The Blender Foundation has shipped Blender 2.90, the first version of this year's Blender 2.9 update cycle for the open source 3D graphics and compositing software.
The version consolidates the key features of Blender 2.8, introduces a true multiresolution sculpting workflow and smarter hard surface modeling, and improves fluid and material simulation.
Both of Blender's main rendering engines are also evolving. 2.90 introduces a new Sky model, supports the blurring of deformation movements in Eevee and the de-noise of viewports on the CPU in Cycles.
The full changelog is far too long to cover all of the new features here. In the following we have selected the highlights from the most important Blender toolsets.
Consolidation of the profits from the 2.8 releases
Blender 2.90 builds on the functions that were introduced last year in the groundbreaking 2.8 release cycle.
Over the course of four updates, starting with Blender 2.80 last July, developers revamped Blender's core architecture, user interface, and tool sets, and introduced support for key VFX industry standards.
Key new features included Eevee, the software's real-time render engine, RTX-accelerated ray tracing functionality in the existing Cycles renderer, and new tools for sculpture and fluid simulation.
Version 2.90 doesn't add anything on the same scale, but it does expand all of these tool sets, fill in the functionality gaps, and make Blender more user-friendly in production pipelines.
Sculpture: Real multi-resolution workflow, update of the pose brush
Although Blender has supported multi-resolution modeling for some time – the "Multires" modifier received a major update in Blender 2.83 – it has never resulted in a proper modeling workflow.
Blender 2.90 takes a significant step towards a true multi-resolution workflow. Users can now freely switch between subdivision levels while sculpting.
Crucially, it is now possible to separate models or automatically recreate missing subdivision levels when high-resolution assets are imported from other DCC software.
It is now also possible to toggle between three subdivision modes: the standard smooth mode as well as the more blocked simple and linear subdivision, which are more geared towards models with hard surfaces.
The Pose Brush introduced in Blender 2.81 – Blender's equivalent to ZBrush's transpose, which can be used to represent unequipped character models – is also being significantly updated.
In addition to the "Squash" and "Stretch" and "Scale and Translate" modes (see above), face sets can now also be used – Blender's attitude towards ZBrush polygroups – as if they were the joints of an FK rig when you set up a model .
Modeling Hard Surfaces: Smart Extrusion and Better UV Workflows
The modeling toolset has a number of separate new features. However, one of the most important is the new Extrude Manifold tool.
As with Smart Extrude in 3ds Max 2021.2, it cleans up undistributed geometry that is created when a model is extruded and automatically splits or removes faces.
Another important change is the "Correct Face Attributes" and "Stay Connected" settings, which dynamically adjust the UV rays of a network during the change. This in turn should speed up the workflow considerably.
In addition, the Bevel modifier supports custom Bezier profile curves. The UV editor has a new ring selection and the "Select shortest path" modes as well as the option to tear off selected areas in order to form new UV islands.
Simulation: better cloth and cloth tools
The simulation tool sets also receive a number of individual updates. It's harder to choose a heading feature here, but the new cloth filter is probably one of the most important.
It uses the same solver that is used by the cloth brush – the physically capable cloth shaping brush added in Blender 2.83 that makes the headlines – and acts like cloth.
Full fabric simulations can now also mimic the effects of hydrostatic pressure: either that of the surrounding fluids or the internal pressure of balloons and other inflatable boats.
Fluid simulations are improved on caching: by default, Sims are now cached in VDB format with a single .vdb file per frame, and it is now possible to apply a frame offset when importing caches from other software.
Rendering: Embree ray tracing and denoise of the CPU viewport in cycles
Some of the biggest changes in Blender 2.90 affect the software's render engines. Cycles now uses Intel's Embree library to speed up ray tracing on the CPU.
The benefits for simple scenes are small – some of the Blender benchmarks actually render a little slower – but scenes with motion blur render up to 10 times faster.
Open Image Denoise (OIDN), the CPU-based render denoise system from Intel, is now also supported for denoise of viewports as well as for output in final quality.
When rendering on the GPU, the OptiX backend introduced in Blender 2.81 now supports all OptiX-compatible cards: as well as the latest RTX cards from Nvidia, which are as old as the GeForce 700 series.
Blender now also supports NVLink, allowing users to pool storage between pairs of newer NVIDIA cards so much larger scenes can be rendered on the GPU without affecting the associated performance.
Rendering: New Nishita sky model
Although Cycles' existing Hosek-Wilkie sky model is still relatively new – OctaneRender and LightWave have only just adopted it – Blender 2.90 introduces an even newer alternative: the Nishita sky structure (above).
As with the new sky model in V-Ray and Corona Renderer, more realistic results are obtained when the sun is near the horizon, taking into account the way in which the scattering of atmospheric light changes with altitude.
Rendering: Deformation motion blur in Eevee
Eevee, Blender's new real-time rendering engine, is another step from a preview tool to a tool that studios can use in production and that supports motion blur when deformed.
The implementation works with particles and hairs and supports the accumulation of subframes.
Video: Sean Kennedy
Pipeline integration: consistent alembic and USD export, nuke lens distortion
Blender 2.90 also introduces a number of changes that are significant for studios integrating the software into production pipelines, including more consistent exports of Alembic and USD.
The Alembic exporter now uses the same code base as its newer USD counterpart, uses the same filename scheme for nets and particle systems, and numbers instances in the same way.
The system of library overwriting introduced in Blender 2.81 is also being further developed.
It offers a more robust alternative to the old proxy system when referencing assets that are shared across multiple scenes, and has been widely requested by VFX and animation studios.
In addition, Blender now supports the same lens distortion model as Nuke, so footage can be tracked in Blender and then pieced together in Foundry software rather than Blender's native compositing system.
Release date and system requirements
Blender 2.83 is available for Windows 7+, MacOS 10.13+ and Linux. It's a free download.
See the Blender Foundation's overview of the new features in Blender 2.90
Read the Blender 2.90 release notes
Download Blender 2.90
Full Disclosure: This story is based on one I wrote for BlenderNation as part of my work outside of Greenscreen.
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