Preview: Blender’s new hair tools and viewport compositor
Blender’s new hair grooming tools: part of the curve-based hair system now available in alpha builds of Blender 3.3. The tools are being tested in production on upcoming Blender Studio animation Project Heist.
The Blender Foundation has just posted sneak peeks at two major new toolsets due in future versions of Blender: a curves-based system for grooming hair, and a GPU-accelerated real-time compositor.
The curves system is part of Blender 3.3, due for a stable release in September, while the real-time compositor is available via an experimental build of the open-source 3D software.
New curve-based hair system combines procedural and brush-based grooming tools
The hair grooming toolset represents one of the first extensions of Blender’s new node-based architecture beyond procedural modelling and object scattering.
It builds on the Geometry Nodes system’s support for curves to power a procedural grooming pipeline, augmented by a new set of non-procedural tools for grooming hair via a brush-based workflow.
The non-procedural ‘destructive’ toolset – intended for one-off hero characters – is the main focus of the initial release, and is shown in the video above, recorded by Blender Studio art director Andy Goralczyk.
Users can paint guide hairs directly onto the surface of character sculpt, using separate brushes to comb them, adjust their density, or even slide individual hairs around on the surface.
Unlike Blender’s existing particle-based hair system, painting is done in 3D space, rather than as a 2D projection, simplifying workflow, and reducing unnatural-looking artefacts.
According to this post on the Blender Developers Blog, the new system “should be able to support at least 120,000 hair strands edited at the same time”.
The initial toolset, available in Blender 3.3, will be extended with more tools for cutting and smoothing hair; and new hair-specific curve nodes, including nodes for interpolating and parting hairs.
New GPU-accelerated backend makes it possible to composite inside Blender’s 3D viewport
The real-time compositor is a new GPU-accelerated backend for Blender’s built-in compositor, intended to let users composite directly inside the Blender viewport, without the need to render 3D elements out first.
The examples shown on the Blender Developers Blog post are fairly simple – a stylised animation and a product visualisation, rather than visual effects – but early testers describe the system as very fast.
It can also be used outside the 3D viewport to accelerate conventional compositing workflows.
Although the work hasn’t made it into Blender 3.3 – you can see a list of features not yet supported here – it is “already in a usable state”, and is available publicly, via an experimental branch.
Release dates and system requirements
The new hair tools are already part of Blender 3.3, currently available in alpha. The stable release is currently scheduled for 7 September 2022.
You can download the hair groom for the demo video from the Project Heist content gallery.
The real-time compositor is available via this experimental branch of Blender. There is no official stable release date yet.
Compiled binaries of both branches are available free for Windows 8.1+, Linux and macOS 10.13+.