Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 Posted by Jim Thacker

Blender Foundation releases Blender 2.90

The Blender Foundation has shipped Blender 2.90, the first release in this year’s Blender 2.9 cycle of updates to the open-source 3D graphics and compositing software.

The release consolidates the key features introduced in Blender 2.8, introducing a true multiresolution sculpting workflow and smarter hard surface modelling, and improving fluid and cloth simulation.

Both of Blender’s main render engines also continue to evolve, with 2.90 introducing a new sky model, plus support for deformation motion blur in Eevee, and viewport denoising on the CPU in Cycles.

The full changelog is far too long to cover every new feature here, so below, we’ve picked out the highlights from each of Blender’s key toolsets.

Consolidating on the gains from the 2.8 releases
Blender 2.90 builds on the features introduced in last year’s landmark 2.8 release cycle.

Over the course of four updates, beginning with Blender 2.80 last July, the developers overhauled Blender’s core architecture, interface and toolsets, and introduced support for key VFX industry standards.

Major new features included Eevee, the software’s real-time render engine, RTX-accelerated ray tracing in the existing Cycles renderer, and new sculpting and fluid simulation tools.

Version 2.90 doesn’t add anything on quite the same scale, but it does extend all of those toolsets, filling in the gaps in functionality, and making Blender more usable in production pipelines.

Sculpting: true multiresolution workflow, updates to the Pose brush
Although Blender has supported multiresolution modelling for a while – the Multires modifier got a big update in Blender 2.83 – it never quite added up to a proper sculpting workflow.

Blender 2.90 takes a significant step towards a true multiresolution workflow, with users now able to switch freely between subdivision levels while sculpting.

Crucially, it is now possible to unsubdivide models, or to rebuild missing subdivision levels automatically when importing high-resolution assets from other DCC software.

It is also now possible to toggle between three subdivision modes: the standard Smooth mode, plus the blockier Simple and Linear subdivision, geared more towards hard surface models.

The Pose brush introduced in Blender 2.81 – Blender’s equivalent of ZBrush’s Transpose, making it possible to pose unrigged character models – also gets a significant update.

As well as Squash and Stretch and Scale and Translate modes (shown above), it is now possible to use Face Sets – Blender’s take on ZBrush Polygroups – as if they were the joints of an FK rig when posing a model.

Hard surface modelling: smart extrusion and better UV workflows
The modelling toolset gets a number of separate new features, but one of the most significant looks to be the new Extrude Manifold tool.

Like Smart Extrude in 3ds Max 2021.2, it cleans up non-manifold geometry created when extruding a model, automatically splitting or removing faces.

Another key change is the Correct Face Attributes and Keep Connected settings, which dynamically adjust the UVs of a mesh as it is being modified: again, something that should significantly speed up workflow.

In addition, the Bevel modifier gets support for custom Bezier profile curves; and the UV Editor gets new ring selection and Pick Shortest Path modes, plus the option to rip off selected faces to form new UV islands.

Simulation: better cloth and fabric tools
The simulation toolsets also get a number of individual updates. It’s harder to pick a headline feature here, but the new Cloth Filter is probably one of the most significant.

It applies the same solver used by the Cloth Brush – the headline-grabbing physics-enabled cloth sculpting brush added in Blender 2.83 – to an entire mesh, making it behave like fabric.

Full cloth simulations can also now mimic the effects of hydrostatic pressure: either that of surrounding fluids, or the internal pressure of balloons and other inflatables.

Fluid simulations get improved 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 CPU viewport denoising in Cycles
Some of the biggest changes in Blender 2.90 affect the software’s render engines, with Cycles now using Intel’s Embree library to accelerate ray tracing on the CPU.

The benefits are small for simple scenes – some of the Blender benchmarks actually render slightly slower – but scenes with motion blur render up to 10x faster.

Open Image Denoise (OIDN), Intel’s CPU-based render denoising system, is also now supported for viewport denoising as well as for final-quality output.

When rendering on the GPU, the OptiX backend introduced in Blender 2.81 now supports any OptiX-compatible card: as well as Nvidia’s latest RTX cards, those as old as the GeForce 700 series.

Blender also now supports NVLink, enabling users to pool memory between pairs of newer NVIDIA cards, making it possible to render much larger scenes on the GPU without the attendant performance hit.

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 texture (above).

As with the new sky model in V-Ray and Corona Renderer, it generates more realistic results when the sun is near the horizon, accounting properly for the way that atmospheric light scattering changes with altitude.

Rendering: deformation motion blur in Eevee
Eevee, Blender’s new real-time render engine, takes another step from being a preview tool to one that studios can use in production, with support for deformation motion blur.

The implementation works with particles and hair, and supports sub-frame accumulation.

Video: Sean Kennedy

Pipeline integration: more consistent Alembic and USD export, Nuke lens distortion
Blender 2.90 also features a number of changes that will be significant to studios integrating the software into production pipelines, including more consistent Alembic and USD export.

The Alembic exporter now uses the same codebase as its newer USD counterpart, using the same file naming scheme for meshes and particle systems, and numbering instances in the same way.

The system of library overrides introduced in Blender 2.81 also continues to evolve.

It provides a more robust alternative to the old proxy system when referencing assets that are shared across multiple scenes, and has been a common request from VFX and animation studios.

In addition, Blender now supports the same lens distortion model as Nuke, making it possible to track shots in Blender, then composite them in Foundry’s software rather than Blender’s native compositing system.

Release date and system requirements
Blender 2.90 is available for Windows 7+, macOS 10.13+ and Linux. It’s a free download.

See 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 based on one I wrote for BlenderNation as part of my work outside CG Channel.