Blender 2.80 Release Candidate is now available on the official website. This version introduces a massive change in user experience (both visually and functionally). Unless a showstopper bug appears, the final version is expected in about a week. This leaves a gap of almost two years between it and Blender 2.79.
The headlining feature (for me) is its new rendering back-ends. Previously, Blender had a handful of completely disjointed renderers that each had their own quirks, and whose materials were not compatible with each other. Changing between Blender Render and Cycles practically meant that I needed to recreate every shader from scratch.
That is not the case with Eevee and Cycles. The two renderers should support almost any material that you could create in the other – although you will probably use the PBR-based Principled BSDF shader for both. Eevee looks great, too. A lot of animations that needed Cycles to look passable should be just fine with Eevee. You still have Cycles, however, if you need raytraced lighting.
Blender 2.80 also organizes its workspace into a collection of tabs for common use cases.
One time I was on a podcast, and we were discussing video editors. I brought up Blender, and the chat immediately started saying that it could not do video, it’s a 3D editor, and so forth. Nope. Blender has a full video editor and VFX package inside it. The window(s) could be split up to have a sequencer over here and a timeline over there and eventually build up all the panels required to edit a video.
With Blender 2.80, presets are tabs. When you first launch the editor, Layout, Modeling, Sculpting, UV Editing, Texture Paint, Shading, Animation, Rendering, Compositing, and Scripting are present. Any of these could be duplicated, modified, and renamed to fit a user-defined configuration of panels. There is also a plus sign tab that has a few extra canonical options, such as 2D Animation and Video Editing. If you want to see what the Blender Foundation thinks is a good set of panels to edit video? Add the tab.
The whole concept of layers is completely gone, too. The scene is now assembled as a hierarchy of objects that parent other objects. Layers for compositing are added with the View Layer control in the top right of the window. If I remember correctly, there is no longer a limit to the number of View Layers that you can create.
Blender 2.80 also adds a bunch of new tools and toolbars. Many of the tools, themselves, have also been redesigned for various use cases. I have been playing around with them a bit, but not enough to give a review of pros and cons. I rarely make anything complex.
One area that Blender is starting to get into is 2D animation. This is welcome, because there is not a lot of good animation tools. People who are in the Adobe ecosystem use some mixture of Animate (formerly Flash Professional) and After Effects. Otherwise, there’s the Studio Ghibli open-source package called OpenToonz. A few studios also (ab)use 3D packages, such as South Park animating with Maya. I have not tried Blender’s new animation tools, but I am curious what existing animators think about them.
After Blender 2.80 is fully released, the Blender Foundation is expecting to switch to smaller, consistent releases. They expect to publish Blender 2.81 three months after Blender 2.80, which would put it in the Halloween timeframe. Features would be developed in their own time, and they would catch the next release when they are ready for the public.