In 1988 Ton Roosendaal co-founded the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo. NeoGeo quickly became the largest 3D animation studio in the Netherlands and one of the leading animation houses in Europe. NeoGeo created award-winning productions (European Corporate Video Awards 1993 and 1995) for large corporate clients such as multi-national electronics company Philips. Within NeoGeo Ton was responsible for both art direction and internal software development. After careful deliberation Ton decided that the current in-house 3D tool set for NeoGeo was too old and cumbersome to maintain and upgrade and needed to be rewritten from scratch. In 1995 this rewrite began and was destined to become the 3D software creation suite we all now know and love as Blender. As NeoGeo continued to refine and improve Blender it became apparent to Ton that Blender could be used as a tool for other artists outside of NeoGeo.
In 1998, Ton decided to found a new company called Not a Number (NaN) as a spin-off of NeoGeo to further market and develop Blender. At the core of NaN was a desire to create and distribute a compact, cross platform 3D creation suite for free. At the time this was a revolutionary concept as most commercial modelers cost several thousands of (US) dollars. NaN hoped to bring professional level 3D modeling and animation tools within the reach of the general computing public. NaN's business model involved providing commercial products and services around Blender. In 1999 NaN attended its first Siggraph conference in an effort to more widely promote Blender. Blender's first 1999 Siggraph convention was a huge success and gathered a tremendous amount of interest from both the press and attendees. Blender was a hit and its huge potential confirmed!
On the wings of a successful Siggraph in early 2000, NaN secured financing of 4.5 million EUR from venture capitalists. This large inflow of cash enabled NaN to rapidly expand its operations. Soon NaN boasted as many as fifty employees working around the world trying to improve and promote Blender. In the summer of 2000, Blender v2.0 was released. This version of Blender added the integration of a game engine to the 3D suite. By the end of 2000, the number of users registered on the NaN website surpassed 250,000.
Unfortunately, NaN's ambitions and opportunities didn't match the company's capabilities and the market realities of the time. This overextension resulted in restarting NaN with new investor funding and a smaller company in April 2001. Six months later NaN's first commercial software product, Blender Publisher was launched. This product was targeted at the emerging market of interactive web-based 3D media. Due to disappointing sales and the ongoing difficult economic climate, the new investors decided to shut down all NaN operations. The shutdown also included discontinuing the development of Blender. Although there were clearly shortcomings in the current version of Blender, with a complex internal software architecture, unfinished features and a non-standard way of providing the GUI, enthusiastic support from the user community and customers who had purchased Blender Publisher in the past, Ton couldn't justify leaving Blender to disappear into oblivion. Since restarting a company with a sufficiently large team of developers wasn't feasible, in March 2002 Ton Roosendaal founded the non-profit organization Blender Foundation.
The Blender Foundation's primary goal was to find a way to continue developing and promoting Blender as a community-based Open Source project. In July 2002, Ton managed to get the NaN investors to agree to a unique Blender Foundation plan to attempt to Blender as open source. The "Free Blender" campaign sought to raise 100,000 EUR so that the Foundation could buy the rights to the Blender source code and intellectual property rights from the NaN investors and subsequently release Blender to the open source community. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, among them several ex-NaN employees, a fund raising campaign was launched to "Free Blender." To everyone's surprise and delight the campaign reached the 100,000 EUR goal in only seven short weeks. On Sunday October 13, 2002, Blender was released to the world under the under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). Blender development continues to this day driven by a team of far-flung, dedicated volunteers from around the world led by Blender's original creator, Ton Roosendaal.
Blender's history and road-map
1.00 Jan 1996 Blender in development at animation studio NeoGeo
1.23 Jan 1998 SGI version published on the web, IrisGL
1.30 April 1998 Linux and FreeBSD version, port to OpenGL and X
1.3x June 1998 NaN founded
1.4x Sept 1998 Sun and Linux Alpha version released
1.50 Nov 1998 First Manual published
1.60 April 1999 C-key (new features behind a lock, $95), Windows version released
1.6x June 1999 BeOS and PPC version released
1.80 June 2000 End of C-key, Blender full freeware again
2.00 Aug 2000 Interactive 3D and real-time engine
2.10 Dec 2000 New engine, physics and Python
2.20 Aug 2001 Character animation system
2.21 Oct 2001 Blender Publisher launch
2.2x Dec 2001 Mac OSX version