It’s the ultimate open source ugly duckling story. Once an awkward, esoteric tool, Blender has grown into a 3D modeling and animation standard that’s slick and pretty – and free.

Blender 2.90 dropped at the end of August:

It comes just in time, as we look toward another year or so of music performance happening in VR and audiovisual form. Time for all of us to brush off those chops. And… erm, it’s a good thing some of this now runs on Intel CPUs and the license costs exactly nothing.

Blender is simply incredible for modeling, rendering, sculpting, animation, rigging, and effects – enough so that you’ll very often see it represented in other pipelines. It shows how much creative tools have shifted. Let’s not pull any punches here – what was once limited to Linux user groups and detailed in breathless “glossy Linux mag for nerd” covers is now a standard for pro artists and visual effects on very expensive machines.

That doesn’t mean it’s forgotten its open source / free-libre software roots. There’s still tons of community support, a GPL license, cross-platform support (and equal citizen standard on Linux), and participatory governance and development. Maybe it’s more apt to say that the industry has shifted toward the value of all those things.

But anyway – back to Blender 2.9. It’s another modern release in an increasingly modern tool. The user experience, once only lovable by what can only assume was an underground community of druids, now looks frankly better than a lot of expensive commercial tools.

Above us, only sky. There’s a beautiful new animated sky texture, Nishita (for Cycles). Wonderfully, the research that built it dabbles in everything from 19th century light scattering math to art history (Leonardo!) to atmospheric modeling and physics. And you can just go grab this sky and play

Motion blur. The big news is an all-new motion blur, built from the grounds up to look better and be more flexible.

CPU acceleration. That motion blur is also improved with Intel’s Embree library, for any x64 platform – that’s Intel’s own open source library, for optimized ray tracing kernals that run on the CPU. Also on the CPU side, there’s a new denoiser in the 3D viewport/renderer, thanks to Intel.

GPU acceleration. NVIDIA are participating, too, with CUDA and OptiX support and NVLink. You don’t need a massive GPU to take advantage of that, either – though, uh, sorry Apple users. GeForce 700 series and higher support OptiX.

More sculpting and art. Sculpting is possible across resolutions or levels of subdivision (Multires). There are four new types of cloth simulation.There’s an improved Pose brush. And you get lots of other art-friendly features for facial rigging, sculpting, masking, and using a pen, improved extrusion and slide snap and normals support.

Yes, it also gives SketchUp a run for its money:

And there are other beautiful features for physics simulation, including fluids, cloth pressure, and ocean spray.

The UI, for its part, just looks nothing like the messy chaos from years ago – now you can easily stack modifiers and search for operators and, you know, use this like you’re a human user.

All in all, it’s worth mentioning as this “point-nine-oh” release would be a full integer upgrade if it were commercial software. (Blender 2020 Professional Platinum upgrade blah blah… aren’t we glad we’re mostly done with those days?)

Check it out:

Blender 2.90 (plus the latest on 2.80, etc. if you’re catching up)

2.83 arrived only in June, with long term support: