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Blender top 16 highlights of 2019

A lot of great things have happened in 2019 with Blender. You might well call it the year Blender came of age! During two decades of open source projects Blender has steadily grown from a quite obscure 3D tool to a mainstream project that helps making top quality media and gets widely adopted – and supported! – by the industry.

This all didn’t happen overnight, in many ways it’s been the result of a stable and well running project. On blender.org you find a great mix of leadership, vision and a passionate community of contributors.

Ub Iwerks Annie Award

ASIFA-Hollywood is one of the premiere organizations in the world promoting the art and industry of animation. Their annual Annie Award ceremony is the ‘Oscars of animation’, with the top of producers and directors of the animation world attending. Each year the Annie Awards jury rewards a technical achievement that made a significant impact on the art or industry of animation. In February 2019 that prize went to Blender.

To celebrate the award with everyone, we’ve hired a glamour photographer at the Blender Conference to give everyone their moment with the award.

Community art demos

Nothing beats having top quality artists using the daily build of the software, to show the impact software development has on art. It’s inspiring for everyone and it’s a fantastic contribution any artist can do to help Blender! Just like last year, Daniel Bystedt amazed everyone again – for example with the incredible tiger demo. Also worth noting were the Nebulae, the sculpt artists and the sheer avalanche of Grease Pencil work.

Spring

Work on Andy Goralczyk’s Blender Open Movie took over a year, and the result was worth the wait. This stunning piece of visual poetry about a rite of Spring was released early April 2019. Best of all (not always for the makers ;) was that it was done entirely in “git master”, using Blender while it was in daily development.

2.8 Homestretch workshop

In Spring 2018 Blender Institute organized the Code Quest, to get the core contributors together to bring Blender 2.8x development back on track. This went surprisingly well, but it also led to in-depth reviews and design decisions that required more time for the planning. So… there was no official release that year. In Spring 2019 called the crew back for 10 days to organize the final stretch (with good results :).
Looks like it’s going to be an annual event. It’s so cool to have the whole crew together once a while.

Social media: Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, …

While the rest of the world seems to agree that social media is data-robbery which rewards misinformation, poisonous behaviour & trolling – within creative communities such as Blender it’s a still working well. Our channels are an inspiring and refreshing breeze of creative civilization. The official accounts to keep track of Blender are @blender_org at Twitter (66k), BlenderFoundation channel at Youtube (500k!) and @YourOwn3DSoftware (85k) at Facebook.

Use hashtag #b3d for Blender news.

Epic Games Mega Grant

Wow. Who saw that coming!

The conversations with Epic Games already started years ago. It all became more tangible in February and March 2019 in discussions with general manager Marc Petit. (I heard there is a myth going around, that it was triggered by the decision to make left-click select default. ;). It was clear that Epic Game’s main topic was that Blender could improve in attracting more professional contributors – a recurring issue. In some areas Blender is still a bit in the stone age. There is a need to invest in quality and software processes. And that’s what is happening now.

Parts of the funds were invested in hiring the much needed managers – development coordinators Dalai Felinto and Nathan Letwory – but also people such as UI developers Julian Eisel and William Reynish, Mantaflow developer Sebastian Barschkis and social media hero Pablo Dobarro, the artist/sculptor/coder from Spain.

Announcement at the Blender Code blog.

Blender Today live streams

The frequent Youtube vlog during the Code Quest in 2018 was a big success. People appreciate this bit of informal visual? entertainment while getting informed about Blender progress. In 2019 blender.today vlogger Pablo Vazquez (and Blender Institute employee since 2014) was asked to move his popular live stream ‘Blender Today’ to our Foundation youtube channel. Which is now part of his daytime job. This was an important reason why the channel grew to half a million subscribers just before the year’s end. Pablo has a holiday break, but will be back next year.

I lost my Body

In 2017 director Jeremy Clapin attended the Blender Conference in Amsterdam. He presented a feature film that was in production at that time. I remember my jaw dropping on the floor. What a surprise, what a great animation style and what an amazing example of cinematography. You can watch his presentation here.

In 2019 the film won the Critics Award in Cannes, and it won the two main prizes in Annecy. It’s now on Netflix. Reviews are fantastic – hopefully it goes for the Oscars as well.

For a lot of film makers I lost my body will be a game changer – if anyone had a doubt, animation is definitely “just like film” now. And not only for Hollywood blockbusters, especially for indie teams on lower budgets. We’re proud that Blender plays a role in this movement.

Ubisoft (and other studios) using Blender

A couple of months before the Epic Mega Grant announcement I was contacted by Ubisoft to talk about using Blender in their studio pipeline. We had a great meeting during the Annecy festival (June), in which they announced that the Paris animation studio would be moving to Blender for series production and would invest in Blender as contributors. Fantastic news!

