Blender Foundation releases Blender 2.83 LTS
The Blender Foundation has released Blender 2.83 LTS, the latest update to the open-source 3D software, and the last of its milestone 2.8 release cycle.
New features in the update include VR support, OpenVDB import, new sculpting tools, OptiX viewport denoising, and significant updates to the Grease Pencil toolset, Video Sequencer and overall performance.
As the first release in Blender’s new Long Term Support program, Blender 2.83 will also continue to receive critical fixes until 2022.
The end of a landmark cycle of Blender releases
Blender 2.83 marks the end of Blender’s 2.8 release cycle: a milestone in the software’s 20-year history.
Over the course of four updates, beginning with Blender 2.80 last July, the developers have overhauled Blender’s core architecture, interface and toolsets, and introduced support for key VFX industry standards.
During the same period, many key players in the industry began to back Blender publicly.
The start of Blender’s Long Term Support program
As the first release in Blender Foundation’s new Long Term Support program, Blender 2.83 is designed to cater to the needs of those new users.
LTS releases will have their own dedicated maintainer for a period of 12 months after they initially ship, and will continue to receive critical fixes for two years.
The program is intended to encourage studios to adopt Blender for larger projects, reducing the likelihood of needing to switch to a new version of the software midway in production.
For Blender 2.83, that means critical fixes until 2022. You can read more the product roadmap here.
New features: native VR support for scene inspection
Although, as a LTS release, a primary focus of the 2.83 release was stability and performance improvements, it also introduces a number of major features, including VR support.
Described as a “first milestone” in the development of a more feature-rich toolset, the initial implementation enables users to view a scene in VR without the need for third-party plugins like Blender XR.
At the minute, it’s possible to navigate a scene in virtual reality, but not to edit it, so the main practical use of the toolset will be asset review and previs.
The implementation is based on the new OpenXR standard, currently only supported on Windows Mixed Reality hardware and Oculus Rift headsets. You can find more details of the hardware requirements here.
New features: OpenVDB import
Another key change is OpenVDB import: although Blender has been able to cache simulations in OpenVDB format since Blender 2.77, it couldn’t import OpenVDB files generated in other software.
Blender 2.83’s new Volume Object makes it possible to import volumetric data generated in other DCC tools: particularly Houdini, often used alongside Blender in production for simulation work.
OpenVDB volumes can be displayed in the viewport in wireframe or solid mode, and rendered using the native Cycles render: by default, using Blender’s Principled Volume shader.
Sculpting: new physics-enabled Cloth Brush, plus updates to existing tools
Blender 2.83 also sees a number of significant changes to Blender’s modelling and sculpting toolsets, including an eye-catching new Cloth Brush, shown in the video above.
A built-in physics solver generates realistic wrinkles beneath the brush cursor, with the option to control the results by adjusting mass and damping properties, or switching between seven built-in deformation modes.
Other new sculpting features include the Clay Thumb brush, which is designed to mimic the way that real clay deforms around your fingers while modelling.
There are also a lot of workflow improvements to existing tools: all of the existing brushes now have a separate normal and area radius, plus a new hardness property to control falloff.
Modeling: Face Sets keep complex models organised
Another key addition to the modelling tools in Blender 2.83 is the new Face Sets system.
Like ZBrush’s Polygroups, Face Sets divide the surface of a mesh into color-coded regions, and make it possible to control their visibility independently or to mask the surface for sculpting or painting.
Users can create face sets by painting directly onto the surface of the mesh; or generate them automatically, following the existing features of the model like material boundaries, edge creases or UV seams.
Other changes include a rewrite of the Multires modifier, to reduce artefacts when subdividing meshes.
In addition, many of Blender’s other modifiers have been updated, including improvements to remeshing geometry and corrective smoothing for character animations.
Rendering: adaptive sampling and OptiX viewport denoising in Cycles, more updates to Eevee
New features in Blender’s Cycles render engine include adaptive sampling, intended to reduce the number of samples required to generate a noise-free image, and OptiX viewport denoising.
Nvidia’s AI-accelerated denoising system – which, in its Blender implementation, requires a current-gen Nvidia RTX GPU – was previously only available for final renders.
Eevee gets support for transparency and for shadow blend modes when rendering hair, plus support for a range of new render passes, including Emission, Environment, Bloom and Shadow.
2D animation: support for vertex painting in the Grease Pencil toolset
In addition, Grease Pencil, Blender’s 2D animation system, has been “rewritten from scratch”.
The update makes it possible to use Blender’s existing Vertex Paint tools on Grease Pencil objects, providing new ways to colour line art.
In addition, Grease Pencil strokes are no longer limited to a single colour, with a new Tint Tool making it possible to recolour strokes after they have been created.
There are also improvements to masking and effects, and a significant improvement to performance: frame rates are now “2x higher” when working on files with large numbers of Grease Pencil strokes.
Other changes and performance improvements
Other changes include a revamp of the Video Sequencer, Blender’s video editor, which gets the option to cache frames to disk instead of keeping them in memory.
The interface has also been reworked, with opacity and audio waveforms now displayed directly on video strips, and support for box selection when picking edit handles.
Performance improvements include reduced loading and baking times for fluid simulations, and self-collision in cloth simulations has been optimised, increasing overall sim performance by “15-20%”.
The update also addresses a longstanding user complaint that Undo operations take too long when working on complex scenes, although the Blender Foundation hasn’t put a figure on the speed boost.
As usual, the full changelog is far too long to cover here, so check out the links below for full details.
Release date and system requirements
Blender 2.83 is available for Windows 7+, macOS 10.12+ and Linux. It’s a free download.
Full disclosure: this story based on one I wrote for BlenderNation as part of my work outside CG Channel. I also contributed to Blender Foundation’s release notes for the Blender 2.83.