The second year of the second decade of the second millennium is coming to an end, and Blender and its community have never looked better. In a world battered by unending crises and disappointments, Blender once again stands as a model of open-source endeavour, reaching millions and empowering them with the freedom to create. This year, Blender had three foundational releases setting the stage for the next few years of the software's evolution on top of the Blender Studio releasing the very well-received Sprite Fright, and Blender reaching wider industry adoption and support than ever. In this post, I will be taking a look at some of the key takeaways for Blender over the past year.
The Year of Massive releases
The new release cycle post-Blender 2.8 provisions for four releases per year, each three months apart. This year, however, the development cycle for 3.0 was doubled in time to compensate for Covid restrictions and to make sure this pivotal release had the time and space to properly brew before prime-time.
This meant that 2021 saw three massive Blender releases instead of four, with the undoubted star being the 3.0 release, both for its numerical milestone and for the powerful set of features it premiered.
The Features of the Future
2021 was a momentous year for Blender's overall power and capabilities with the addition of incredible new tools, and the overhauling of mainstays.
- Cycles X: After being announced in April 2021, Cycles' rewrite made it into Blender 3.0 to wide acclaim, delivering incredible speed increases and setting the stage for long-awaited additions such as light-groups and faster caustics (both already in development for 3.1-3.2).
- Geometry Nodes: The much-touted first step of the "Everything Nodes" project, the nodal powerhouse made its debut with Blender 2.92, was further expanded in 2.93, before being overhauled and re-designed into its final "fields" form in Blender 3.0. A quick glance at this year's Nodevember shows that the Blender userbase has already made this young tool their own.
— erindale.xyz ? (@erindale_xyz) November 30, 2021
- Eevee: The real-time render engine saw a big push over the past year into making it a production-ready renderer. This meant the addition of Cryptomatte and AOV support, improved volume support, re-written and improved DoF, and more. This is not Eevee's final form, as a complete Vulkan re-write is underway, promising to unlock even more power over the next year.
- Grease Pencil/Line-art: Grease Pencil's development continued at a dazzling rate, with the addition of the Curve Edit mode, the ability to trace image sequences, improved interpolation tools, more import and export options, and the highly-anticipated addition of the LineArt modifier
- Asset Browser: Another highly anticipated feature, the Asset Browser made its official debut in Blender 3.0 and was accompanied by the new Pose Library system.
A huge number of other features were added over the past three releases, including USD import and Export, various animation tools improvements, and much more than possible to list here. Check out our coverage of the 2.92, 2.93, and 3.0 releases for a thorough look at what Blender gained this year.
As is now tradition, Blender has released the list of the top 30 committers to Blender's code, giving a bird's eye view of some of the most active contributors to the software, and the people making the magic happen.
Here's how to start 2022 well. Join the 2825 people who support the Blender Development Fund! https://t.co/ILYhIfEZbJ
— Ton Roosendaal? (@tonroosendaal) December 31, 2021
An interesting metric is the fact that 24 out of the 30 top contributors in 2021 were funded by Development Fund grants, which on one end is great news as to the expanding financial capabilities of the Blender Foundation, and on the other shows that supporting the Development Fund actually works and directly contribute to more and better Blender!
The Industry is on Board
2021 saw the Blender Development Fund joined by a host of industry leaders, which bodes well for Blender's financial stability and development efforts, its perception by and position in the industry, and its compatibility with hardware and software across the board:
- Development Fund: Adobe, Apple, Decentraland and Intel join Blender's Development fund as Corporate Patron members, making all major silicon manufacturers on board with Blender's development.
- Enterprise Support: Canonical, most known for its Ubuntu Linux distribution, started offering long-term support services for enterprises.
- Development Contribution: Renderman 24 now has a Blender integration, Adobe released a Substance 3D addon for Blender, Nvidia contributed USD Import among other things, AMD provided the HIP backend for Cycles X as well as ProRender support, Apple helped develop the Metal backend for cycles as well as M1 support, Facebook Reality Labs is contributing Cycles improvements such as anisotropic SSS, NMEE Caustics and more.
At the Headquarters
Not to be outdone by its flagship releases, the Blender organization itself also had several updates over the past year:
- Upgraded Modules Organization: Modules are the backbone of Blender's community-centered development. Module organization has been updated and clarified, and two new modules have been added, the Rendering and Core modules.
- Blender Cloud now Blender Studio: After almost 8 years under the same name, the Blender Cloud has been rebranded as "Blender Studio", to more accurately reflect the current purpose and standing of the online platform, which is intimately tied to the Blender Studio, its funding, and its film production endeavours.
- Development Community Coordinator: Thomas Dinges was hired as a Development Community Coordinator, to help manage the influx of community contributions and make sure that both core developers and community contributors interface as well as possible
In the latest Annual Report released earlier in 2021, the Blender Foundation re-iterated its vision:
Everyone should be free to create 3D CG content, with free technical and creative production means and free access to markets.
And in the Blender 3.X roadmap post, its mission statement:
We make the world’s best 3D technology available as open source tools for artists.
The Freedom to create
With all this power Blender provides, comes great productions. Here is a small sample of the great Blender projects released this year:
Sprite Fright by the Blender Studio:
Blender Studio's most ambitious open movie to date, "Sprite Fright" received critical acclaim upon its release both for the quality of its visuals and the witty and dark storytelling. Check out the Blender Studio website and our coverage for more information on the short.
Dynamo Dream by Ian Hubert
Ian Hubert is a legend within the Blender Community, for his iconic 1-minute tutorials but also for his incredible work on Tears of Steel, the Blender 2.83 Splash Screen, and more. And by "more" of course I mean the first episode of Dynamo Dream. Three years in the making, this masterpiece of independent film-making has the incredible skill of Ian on full display. Made entirely with Blender of course!
The Drink by William Landgren
William Landgren is a 15-year-old Blender whizz from Stockholm, and he has been steadily pumping out one incredible artwork after the next, culminating in this great little short film.
Maya and the Three by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Désir de Contemplation by César Luton
This short film by French student César Luton features brilliant editing and a striking visual style.
Sinking Feeling by Blue Zoo
And finally, for a snapshot of the Blender community and ecosystem, check out this video compilation, which was released in tandem with 3.0, in-lieu of the once-more canceled Blender Conference due to the pandemic
For more great work produced by Blender artists, check out our weekly Best of Blender Artists posts, our Behind the Scenes series, and our Hand-picked Art series here on Blendernation. Check out Blender.org's user stories to see how big studios incorporated Blender in their workflow.
2022: Year of the Blender
Every year seems more Blender-full than the next, and 2022 is shaping up to be no exception: CyclesX rewrite done and ready to roar, Eevee's rewrite is underway, Geometry Nodes is maturing and the first solver nodes are just over the horizon, light-grouping and light-linking are almost done, work on the game-changing real-time compositor is underway and much more. Check out the Blender 3.X roadmap for more detail on what's in store for Blender next year. This powerful feature-set, combined with wider industry adoption than ever and an ever-growing supportive community, bodes well for the decades-old open-source champion in a traditionally volatile space.
It's been a pleasure and a privilege covering Blender's development news for you over the past year, and I can't wait to see what comes next. Stay tuned!