There's been a lot of anticipation surround the 2.8 version of Blender, even though it retains the usual innocuous point release nomenclature.
There are a lot of small updates in Blender oriented around usability. There is a new and elegant menu system that lowers the need for hot keys, and now left click by default is the select button, like in... every other application ever.
The tools now have task based workspaces to make them easier to use and more efficient, and at long last a proper confirmation dialog on exit.
EVEE has gotten a lot of attention, but it's about to get quite a bit more. Now in addition to being a fully integrated realtime viewport renderer, it also has full support for Cycles shaders. That allows animators to use EVEE for a look development, switching to Cycles for production rendering and getting consistent results.
The viewports have also gotten a major overhaul to make them cleaner and more understandable. There's now depth cueing in wire frame mode, and visual indications of overlapping geometry so that it's easier to see. The viewport options include a wide variety of shading types including a flat mode that shows object silhouetts clearly, There's even a mode that gives every object in the scene a unique color as well a new Xray mode.
The Look Development mode is also new, and essentially turns on the EVEE renderer to display shaders, materials and lighting in realtime, and includes some built-in HDRI images to provide lighting.
As more studios and professional animators have been eyeing blender, they've also been asking for features that would enable them to work Blender into their production pipelines. One major limitation has been Blender's color space options, so there's now a Blender Filmic color space specifically designed for professional use.
Via collections Blender now has a full fledged layers system, and it goes so far as to enable posing multiple rigs at once to help streamline edits for larger and more complex scenes. Cloth dynamics have gotten an upgrade showing more realism, and there's a new popup menu called Quick Favorites that animators can populate with their most used tools.
Tangent Animation, who produced the animated film Nextgen for Netflix used Blender, developed the cryptomatte node, enabling Blender to import and export industry standard cryptomattes.
Cycles got some significant updates as well in the 2.8 development cycle. It can import IES lighting profiles and it has a principled hair and volume shader adding a great deal of realisim for hair and volume rending. Subsurface scattering is improved, and ambient occlusion is now a node rather than just a shader, so it offers more options and control.
Blender's displacement mapping has been upgraded from a single value to vectors, so it's now possible to create procedural cavities in Blender.
And finally it's gotten a 70-100% speedup, and support for nVidia's Optix engine promises a 40-115% speedup on top of that.
Yes, 2D. Blender's always had some 2D support, but it's been pretty basic. A group of 2D animators have been working on a separate branch focused on 2D animation in Blender, and in 2.8 it's been merged back into the main branch, so now Blender has become a full-fledged 2D animation system.
Compositing within Blender 2.8
In the past couple of weeks, Epic Games and Ubisoft have come on board as sponsors for the Blender project, so it's very likely that their influence will lead to even more high end features in Blender.
This is great news for independent filmmakers as well, because some of the new features like the Blender Filmic color space and Cryptomatte will make Blender easier to fit into film post production pipelines also.
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