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Check out the key features in Blender 2.90

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The first release in the Blender 2.9 release series is here. Take our guided tour of its key features

The industry-changing Blender 2.8 releases may finally be over, but the pace of development hasn't slowed. With the Blender Development Fund now bringing in enough money to pay the salaries of 20 full-time developers, this year's Blender 2.9 release cycle looks set to be equally packed.

Blender 2.90, the first of those updates, consolidates many of the new features, extending the software's modeling, rendering and simulation toolsets. Below, we've picked out five of the most significant changes, from a true multiresolution sculpting workflow to advances in cloth and fluids.

Blender's Multires modifer can now automatically rebuild missing subdivision levels when importing high-res models from other 3D software, making it possible to work on them as if they were native Blender assets.

1. True multiresolution sculpting

Blender has supported multiresolution modeling for a while the Multires modifier got a big update in Blender 2.83 – but it never quite added up to a proper sculpting workflow. Blender 2.90 joins those dots.

It is now possible to swap between subdivision levels as you work, starting at a low level to rough out major features, then switching to a higher one to add fine details. Blender can also unsubdivide the mesh, so you can fix any structural problems you notice after starting to detail it, and even to rebuild subdivision levels completely, making it possible to import hi-res assets from other DCC software, and have Blender automatically reconstruct all of the missing subdivision levels for you.

There are also now three subdivision modes: the standard Smooth mode, plus the blockier Simple and Linear subdivision, making it possible to sculpt anything from organic characters to hard surface assets

Intel's AI-based Open Image Denoise (OIDN) system is now supported for viewport rendering as well as final-quality output, making it possible to denoise your viewport previews on the CPU as well as the GPU.

2. Better ray tracing and denoising in Cycles

Blender's Cycles render engine continues to evolve, with version 2.90 bringing several important advances. First, Blender now uses Intel's Embree library also integrated into V-Ray and Modo's new mPath renderer – for CPU ray tracing. The benefits are small for simple scenes (some of the standard Blender benchmarks actually render slightly slower), but significant for heavy geometry or when using motion blur: the Agent 327 benchmark scene now renders over 10x faster.

Second, Intel's CPU-based Open Image Denoise system, first introduced in Blender 2.81, can now be used to denoise viewport previews as well as final-quality renders. Both changes will be particularly significant for Mac users, since Blender now officically no longer supports GPU rendering on macOS, following Apple's decision to discontinue support for its CUDA drivers in macOS 10.14.

But for Windows and Linux users, GPU rendering has been extended. The OptiX ray tracing backend added in Blender 2.81 is now available to any GPU that supports the API which includes cards as old as the GeForce 700 series while support for NVLink means that it is possible to pool memory between pairs of newer NVIDIA cards, enabling you to render much larger scenes on the GPU.

Blender's new Nishita sky model recreates the way that sunlight is scattered by the earth's atmosphere more accurately than the old Hosek-Wilkie model, resulting in more realistic lighting for exterior scenes.

3. The Nishita sky model

New sky models are very much the flavor of the month in CG. While OctaneRender and LightWave have just adopted the Hosek-Wilkie model to simulate the light cast by the daytime sky, other apps, like V-Ray, Corona Renderer, and now Blender, are moving away from it in favor of even more realistic alternatives.

Blender 2.90's new Nishita sky texture accounts for the way that sunlight is absorbed by ozone in the atmosphere, and changes in light scattering at different altitudes. It should generate more realistic lighting for exterior scenes at any time of day, but the changes are most noticeable when the sun is near the horizon, with the base of the sun's disk darkening properly, and a realistic glow along the horizon.

EEVEE, Blender's real-time render engine, now supports deformation motion blur as well as camera motion blur: a crucial feature for studios hoping to use it in production for visual effects or animation work.

4. Proper motion blur in EEVEE

Although many people think of EEVEE, Blender's real-time render engine. as a tool for tests and personal projects, it just took another step towards becoming something that studios use in production. In Blender 2.90, EEVEE supports motion blur: not just camera blur, but blur due to mesh deformation. It works with particles and hair, and supports sub-frame accumulation for more accurate results.

Blender 2.90 adds new tools for recreating fabric and fluids, from this Cloth Filter to better simulation caching and support for spray maps in the Ocean Modifier. You could almost call it a raft of new features...

5. Better cloth and fluid simulation

Blender 2.90 also features a lot of new features for recreating cloth and fluids. The Cloth Filter, shown in the video above, applies the same solver used by the Cloth Brush to an entire mesh, making it behave like fabric, while full cloth simulations can now mimic the effects of hydrostatic pressure: either that of surrounding fluids, or the internal pressure of balloons and other inflatables.

Fluid simulations themselves benefit from improved caching: by default, simulations are now cached in VDB format, with a single .vdb file per frame, making Blender more compatible with other visual effects tools, and it is now possible to apply a frame offset when importing caches from other software.

Blender's Ocean Modifier, which provides a less CPU-straining way to recreate large bodies of water, has also been updated, and can now generate texture maps for spray as well as foam.

Blender's Pose Brush makes it easy to pose unrigged characters. In Blender 2.90, it gets an ingenious new Face Sets FK mode that treats the Face Sets of a model as if they were the joints of a forward kinematics rig.

But wait: there's more...

And as usual, there are a host of handy smaller changes. Here are five other features that should improve your day-to-day workflow, from modeling and texturing right through to pipeline integration:

  • New modes for the Pose Brush
    The Pose Brush gets several new options for posing characters, including the Face Sets FK mode shown in the video above, plus support for squash and stretch defomation.
  • Smart extrusion
    There are quite a few new modeling features in Blender 2.90, but one of our favorites is this smart extrusion system that automatically fixes non-manifold geometry, saving manual clean-up work.
  • Preserve UVs while modeling
    Another new modeling feature cited as a major workflow improvement by developer Dalai Felinto is the option to preserve UVs and other attributes while modifying geometry.
  • UV Rip
    There are too many individual changes to the UV toolset to cover here, but one neat feature is UV Rip, which lets you rip connected edges or faces apart to create new UV islands.
  • More consistent Alembic and USD export
    And if you use Blender in a production pipeline, the Alembic exporter has been updated to make it more consistent with the new USD exporter when it comes to asset naming and instances.

System requirements

Blender 2.90 is available for Windows 7+, macOS 10.13+ and Linux. You can find full details of the hardware requirements on the Blender website.

About Author

Jim Thacker

I've been writing about Blender since the mid-2000s when, as editor of 3D World magazine, I commissioned a series of on-set diaries from the Blender Foundation's first open movie. Since then, I've worked with ArtStation and Gnomon, ‘development edited’ books for Focal Press and Design Studio Press, and am currently editor of industry news website CG Channel.

4 Comments

  1. Hi, excellent news.
    With the pose brush, is that just for stills or is it key animatable ?
    Thanks in advance for your reply.

    • It's mostly for sculpting but there's no reason why you couldn't make a shapekey, pose your sculpt, then make another shapekey, and so on, over and over again, to animate the mesh with shapekeys only.

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