Friday, December 3rd, 2021 Posted by Jim Thacker

Blender 3.0 ships

The Blender Foundation has shipped Blender 3.0, a milestone update to the open-source 3D software.

The release brings to an end over two decades of Blender 2.x updates, and ushers in a new, more conventional two-year release cycle for major new versions of the software.

But equally importantly, Blender 3.0 introduces several major new features, including a new Asset Browser and Pose Library, and implements Cycles X, the much-anticipated rewrite of the Cycles renderer.

Below, we’ve picked out five new features in the release that we think are particularly significant. At the end of the story, you can take a quick tour through the other changes.

The rewrite of the Cycles render engine in Blender 3.0 cuts render times by up to 8x on Nvidia GPUs and significantly improves the interactivity of the 3D viewport. Video: Blender Foundation.

1. Cycles X
Arguably the most significant change in Blender 3.0 is the rewrite of Cycles, its production renderer, which was dubbed ‘Cycles X’ when it was announced in April.

Intended to “future proof [Cycles] for another ten years”, the rewrite of the renderer’s GPU kernels cuts render times by 1.5x to 8x on Nvidia cards, and greatly improves viewport interactivity.

The rewritten engine also supports AMD GPUs, with a native Metal backend for macOS users due in Blender 3.1. We covered Cycles X separately last week, so check out this story for full details.

Other changes include improvements to the CPU-based Open Image Denoise (OIDN) render denoiser, and to the Shadow Catcher, for compositing rendered 3D objects into photographic backplates.

Blender 3.0 makes it possible to define reusable libraries of assets independent of the current .blend file, and to drag and drop assets from the new Asset Browser into the 3D view. Video: Blender Foundation.

2. The new Asset Browser
Another key structural change in Blender 3.0 is the new Asset Browser, intended as a “streamlined, extensible UI for creating, editing, using and sharing asset libraries”.

The work should help studios looking to integrate Blender into production pipelines by making it easier to reuse assets between projects, as set out in this blog post about the Asset Browser’s design philosophy.

The browser makes it possible to set up libraries of assets – initially, objects, materials, poses and worlds – and to organise them into directory structures, add tags and metadata, and generate thumbnail previews.

Assets can then be added to a scene by dragging and dropping them from the browser into the 3D View. Objects snap to the surface beneath the cursor; materials are applied to the material slot beneath the cursor.

The new pose library system lets character animators store poses for reuse, with the option to blend them interactively into the current pose when reapplying them. Video: Blender Foundation.

3. The new Pose Library
The Asset Browser also underpins the new Pose Library system, one of the first steps in an overhaul of Blender’s character rigging and animation tools partly funded by AWS.

Selecting bones in a character’s armature and clicking the Create Pose Asset button in the Action Editor adds that pose to a custom library, which is stored in a separate .blend file to the current project.

The pose can then be reused by applying it from the Pose Library panel in the Asset Browser, with the option to flip it, or even to blend it interactively into the current pose by click-dragging, shown in the video above.

In their initial implementation, pose libraries are only intended for character work, not general object animation. You can see a list of changes planned for the Asset Browser system as a whole here.

Blender’s framework of geometry nodes has been extended in Blender 3.0 with a new set of nodes that can be used to generate procedurally animatable 3D text for motion graphics. Video: Blender Foundation.

4. Geometry Nodes: new Fields system and support for text
Blender’s geometry nodes system – the start of a much larger project to implement a node-based procedural workflow – continues to evolve in Blender 3.0.

Key changes include the new Fields system, intended to simplify the process of building node groups that represent higher-level concepts.

The release also introduces a new set of text nodes, making it possible to use the node system to generate procedurally animated text for motion graphics, as shown in the video above.

Other changes include better handling of instances and materials, and support for mesh attributes generated by geometry nodes in Eevee, Blender’s real-time renderer, as well as Cycles.

5. USD import
Studios looking to integrate Blender into pipelines based around Pixar’s Universal Scene Description get a new USD importer, complementing the USD exporter added in Blender 2.82.

The change makes it possible to import meshes, curves, materials, volumes, lights, cameras and animations – both animated transforms and mesh caches – exported from other DCC software in USD format.

Experimental features include the option to convert UsdPreviewSurface shaders to Blender Principled BSDF shader networks.

Blender’s existing Alembic and glTF import and export functionality has also been updated, including the option to export animated UV maps in Alembic format.

The new dot-dash modifier in Blender’s Grease Pencil 2D animation toolset makes it possible to apply a range of artistic effects to paint strokes. Video: Blender Foundation.

New features in other key Blender toolsets
Of the other changes in Blender 3.0, one of the most immediately visible is the new UI theme, which gives interface panels custom rounded corners and corner ‘action zones’ for joining them to adjacent panels.

The sculpting tools don’t get many new features this time round, following project lead Pablo Dobarro’s decision to leave the Blender development team in September.

However, for general 3D modelling, there are updates to the Knife tool.

As well as custom mesh attributes, Eevee gets support for the previously Cycles-only wavelength node.

The Grease Pencil toolset for 2D animation gets a lot of small updates, including a new dot-dash modifier, shown in the video above.

The virtual reality toolset introduced in Blender 2.83 has also been updated, with the option to visualise controllers in both a VR session and the regular 3D View, and to use them to navigate a scene.

Sequencer, Blender’s built-in video editor, now supports up to 128 channels, up from 32; and gets image thumbnails in film strips, plus the option to move, scale or rotate strips inside the preview area.

Other changes include support for the Zstandard algorithm for compressed .blend files, cutting file load and save times – particularly save times – over the old gzip compression.

Outside the core software, the rules governing add-ons bundled with Blender by default have been updated, with some popular tools like the BlenderKit integration falling foul of the new requirement that add-ons shouldn’t need to connect to the internet in order to work.

System requirements
Blender 3.0 is available for Windows 8.1+, macOS 10.13+ and Linux. It’s a free download.

See Blender Foundation’s overview of the new features in Blender 3.0

Read the Blender 3.0 release notes

Download Blender 3.0

Homepage image: part of the Blender 3.0 splash screen: a still from Blender Studio animation Sprite Fright.