Blender 3.2 ships
Although not as big as some recent releases, it’s a wide-ranging update, with new 3D modeling and texturing features including a Curve Pen tool for drawing and editing curves, and a revamped 3D painting toolset
There are also some major changes to the Cycles renderer, including support for Light Groups, making it possible to relight images without re-rendering, fast shadow caustics, and volume motion blur.
It’s also a compatibility-breaking update, with the fast-evolving Geometry Nodes system now no longer compatible with nodes created in Blender 2.93 and earlier, and the old proxy system finally removed.
Below, we’ve picked out five of the most significant changes, along with a brief round-up of the quality-of-life improvements to other key toolsets, including animation, Grease Pencil, video editing and virtual reality.
The new Sculpt Paint toolset makes it possible to paint 3D models inside Sculpt mode. It provides a range of standard features including a Smear brush, masking and colour adjustments. Video: Blender Foundation
1. Paint directly in Sculpt mode with the new Sculpt Paint toolset
With a better non-destructive painting toolset identified as one of 2022’s key development goals, one of the most-anticipated features in Blender 3.2 is the new Sculpt Paint toolset.
It unifies painting workflow, enabling users to paint in Sculpt mode as well as Vertex Paint mode, adds new capabilities like support for masks and face sets, and improves performance.
Users get a standard range of brush controls, including size, shape, flow and density, with the option to toggle the basic Paint brush into blur mode, or use a separate Smear brush to smudge existing strokes.
A new Color Filter tool makes it possible to perform basic adjustments to paint strokes, including hue, saturation and value, brightness and contrast, and adjusting RGB values.
The new Light Groups system generates render passes containing only lighting from user-defined subsets of light sources, making it possible to relight images without re-rendering. Video: Nahuel Belich.
The toolset generates render passes containing only lighting information from a user-defined set subset of light sources in a scene: for example, only direct lights, only environment lighting, or only emissive materials.
The passes can then be use to relight a scene in Blender’s built-in compositor without re-rendering, in a workflow similar some commercial render engines: for example, the Light Mix system in Corona and V-Ray.
The implementation is not Cycles-specific, and could be extended to Eevee, Blender’s real-time renderer.
Cycles can now generate caustics only in shadow areas of an image, reducing render times for scenes containing refractive materials like water or ice. Video: Nahuel Belich.
3. Fast shadow caustics
The 3.2 update also overhauls Cycles’ caustics system, with users now able to render caustics from refractive objects only in the shadow areas of an image, where they have the biggest visual impact.
Use cases include underwater scenes and the caustic light patterns generated inside eyes.
The feature, which is based on Manifold Next Event Estimation – developed in-house at Weta Digital for its own production work – should reduce the impact of caustics on render times.
Blender’s implementation currently only supports up to four caustic light bounces, ignores bump and normal maps, and is confined to refractive caustics, as opposed to those from reflections.
The new Curve Pen tool quickly creates and edits Bézier curves, NURBS and poly splines. Remappable keyboard shortcuts make it possible to customise its behaviour. Video: Blender Foundation.
4. Draw curves faster with the new Curve Pen tool
Updates to 3D modelling include the new Curve Pen tool, for creating and editing Bézier curves.
The action performed depends on whether you single-click, double-click or [Ctrl]-click, or hold down user-customisable modifier keys, making it possible to work very quickly, without having to switch modes.
Most of the functionality also works for NURBS and poly splines, making it a useful general-purpose tool.
Support for object Collections in the Asset Browser speeds up the process of populating 3D scenes. Collections may be dragged into a scene as instances or individual objects. Video: Blender Foundation.
5. Add entire Collections of objects to scenes
Workflow improvements include support for Collections of objects in the Asset Browser, which should speed up workflow in shot layout for animation and visual effects, and when dressing scenes for visualisations.
Users can drag and drop Collections into a scene either as instances or as individual objects. Blender automatically generates thumbnails for new Collections, but users can also set their own preview images.
The new Envelope modifer creates a lattice of lines connecting points on a Grease Pencil stroke, generating interesting new hatched shading effects. Video: Blender Foundation.
New features in other key Blender toolsets
The bulk of the other changes in Blender 3.2 affect rendering, with Cycles also gaining support for motion blur on volumes, support for the linear ACEScg colour space, and the option to bake to UDIM tiles.
Cycles also now supports GPU rendering on AMD GPUs on Linux as well as Windows. Compatible GPUs include Radeon RX 5000 and 6000 Series gaming cards, and Radeon Pro W6000 Series workstation cards.
Blender’s other toolsets see fewer changes, although there are some useful quality-of-life updates.
Geometry Nodes gets a smaller update than in recent releases, but there is a new Duplicate Elements node, new nodes for dealing directly with attribute names, and a number of performance improvements.
For animation, the Discontinuity (Euler) filter is now available in the Dope Sheet as well as the Graph Editor, and there are workflow improvements in the NLA Editor, and when working with motion paths.
Grease Pencil, Blender’s 2D animation toolset, gets a new Envelope modifier, shown in the image above, more options for the existing Dot Dash modifier, and improvements to stroke smoothing.
And when working in virtual reality, it is now possible to display Object Extras like Grease Pencil objects or image empties in VR mode: for example, to display reference images in architectural walkthroughs.
In addition, a number of legacy features have been deprecated: the old proxy system has been removed in favour of the new library overrides system, with the old pose library due to follow in Blender 3.3.
The Geometry Nodes system has also now been entirely moved over to the new Fields system introduced in Blender 3.0, so it is no longer backwards-compatible with Blender 2.93 and earlier
Blender 3.2 is available for Windows 8.1+, macOS 10.13+ and Linux. It’s a free download.
Homepage image: part of the Blender 3.2 splash screen: ‘White Lands’ by Oksana Dobrovolska.