Just a few months after the initial release of Blender 3.0, we have been graced by the release of Blender 3.1. Keep reading to find out some of the new features, improvements, and upgrades that are definitely worth exploring.
A Closer Look at the Blender 3.1 Update
As of March 2022, the Blender Foundation has released a production-ready stable version of Blender 3.1 — the latest version of this open-source 3D software. With 3.0 having been released only a few months prior to this announcement (in December 2021), this release is primarily a performance-based update, with a few new bells and whistles added to specific aspects meant to aid in improving workflow speed for scene layout, animation, rendering, and ultimately, file export.
In this article, let’s take a look at a few of the new features and upgrades that make the 3.1 update so exciting, as well as what it means for the Cycles renderer. Be sure to download the new Blender 3.1 version and take a first-hand look for yourself.
Cycles Is Now Compatible with Metal Backend for macOS Users
First off is the native support of the Metal GPU backend (Apple’s new graphics API) in Cycles. This has been quite possibly the most exciting update to Blender since the Cycles X reveal.
When Apple decided to deprecate the OpenCL framework in macOS 10 back in 2020, it became less and less of a priority to provide continuing performance support for macOS than Windows and Linux. This is because the OpenCL framework was originally necessary for GPU acceleration in Cycles.
While we have previously discussed Blender’s decision to deprecate the OpenCL framework for the OptiX and HIP frameworks for PC users (which you can read about here), Mac users were left in the dust as many were outright simply not able to use any of these backends, which require Nvidia-built GPUs. With support of Apple’s Metal backend, this issue has been dealt with and guarantees further support for Mac users in the future.
As of the writing of this article, Metal GPU rendering is currently supported on Apple M1 machines running macOS 12.2 (or later) and Apple machines equipped with AMD graphics cards running macOS 12.3 (or later).
The Point Cloud Object and Point Info Node
The Point Cloud object is a new and exciting feature for Cycles, since Blender 3.1 can now support cloud points as geometry that can be rendered directly in Cycles. Compared to instancing an object on every point, direct rendering of points as spheres is now possible. Motion graphic designs, particle animations and simulations like water, smoke, and sand either made in Blender through Geometry Nodes or imported from other applications can be imported as native Blender geometry and rendered in Cycles, guaranteeing faster rendering times and more efficient memory usage.
The new Point Info node also allows control over the size and color of points in a specified point cloud. Points will still be visualized as spheres in the viewport, but it is inferred that additional shapes will be introduced in the future for more comprehensive viewport visualization.
Geometry Node Updates
Along with Point Cloud objects, Blender continues to expand its Geometry Nodes system’s capabilities, which began its utilization back with Blender 2.92. The most recent release continues to evolve with a more common and useful set of tools that open up greater workflow possibilities, including 19 new geometry nodes, such as Extrude Mesh.
Node tree setup also becomes faster with the drag, drop, search technique. Dragging node sockets will automatically give you a list of filtered nodes compatible with said socket, as well as a context-aware search bar, giving you the opportunity to search for a desired node compatible with the selected socket. This will definitely improve node tree setup speeds and help new users get better acquainted with the Geometry Node system workflow.
GPU Acceleration Support for Subdivision Surface
Playback in the 3D viewport of Blender 3.1 gets a little easier with GPU acceleration support in the Subdivision Surface modifier. The update should make it easier to view smoothed meshes using the modifier, most likely aiding in the keyframe animation and tween animation process, where repeated playback of character animation in the viewport is a necessity to completing smooth animations.
Through the modeling process, the Subdivision Surface modifier now also receives vertex formation support, making it possible to mark desired vertices as sharp, allowing users to experiment with and create a series of new and dynamic shapes.
Blender 3.1 Offers Even More Features and Upgrades
Though these are just a few of the more notable new features and upgrades that Blender’s 3.1 update has to offer, there are many more to check out, so be sure to take a look for yourself at what other exciting new ideas the Blender team has up their sleeves by visiting their 3.1 release page. In the meantime, Render Pool is working tirelessly to make our ultra-fast GPU cloud-rendering service available to 3.1 users.
If you are still using Blender 3.0, we invite you to give our service a try. We are currently offering a gift of 100,000 complimentary trial points for new users, so you can see firsthand just how easy and fast you can bring your creations to life! Click here to find out more information, how to register your new account, and get started rendering today. Happy Rendering!