other open creators out there. In many ways Blender is a one-off, a project that arose from an established software company that released its code under the General Public License, and now generates code, gives lessons and training, and produces original films like the ones we were presented with. It would be difficult for a similar outfit to completely reproduce this model. Other CC content creators out there use different funding models, particularly Nina Paley and Strange Company. So, how can you fund open content?

While listening to the explanation of how Blender funds its films, my inner devil’s advocate went into overdrive. Opponents of open content will say that nobody actually wants to watch these films, so why should tax payer’s money be used to finance them? The answer to such question is that this is not a debate unique to the openness movement, it is at the heart of arguments about government funding for the arts. It is impossible to convince fiscal conservatives and small government libertarians that arts funding is a worthwhile exercise for various reasons. Commercial success should not be the only measure with which creative works should be judged; if it was, then the Transformers movies would be some of the greatest pieces of entertainment the world has ever seen. If you don’t buy that argument, then it is understood that governments and public entities can encourage cultural plurality by funding artists and creators. The alternative to that model is a Hollywood monoculture, as bad a dystopian future as any robotic uprising.

But governments cannot fund everything. Crowdfunding is the next obvious step, and with the rising success of crowdfunded projects out there, this is a viable avenue to pursue. If we want to continue seeing a plurality of voices, if we are tired of the monoculture, then we the openness movement should start putting our money where our mouth is. Use the Donate button. Buy stuff. Vote with your wallet. The only way we will be taken seriously is if we continue to produce quality products released under CC licences. Open access and open source have shown valid business models, it is time to continue exploring the viability of openness in the creative industries." (http://www.technollama.co.uk/financing-open-projects)

Examples

  1. “Hollywood-style” art, at http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/gallery/art-gallery/
  2. video animations, at http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/movies/