Sunday, October 17th, 2021 Posted by Jim Thacker

Blender 3.1 to introduce native Metal support in Cycles

Apple has become the latest tech firm to back open-source 3D tool Blender, joining AMD, Epic Games, Nvidia and Unity as a patron of the Blender Development Fund.

Patron-level sponsorship means a donation of at least €120,000/year to fund Blender development.

Apple is also working on native Metal support for Cycles, Blender’s production renderer, which should greatly improve GPU rendering performance on current Macs, with a full release scheduled for Blender 3.1.

Apple becomes Blender’s latest Corporate Patron
As the latest Corporate Patron of the Blender Development Fund, Apple joins a growing list of major technology companies, including AMD, Amazon Web Services, Epic Games, Facebook, Nvidia and Unity.

Its sponsorship – which represents a donation of at least €120,000/year – brings the total income from the fund to over €140,000/month (around $160,000/month).

In 2020, the fund passed the Blender Foundation’s original target figure, intended to pay for the salaries of 20 full-time Blender developers, and has continued to grow steadily ever since.

Apple engineers now developing new Metal backend for Blender’s Cycles renderer
However, just as significant is the Blender Foundation’s announcement that Apple will “provide engineering expertise and additional resources to the Blender HQ and development community”.

Apple’s corporate sponsorship was announced alongside the first public showing of that development work: the initial commit for a new Metal backend for Cycles, Blender’s production renderer.

The new backend should greatly improve GPU rendering performance on current Macs, Apple having deprecated open standards OpenGL and OpenCL in favour of its own Metal API in macOS 10.14.

Native Metal support would also place Cycles on level terms with key third-party commercial renderers for Blender, both Redshift and OctaneRender having already released Metal-native editions of their software.

Stable release of the Metal backend due in Blender 3.1 next year
Posting in this thread on the Blender Development Forum, Apple software engineering manager Jason Fielder commented that the first commit represents the “most invasive” of the underlying changes required.

“We’ll bring a feature branch up with a fully Metal-enabled version over the coming weeks, as we tidy up the code and break it up into atomic commits that make sense for code review.”

The full stable public release is currently scheduled for Blender 3.1, with Fielder noting that Apple aimed to “get that tech contributed back smoothly for the 3.1 release”.

At the time of writing, Blender 3.0 – which itself includes Cycles X, the upcoming major overhaul of Cycles – is due for release in December 2021, which would make Blender 3.1 likely to ship in spring 2022.

Track the progress of the new Metal backend for Cycles on the Blender Developer website

Read the Blender Foundation’s announcement that Apple is backing the Blender Development Fund