Subject: General Tech | July 10, 2017 - 08:06 AM | Scott Michaud
Blender 2.8x is being dubbed “Workflow” by the Blender Foundation, and 2D animators are included in that. The 3D suite has included a tool, called “Grease Pencil”, for quite some time now, and its purpose was mostly to write notes. Since then, people have been using it for modeling (especially curves) and even 2D animation, which led the Blender Foundation to build it up in that direction.
This could potentially bring Blender more competitive with existing 2D animation software, like Animate CC (the Adobe re-brand of Flash Professional) and other tools. Being a 3D-centric application, it has a lot of interesting features to add to the mix, especially in terms of camera movement. (Animate CC just received a virtual camera in the most recent major version.) It will be interesting to see how comfortable they can make it for novices, because this is one of those areas that there’s not a lot of good free software for learners. (Digital Video and Studio Ghibli released OpenToonz, but it seems... more than a little difficult for newcomers from what I’ve seen.)
Blender 2.8 is supposedly aiming for a SIGGRAPH preview, which starts on July 30th.
Subject: General Tech | July 10, 2017 - 07:24 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Khronos, gltf, Blender
As we reported about a month ago, The Khronos Group has finalized glTF 2.0, which is a 3D format designed for whole scenes. Since then, Khronos have published an exporter for Blender that implements what appears to be all core features, as well as specular-gloss PBR (Extension), lights (Experimental), “materials common” (Experimental), and “materials displace” (Experimental). It is implemented as a whole bunch of Python scripts.
Apparently they provide their own PBR shader nodes for Cycles, rather than using the new Disney-based one in Blender 2.79. I’m not sure whether this was to make the export easier, or if development schedules just couldn’t align. Either way, both metallic/roughness and specular/gloss workflows have been provided, so that should make exporting either workflow relatively straight-forward.
Subject: General Tech | June 28, 2017 - 06:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: solidworks, ray tracing, radeon, prorender, nvidia, mental ray, Blender, amd
AMD has released a free ray-tracing engine for Blender, as well as Maya, 3D Studio Max, and SolidWorks, called Radeon ProRender. It uses a physically-based workflow, which allows multiple materials to be expressed in a single, lighting-independent shader, making it easy to color objects and have them usable in any sensible environment.
Image Credit: Mike Pan (via Twitter)
I haven’t used it yet, and I definitely haven’t tested how it stacks up against Cycles, but we’re beginning to see some test renders from Blender folks. It looks pretty good, as you can see with the water-filled Cornell box (above). Moreover, it’s rendered on an NVIDIA GPU, which I’m guessing they had because of Cycles, but that also shows that AMD is being inclusive with their software.
Radeon ProRender puts more than a little pressure on Mental Ray, which is owned by NVIDIA and licensed on annual subscriptions. We’ll need to see how quality evolves, but, as you see in the test render above, it looks pretty good so far... and the price can’t be beat.
Subject: General Tech | May 4, 2017 - 09:20 PM | Scott Michaud
The Blender Foundation is currently working on two different branches of their popular 3D suite, Blender 2.79 and Blender 2.8. We have discussed the former quite a bit, which is expected to code freeze within the next month or so, but the latter has been making noteworthy progress all along, too. It is focused on workflow changes, which includes updating the viewport renderer, both for preview as well as fast rendering of scenes that don’t require full ray-traced quality.
In this case, Blender Developers has released a video showing off how Cycles and Viewport can be combined. While you can preview what Cycles will output in the viewport already, enabling that rendered shading mode disables UI elements, like the movement widget. They are now being combined, and the Blender Foundation is aiming to make it fast enough for practical use.
Preview builds of Blender 2.8 are available now, and the Blender Foundation wants users to play around with them. Be careful using it for critical projects, though, because save files might not be 100% compatible, forward or backward, above and beyond the obvious stability concerns.
Subject: General Tech | April 21, 2017 - 02:49 AM | Scott Michaud
The Blender Foundation and volunteers have been quite busy, especially over the last few weeks. Two major changes that are prepared for Blender 2.79: near-parity between CUDA and OpenCL, and an implementation of the Disney PBR shader.
