In addition, Pixar slashed the price of its RenderMan software for commercial use to $495 per license. Pixar developed its RenderMan 3D software more than 25 years ago and then used it for movies such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc, among several others. In addition to using RenderMan for its own projects, the Disney-owned company also licenses the software to competing movie studios.
Image Source: Pixar
Pixar's motive is likely multi-pronged here. For one, Pixar is probably hoping this move will stave off the competition from other animation rendering software, notably VRay and Arnold. By making RenderMan free, a new generation of content creators will be exposed to the software and become familiar with its nuances. While they'll start off as free users at school or at home for personal use, they could very well become paid customers as they transition to commercial projects.
If taking an evangelistic view, one could argue that Pixar is also looking to get more people interested in 3D animation. Even at the reduced price of $495 (plus an annual "maintenance fee" of $200), RenderMan is cost prohibitive for the user who just wants to experiment and learn -- the hobbyist, in other words. Offering it for free solves that problem.
"First, RenderMan going forward will be the conduit through which applicable rendering technologies developed within Disney / Pixar research will be channeled into the public domain to establish a common platform for production, research and development, trials and experimentation, learning, and other applications," Pixar explains. "Second, it is Pixar’s belief that limitations on software access have become a brake on the development of the production industry, and that universal access and a set of common standards and practices can only stimulate greater growth and development. Third, existing trial and evaluation methods of providing access through watermarked or time-expiry licenses are unsatisfying for proper evaluation."
Image Source: Pixar
Whatever Pixar's motive(s), this is a cool thing for budding 3D animators. Look for the free version to release alongside the commercial release (version 19) around the middle of August. In the meantime, you can find out more in Pixar's related FAQ, including what constitutes "non-commercial" use.