Sparkling gems and new releases from the world of Free and Open Source Software


Article from Issue 257/2022

Graham had an interesting moral dilemma this month: whether to include an open source Wordle clone or not. Read on to see his decision.

Graphics studio

Blender 3.0

We've looked at updates to Blender before but never one as significant as this. Blender 3.0 comes 22 years after Blender 2.0. This period covers the project from directly after the source code was released as freeware in 2000 through the creation of the Blender Foundation in 2002 and it's true open sourcing in 2003, before the incredible number of world-changing feature updates that have defined the 2.x release cycle. Hugely influential, Blender is a lighthouse project for what open source can achieve. From modeling, animation, movies, and 3D rendering to architecture, 3D printing, and game design, Blender has received unparalleled industry recognition and is used by hobbyists, students, and professionals alike.

Not just a token release, Blender 3.0 contains a significant number of new features and refinements, especially if you've skipped a few updates. The best of these is the asset browser, a new kind of view type that appears in the menu alongside the 3D viewport, compositor, and all the other types. When enabled, the chosen pane will show thumbnails from a huge number of Blender asset types, including objects, materials, and most recently, poses. Poses are a way of storing character expressions for your models, such as a smile or frown. Blender 3.0 will let you tweak these poses without losing the original, with keying sets for both characters and properties. You can then add, blend, apply, and flip poses from the asset view to see how they'll fit on your chosen character. Key values can even be selected by dragging a square across the frame graph. Equally, assets can be dragged and dropped into your scene, which will update as quickly as your hardware allows, even when adding high-dynamic range image (HDRI) lighting assets. It's a great way to quickly drag a model with materials and lighting into your scene. You can contribute back to the library by marking scene elements as assets – which can also be linked, rather than copied – so that only a single instance is used across multiple projects.

Speed and quality improvements are everywhere. The knife tool can cut across multiple objects and is finally included in the undo history. Drawing strokes can be modified concurrently, and six degrees of freedom (6DOF) controllers have even been added to the virtual reality mode. When you generate final output, rendering is two to eight times faster thanks to the new Cycles X renderer. Viewport updates are faster, as is point-of-view (POV) mode for setting up a camera, which even in complex scenes remains interactive enough to line up shots, with further detail added the longer that view is maintained. Everything looks better, with improved shadows, hardware ray tracing, and light scattering on the surface of materials. Even the UI is much improved. If you've not used Blender for a few years, you'll find on-screen prompts, sliders, and controls are now available for almost every function. Each view is accompanied by icons or glyphs for the main functions, and everything is a lot more intuitive than it used to be. There are still many options and many menus, but you can get started without using 90 percent of them. This is helped by the default theme which now has more configurable contrast and even more rounded corners. Blender is now easier to use than ever and even more capable of producing amazing results.

Project Website

1. Viewport rendering: The previewed output in Blender now looks almost identical to the final output. 2. UI improvements: Mouse over an area to highlight its edges and more easily join or merge different panes. 3. Geometry nodes: This release has new nodes for interaction with curves, text data, and instances. 4. Properties display: Rather than guessing or remembering key combinations, properties can be changed with the UI in the viewport. 5. Improved icons: Glyphs and icons across Blender are now much easier to understand and use. 6. Speed improvements: Not just in the preview – everything is now faster, from nodes to rendering. 7. Asset manager: Keep all your best ideas in one place across projects, including character poses.

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