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REVIEW: Being an Open-Source Professional – Mert Akbal on the Blender Conference 2013

Blender is a familiar name to those who are working with computer graphics. End of October, the Amsterdam based Blender Foundation organized its 12th Blender Conference. In fact this is a minor task of the foundation compared to the huge coordination job of the development of one of the most successfull 3D software programmes at the moment: Blender 3D.

The free, libre and open source software (FLOSS) is distributed on the internet and can be downloaded and installed very quickly from www.blender.org, the official website of the Blender Foundation, where you can also follow the development of the software and the community every day. Unlike many commercial examples of 3D computer graphics software gets Blender developed by its users, called the ‘stakeholders’ by Ton Rosendaal, the founder and director of Blender Foundation. He put 2002 Blender under public property licence and opened the source code for everyone who wants to contribute to the development of the software.

For kids of all ages

Enthusiastic users are the key of Blender's success
Enthusiastic users are the key of Blender’s success

But to be a developer you don’t have to buy any shares or to get employed by the foundation. If you have any knowledge on coding languages like c++ or python and have ideas, you can immediately start to improve Blender. The software gives any artist around the world the possibility to produce animation films, visual effects for movies, computer games, art installations and even interactive art. But visual artists and enthusiastics about computer generad artwork are not the only users of the software, Blenders open structure enables school teachers to use it in education and scientists to simulate and visualise their data. Thanks to the powerfull and flexible interface of Blender every user is able to visualise any kind of digital input like statistics, measurements or just dreams and fantasies within a few hours. At his opening speech Ton Rosendaal also mentioned the idea of bringing an even simplier version of Blender called ‘Blender 101’ for kids to have an easy introduction.

At the Blender Conference over 250 participants from all continents (except Antartica) met, presented and discussed about their experiences and needs concerning this multifaceted software. The venue in De Balie was a good location for the peer-to-peer communication between the participants most of them knowing eachother allready in their internet lifes. The organisation of the conference done by the Blender Foundation chief developer Francesco Siddi was simple and good, reflecting the soul of the open source community.
3D printed insects
Enthusiast users of Blender
Blender Foundation chair man Ton Roosendaal trying the for Blender developed Virtual Reality application NiMate with developer Janne Karhu from Delicode on the back.

The many possibilities Blender gives the users were reflected in the diverse topics at the Blender Conference, e.g. 3D printed plastic insects, plants and corals of japanese artist Shigeto Maeda fascinating what the nature would look like if it would start using higher geometrical numbers in her algorythmical functions. Matthieu Dupont de Dinechin giving in his fablab Viralata.fr workshops for the kids to use the same 3D printing machines easily with Blender. Fabrizzio Nunnari from the German Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence based in Saarbruecken presented his ongoing research about the possibility to use Blender with help of the infrared sensor devices like Kinect to enable the recognisation of sign language used by hearing impaired people, who have difficulties learning the written language based on a spoken language syntax. His institution is not alone using Blender for real time body tracking. Julius Tuomisto and Janne Karhu who run the innovative finnish company Delicode presented their software NI-Mate, which makes it for everyone possible to connect the common Kinect device with Blender to play with your own digital puppets using your whole body.

Pizza design
However, don’t let it be misunderstood: Blender is a free and open source product, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t earn money using Blender. Quite the opposite, the flexiblity of the software supported the development of many bussiness ideas, which otherwise would be costly and hard to realize possible. For example ‘The computer aided Pizza Designer with Blender’ presented by Daniele De Luca from Italy or the instant visualisation tool for customised products presented by Tobias Günther from Germany.
Last but not least Blender is used by many many studios all around the world to realize high quality animation productions shown in tv, internet or in cinemas like ‘Luke’s Escape’ an animated short film project still under development which will depict the story of a kid who struggles with his nightmares questioning the reality.
All in all attending the Blender Conference mediates the feeling of being an open-source professional. This feeling arises first by the demonstration of all the huge array of profesional outcomes produced by a community hold together more by the enthusiasm of putting something „good“ into the world than the commercial interests and second by the way of communication between the members of this community which is shaped by this very same human sense.
Mert Akbal is a researcher at the xm:lab of the Academy of Fine Arts Saar in Saarbrücken. The xm:lab is also a partner of Gonzo (circus) and Grizine in the ongoing project Tandem Turkey-EU – Techomania: Opening Up Technologies. Pictures: Sebastian Koenig.
For everyone interested in Free Culture and its possibilities as well as its downsides, Het Nieuwe Instituut organizes FREE?!|A One-day Journey into the Cultures of Sharing on Friday November 29th in Rotterdam. Ton Roosendaal of Blender will participate in the panel discussion along with Jamie King (VODO), Felix Stalder (World Information Institute, Vienna) and Bruno Felix (Submarine).

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