Aside: A physically-based (“PBR”) shader allows modeling a bunch of common materials, such as plastics, ceramics, metals, and so forth, using parameters that are independent of lighting. This means that you can reuse the same object and material in all of your scenes, and it will behave like we expect it would given the environment. For instance, PBR materials account for conservation of energy, so objects get shinier as they get smoother, but they also look darker off-axis because less light is being diffusely scattered.
While it was always possible to render in Cycles with a PBR workflow, you needed to create your own node setup, which typically consisted of about seven or eight elements connected in a specific way. When this new version lands, you will just need to connect the appropriate textures and colors to their corresponding pins in this node. The Disney-based Principled BSDF accounts for albedo (base color), subsurface scattering, metallic, specular, roughness, anisotropic reflections, sheen, clearcoat, index of refraction, and transparency.
Update (April 21st @ 5:35pm): Blah! I forgot to embed the chart. Here it is.
Image Credit: Blender Foundation
Now we get to “near-parity between CUDA and OpenCL”. According the Blender Foundation, OpenCL can support all features found on CUDA with the exception of correlated multi jitter. This is accompanied by a graph, embed above, showing the RX 480 beat the GTX 1060 in a variety of benchmark scenes. Unfortunately, at the same time, GPU-accelerated rendering in Cycles now requires GCN 2.0 and up, which is the AMD R9 290 and later. Blender will still work on older cards, like the R9 280 or, heck, probably even the Radeon HD 4890, but the final render will need to be done on the CPU.
Blender 2.79 doesn’t have a firm release date, but the code freeze schedule has it expected for some time in either May or June.
Subject: Editorial | February 16, 2017 - 01:36 PM | Alex Lustenberg
Tagged: Zen, Z170, webkit, webgpu, podcast, Optane, nvidia, Intel, icx, evga, ECS, crucial, Blender, anidees, amd
PC Perspective Podcast #437 - 02/16/17
Join us for EVGA iCX, Zen Architechure, Intel Optane, new NVIDIA and AMD driver releases, and more!
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Hosts: Allyn Malventano, Ken Addison, Josh Walrath, Jermey Hellstrom
Program length: 1:32:21
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Week in Review:
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Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
Subject: General Tech | February 9, 2017 - 05:03 PM | Scott Michaud
It has been a few months since the release of 2.78, and the Blender Foundation has been sitting on a bunch of performance enhancements in that time. Since 2.79 is still a couple of months off, they decided to “cherry pick” a bunch of them back into the 2.78 branch and push out an update to it. Most of these updates are things like multi-threading their shader compiler for Cycles, speeding up motion blur in Cycles, and reducing “fireflies” in Cycles renders, which indirectly helps performance by requiring less light samples to average out the noise.
I tried running two frames from different scenes of my upcoming PC enthusiast explanation video. While they’re fairly light, motion graphics sequences, they both use a little bit of motion blur (~half of a 60 Hz frame of integration) and one of the two frames is in the middle of three objects with volumetric absorption that are moving quite fast.
The "easier" scene to render.
When disabling my GTX 670, and only using my GTX 1080, the easier scene went from 9.96s in 2.78a to 9.99s in 2.78b. The harsher scene, with volumetric absorption and a big streak of motion blur, went from 36.4s in 2.78a to 36.31s in 2.78b. My typical render settings include a fairly high sample count, though, so it’s possible that I could get away with less and save time that way.
The "harsher" scene to render.
Blender is currently working on Agent 327, which is an upcoming animated feature film. Typically, these movies guide development of the project, so it makes sense that my little one-person motion graphics won’t have the complexity to show the huge optimizations that they’re targeting. Also, I had a lot of other programs running, which is known to make a significant difference in render time, although they were doing the same things between runs. No browser tabs were opened or closed, the same videos were running on other monitors while 2.78a and 2.78b were working, etc. But yeah, it's not a bulletproof benchmark by any means.
