Last month we mentioned that issue 68 of LinuxUser & Developer magazine featured an interview with Blender's lead developer Ton Roosendaal. Editor Daniel James then promised us we could publish the interview text later on and he kept his word: here's the full interview! Thanks, Daniel!
Ton Roosendaal is the creator of Blender, the leading free software and cross-platform 3D tool used by countless artists and animators around the world. As the Blender Foundation begins to plan its second open movie project, Roosendaal tells the story of how Blender freed the source
My background was in industrial design, and I worked as an independent designer through the 80's. I also had a technical background, so I liked to play with computers. In 1985, I bought my first Amiga, which had an amazing system with colour, and painting software - and you could do things with video. The Amiga also had a couple of 3D tools, and that's how I got in to 3D.
A couple of years later, I decided to start an animation company, doing video graphics, video animation and effects, mostly focused on 3D animation. It was called NeoGeo, or 'new shape' in Greek. The Neo-Geo was also the name of a games console, but that was a coincidence, and happened later too. We established our company in 1988, and a couple of years later the games console hit the market. It was difficult for us; people got confused with the name, especially if we did things for 3D games.
Later on, that work became the source of Blender, because in our studio we did a lot of our own software development; mostly because we didn't have money to buy all the expensive software. Also, we had switched to Silicon Graphics systems, because by the early 90's the Amiga was really dead. The Amiga still had an enormous advantage over Windows systems at that time, but Silicon Graphics systems were what the 3D industry was working with. So we decided to develop our software on SGI, completely ourselves.
Blender was actually created in 1995 - it was the third generation of our own tools. Completely written from scratch, it was designed to be the in-house production tool. By then we had six years of experience in computer graphics, and so the design for Blender was based on everything our own artists needed. Most of the development was even done by the artists, and that's what makes Blender unique. It's not a marketed tool; it's not based on easy learning. In a company, you can discuss with the artists how things work, and what those people want is extremely fast workflow. Once you get into Blender, it really flies. You have to grow into it, or the software has to grow on to you.
At the end of the 90's I decided to quit the animation studio, mostly because there was no real development in it. The Dutch media industry is pretty much corporate; we don't have a big movie industry. If you want to do animation work for movies, you have to go to England or you have to go to Hollywood, and that was not an option for us. So I decided to continue with Blender itself. The tool was great, and I thought it could be an interesting thing to work out how to market it. In 1998 we published the first public versions, including the first Linux port, and opened a website. It was freeware, back then; you could download it for free, but it was not open source. Because it was the first relatively-professional 3D tool for Linux, it became incredibly popular.