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NewTek ships LightWave 2020

Friday, April 24th, 2020 | Posted by Jim Thacker

NewTek has released LightWave 2020, the latest version of its 3D modelling and animation software.

Most of the changes affect LightWave’s materials and rendering toolsets, which get two new GI engines, support for tonemapping, random walk subsurface scattering and two new hair shaders.

The release also updates the software’s OpenVDB toolset, including the integration of Disney’s Partio particles library, and features smaller workflow improvements to Layout, Modeler and the OpenGL viewport.

The first update to LightWave under Vizrt’s ownership
LightWave 2020 is the first update to the software since NewTek was acquired by Vizrt, and perhaps as a result, comes a few months later than expected.

Whereas the firm looked to have settled into a pattern of annual updates every January, the new release popped out unexpectedly following a period of near-silence from NewTek on its forum.

At the time of posting, there aren’t any demos of the new feature on the LightWave YouTube channel, although they are now appearing in the Learning section of the website.

Rendering: new Brute Force and Irradiance Cache GI engines
The biggest changes in LightWave 2020 are to the renderer, which gets a new global illumination system with separate render engines for primary and secondary light bounces: a system also used in V-Ray.

In place of the old Monte Carlo engine, users can choose new Brute Force or Irradiance Cache engines for either primary or secondary bounces, making it possible to trade render speed against output quality.

Other new rendering features include support for tonemapping, as is standard in most other renderers. There are four options available, including ACES Filmic.

Outside the core software, NewTek has also released free iOS and Android apps that enable users to monitor network renders, although it doesn’t appear to be possible to relaunch failed jobs.

Materials: random walk subsurface scattering and two new hair shaders
Changes to the materials system include support for random walk subsurface scattering, also recently implemented in a number of third-party render engines.

There are also two new hair materials for LightWave’s FiberFX system: a simplified Principled Hair shader along the lines of Blender’s Principled Hair BSDF, and the more parameter-rich AFC Shader.


OpenVDB: Partio support, level set morphing and particle advection
LightWave’s OpenVDB toolset for editing and rendering volumetric data also gets several new tools.

The most significant is the integration of Disney’s open-source Partio library, making it possible to import and edit particle systems in the native formats of other DCC software.

That includes Maya’s PDB and PDA formats, RenderMan’s PTC, and Houdini’s GEO and BGEO – although the latter isn’t supported by LightWave’s implementation, it can read the old .hclassic format.

Other new OpenVDB features include the option to split, merge and morph between level sets, and to advect particles using a velocity grid, as shown in the video above.

Other changes: updates to the scene editor and environment light
Changes to Layout, LightWave’s scene layout and animation environment, include the option to set axis rotation order for objects, workflow improvements in the Scene Editor and updates to the environment light.

There are also smaller changes to modelling workflow; and FBX export and the visual quality of the OpenGL viewport have apparently been improved, although the documentation doesn’t provide any details.

Mixed early feedback from LightWave users
Initial user reactions to the release have been mixed, with one fairly typical comment in the thread on NewTek’s forum commenting that it feels more like a point update than a major release.

The most negative reactions come from people who use third-party render engines like OctaneRender, and don’t benefit from the changes to the native renderer, but the lack of updates to the modelling tools and the lack of communication about the product roadmap also come in for criticism.

Updated 27 May 2020: NewTek has released LightWave 2020.0.1, a free update that improves performance when using multi-importance sampling or subsurface scattering, and fixes a significant number of bugs.

The update also adds support for Unreal Engine 4.24 and 4.25 in LightWave’s Unreal Engine live link.

Pricing and system requirements
LightWave 2020.0.,1 is available for 64-bit Windows 7+ and macOS 10.12+. New licences cost $995.

Read an overview of the new features in LightWave 2020 on the product website

Read a full list of new features in LightWave 2020 in the online documentation

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