Also, some of the optimizations solve bugs with Intel’s CPU implementation as well as increase the use of SSE 4.1+ and AVX2. Unfortunately for AMD, these were pushed up right before the launch of Ryzen, and Blender with Cycles has been one of their go-to benchmarks for multi-threaded performance. While this won’t hurt AMD any more than typical version-to-version variations, it should give a last-minute boost to their competitors on AMD’s home turf.
Blender 2.78b is available today, free as always, at their website.
Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 11:03 PM | Scott Michaud
These days, 3D content is created mostly by blocking out geometry, then painting materials onto it with stencils and stamps. For instance, if you wanted a rusty sign, you would start with a metal base, stencil on the logo, then paint, stamp, or stencil rust spots, scratches, and whatever else. When you’re done, you can then export the resulting, 2D textures. Previously, you would bounce back and forth between Photoshop and your 3D application, trying to remember which edge on your UV outline corresponds to which triangles on the model.
While this Blender Plug-in doesn’t have the same benefits as something like Substance Painter, and its library of PBR materials, BPainter can allow you to paint separate layers and channels on your 3D model. In other words, you can paint scratches and scuffs into the roughness channel, and colors into the albedo channel, directly on top of your model, which immediately shows you the results in your scene’s lighting. Again, this is less direct than “select steel from material library” “fill steel on object” “select rusted steel from material library” “paint rusted steel on object” but it’s a welcome plug-in none-the-less.
Unless one has been announced in the last week, there is currently no release date for BPainter. Their last plug-in, Asset Sketcher, was released under the GPL license.
Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2016 - 05:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Blender 2.78 released not too long ago, but a few major bugs were discovered since then, despite a strong internal QA push before it launched. As such, Blender has released 2.78a. In a way, it has some benefits. NVIDIA wasn't able to release the final CUDA 8 SDK in time, so Blender 2.78 shipped with the RC SDK, and it was only enabled for Pascal-based cards. This extra month allowed them to roll it in and enable it for all cards, although it probably won't affect the end-user in any major way.
The release notes claim that 69 bugs were fixed, several of which were crashes and hangs. I have never really experienced any of these, but those who do should, obviously, appreciate the patch. As always, Blender is free, so enjoy creating.
Seriously. If you have free time and the slightest bit of interest: Go do it.
Subject: General Tech | September 30, 2016 - 10:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Blender 2.78 has been a fairly anticipated release. First off, people who have purchased a Pascal-based graphics card will now be able to GPU-accelerate their renders in Cycles. Previously, it would outright fail, complaining that it didn't have a compatible CUDA kernel. At the same time, the Blender Foundation fixed a few performance issues, especially with Maxwell-based GM200 parts, such as the GeForce 980 Ti. Pre-release builds included these fixes for over a month, but 2.78 is the first build for the general public that supports it.
In terms of actual features, Blender 2.78 starts to expand the suite's feature set into the space that is currently occupied by Adobe Animate CC (Flash Professional). The Blender Foundation noticed that users were doing 2D animations using the Grease Pencil, so they have been evolving the tool in that direction. You can now simulate different types of strokes, parent these to objects, paint geometry along surfaces, and so forth. It also has onion skinning, to see how the current frame matches its neighbors, but I'm pretty sure that is not new to 2.78, though.
As you would expect, there are still many differences between these two applications. Blender does not output to Flash, and interactivity would need to be done through the Blender Game Engine. On the other hand, Blender allows the camera, itself, to be animated. In Animate CC, you would need to move, rotate, and scale objects around the stage by the amount of pixels on an individual basis. In Blender, you would just fly the camera around.
This leads in to what the Blender Foundation is planning for Blender 2.8x. This upcoming release focuses on common workflow issues. Asset management is one area, but Viewport Renderer is a particularly interesting one. Blender 2.78 increases the functionality that materials can exhibit in the viewport, but Blender 2.8x is working toward a full physically-based renderer, such as the one seen in Unreal Engine 4. While it cannot handle the complex lighting effects that their full renderer, Cycles, can, some animations don't require this. Restricting yourself to the types of effects seen in current video games could decrease your render time from seconds or minutes per frame to around real-time.