Since then we’ve been happy to welcome a lot of new contributors – to mention a few: Studio Khara, Kiska Design, Adidas, Cube Creative and Embark Studios.

Ubisoft announcement article.

Blender 2.80: Made by you!

Since the first announcement in 2013 the release number “2.8” has become almost mythical, it created a lot of hype and expectations. Dozens of people were working on it tirelessly for years. It was a race against the clock, the planning kept shifting… but it finally happened. On July 30 2019 the biggest release in Blender’s history was out!

If you didn’t yet, check the release log and introduction to Blender 2.80.

Did we live up to the expectations? Definitely. The feedback from old and new users was overwhelmingly positive. A giant leap forward for many, especially new users, but also some steps back for others – but that’s good old open source dynamics. Four months later the blender.org team released an essential 2.81 update, and the developer team is currently on house arrest? (“tracker curfew”) to lower the over 2000 open issues on the developer site to more manageable proportions.

Blender welcomes a lot of new developers still, in every area! Check ‘get involved’. You’re welcome.

SIGGRAPH Los Angeles

Siggraph is the largest annual CG conference in the world, usually first week of August. Blender Foundation had a small booth at the tradeshow, had two presentations and a whole lot of meetings. The fresh news of the Blender 2.80 release was buzzing everywhere. But obviously also the news from Epic Games and Ubisoft. It was feeling like as if the whole industry wanted to be on board!

Two new “Patron” Development Fund members were signed up during this conference – Nvidia and AMD, adding three/four more developers on the list to hire.

Personal highlights were the Technology Advancement Award by Peddie Research and the tighter connections with the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF). Both helped landing Blender right in the center of attention of the industry.

New trend: ‘Tutotainment’

OK… I just invented that word. But this new trend deserves its own definition. Just out of the blue, director and Blender and vfx artist Ian Hubert started posting his 1-minute “Lazy Tutorials” series. Ridiculously fun, super entertaining and with a wealth of great tips and tricks! Check the link above.

Just recently I spotted another tutorial maker (CG Matter) lifting up the trend to a new highlight (below):

Tangent Animation: Maya and the 3

Jorge Gutierrez is the director of the highly valued “Book of Life” animation movie (watch it, you won’t regret). He pitched a 9 x 30 minute (!) animation series at Netflix, got it approved and picked Tangent Animation to make it. With Blender, obviously. It’s like making three feature films in two years time. (Wish them luck :)

For Blender it’s good news because it increases the amount of high quality jobs for Blender artists, pipeline experts and developers. Expect a lot of Tangent’s Blender development to go upstream in the coming years.

Blender Conference

After being fully sold out for years, it was really needed to find a new venue in Amsterdam. Not only bigger but with the same quality everyone was used to have – a cosy place of our own, in the heart of the city. Blender Institute was very lucky to sign up with the Compagnie Theater. And again – nearly fully sold out (600 attendees)!

The biggest experiment this year was to hire a sophisticated AV company to do recording and the stage screens. No projection, but using a 10 meter wide LED wall!

The 2020 Amsterdam conference will be here too. Add to your calendars: 29-30-31 October.

Nodevember

With Sculptober and other month-challenges getting famous now, Jonas Dichelle and Luca Rood thought it would be cool to introduce a “Nodevember”. Silly idea? No it was genius!

I haven’t seen such an outburst of creative technology happen for a long time – as if the 80s Demoscene was back.

2019: the year of the Development Fund

If there’s one thing that defined 2019 for Blender it was the massive support for Blender via our Development Fund membership program. It more than quadrupled in a year. Blender now has a much larger team of people working on core development; but not only that, the team is so large that other roles such as managers, writers and devops engineers needed to be filled in.

Supported in 2019 were Blender contributors: Aaron Carlisle, Bastien Montagne, Brecht Van Lommel, Campbell Barton, Clement Foucault, Dalai Felinto, Germano Cavalcante de Sousa, Jacques Lucke, Jeroen Bakker, Julian Eiser, Mai Lavelle, Nathan Letwory, Pablo Dobarro, Philipp Oeser, Richard Antalik, Sebastian Barschkis, Sebastian Parborg, Sergey Sharybin, Sybren Stüvel, William Reynish. And thanks to Blender Institute Francesco Siddi, Pablo Vazquez and Ton Roosendaal could focus on Blender projects all year.

More than 20 people! Blender’s growing up. But we need it… we have a big responsibility now. Please consider to wish the team a Happy New Year by joining or renewing the Development Fund!

Happy 2020

On behalf of everyone at blender.org I wish you a happy new year! Welcome to the open source twenties!

Ton Roosendaal
Blender Foundation chairman
Twitter: @tonroosendaal

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