Friday, November 30th, 2018 Posted by Jim Thacker

Blender 2.80 is now in beta. See the top 5 features here

The Blender Foundation has released the first official beta of Blender 2.80, the long-awaited major update to the open-source 3D modelling, animation and compositing software.

The release – it isn’t a stable production build yet, but it’s a step closer – follows three years of development, and over a year of experimental public test builds.

A long-awaited major structural overhaul for Blender
First announced in 2015, the Blender 2.8 update cycle has been described as ‘The Workflow Project’, addressing the need for major structural changes in Blender’s core architecture.

At the heart of these is the overhaul of the dependency graph, which powers modifiers and constraints. The work should mean that animation rigs evaluate faster, and improve performance on complex scenes.

We wrote about the background history in more detail when the first experimental builds were released last year, so check out our original story for a summary of Blender 2.8’s origins and under-the-hood changes.

The top five new features, as chosen by Blender Institute’s Pablo Vazquez
However, for many artists, particularly those coming to Blender from other software, the main attraction of Blender 2.80 will be the updated user interface and new features.

The online release notes run to several pages of text, but the video above, in which leading Blender artist Pablo Vazquez picks his own top five, is a good place to start.

1. New user interface
Blender’s idiosyncratic user interface and workflow have often been cited as stumbling blocks for users coming to the software from other DCC applications.

The 2.80 release brings Blender more in line with industry conventions, introducing a new dark UI theme, flat icon design, new viewport gizmos, and making left-click the default for selecting objects.

A lot of work has been done on usability: the way that tools are named and the way shortcuts work should be more consistent, and menus have been reorganised to bring commonly used commands to the top.

There are also new readymade templates for different project types – including general 3D work, sculpting, VFX and 2D animation – available when launching Blender.

Each comes with a set of workspaces: customisable UI layouts tailored to specific tasks like modelling or texture painting, which users can tab between to streamline workflow.

A render breakdown for Goodnight Claire. Goodbye Kansas Studios lead creature artist Daniel Bystedt‘s unnerving 3D short was created entirely using Eevee, Blender 2.8’s new real-time render engine.

2. Eevee
Probably the most-talked about feature in Blender 2.80 – and certainly the one to have generated the most eye-catching user demos – is Eevee, Blender’s new physically based real-time renderer.

Although it can also be used to generate final-quality images, issues like inter-frame stability in animations mean that its main use – at least initially – will probably be interactive render previews.

It powers Blender’s newly rewritten viewport, and supports a range of sophisticated effects, including reflections, refractions, depth of field, motion blur, subsurface scattering, and ambient occlusion.

The display options in the viewport have also been significantly extended: objects can be displayed as flat-shaded, HDRI-lit or with Matcap materials, and there is a useful-looking Cavity shader – an AO-based effect that picks out fine details on a model.

The viewport also features a new overlay system, providing better control over the way in which the background grid, wireframe and weightmaps are displayed.

3. New 2D animation tools
The Blender 2.8 update evolves the software’s Grease Pencil feature from a simple animation and rough-out tool to a complete 2D animation toolset in its own right.

Grease Pencil assets go from being simple strokes to actual Blender objects, each existing on its own layer in 3D space, and possessing its own shading and layer blending effects and modifier stack.

You can get an idea of Grease Pencil’s new capabilities by watching Hero, the Blender Institute’s open-source 2D short, released earlier this year.

4. Collections
Blender 2.8 replaces the software’s old system of 3D layers and layer groups with Collections, used to organise objects in a scene, instance groups of objects, and link groups across .blend files.

That has a number of important benefits for workflow, including removing the old limit of 20 layers in a scene, and making it easier to divide heavy production scenes up into smaller assets.

In addition, the old render layer system has been expanded and renamed View Layers.

As well as dividing renders up into passes for compositing, it can now be used to control which objects are visible in the viewport, making it possible to generate variants of a scene.

5. New features in Cycles
Not to be outdone by Eevee, Blender’s existing physically based renderer gets a number of new features that bring it more into line with commercial production renderers.

They include a new hair shader based on the same Disney research used for its counterpart in V-Ray Next, and random walk subsurface scattering, also recently supported in Arnold.

Cycles also becomes the latest render engine to support the now-industry-standard Cryptomatte ID matte generation system, used extensively in visual effects pipelines.

Lots of other new features, but external plugins will need to be recompiled
Blender 2.8 also introduces a number of smaller features and workflow improvements.

In the video, Vazquez singles out the new glTF exporter, which makes Blender the latest tool to support the new real-time 3D scene format, and improved cloth simulation.

As you might expect of a major structural update, the release is API-breaking, so external add-ons will need to be recompiled before they can be used.

System requirements and availability
Blender 2.80 is available in beta for Windows Vista+, Linux and Mac OS X 10.6+. For live production work, The Blender Foundation recommends the current stable release, Blender 2.79b.

The update is now feature-locked, so the betas should be followed by a series of release candidate builds, before an eventual production-ready release.

Read a full list of new features in Blender 2.80 in the online documentation

See more demos of the new features in Blender 2.8 on the Blender Developers YouTube channel

Download the Blender 2.80 beta from the Blender Experimental Builds webpage