While Blender comes up with new versions of the software every two months or so, the new release 2.69 is meant to stick around for a while
By Gottfried Hofmann
The motion tracker got the ability to track planes. This is useful to replace for example billboards, plates or screens in in a video. Previously, one had to create a 4-corner-pin manually. The plane track can be parented to masks and also loaded into the compositor due to a new node that will automatically warp an image or video to the tracked plane and also output a mask from the track.
Subsurface scattering (SSS) in the Cycles render engine got various improvements like new falloff functions and sampling algorithms. It's also possible to render out passes (direct, indirect and color) from SSS. Note that subsurface scattering is only available on the CPU at the moment.
GPU support was added to the branched path tracing integrator (formerly non-progressive integrator) that allows artists to set the amount of samples based on shader types. To make choices easier, you can select presets in the sampling panel now. The total amount of samples is also displaced. Some artists prefer to use a squared instead of linear quantity of samples, which can also be selected now.
The rendering of hair is now available by default with simplified UI and an own shader node in Cycles. A new sky model based on research by Hosek / Wilkie has been added that provides improved realism especially on sunset and sunrise.
For scenes where an accurate light color based of real-world values is needed, the new blackbody node can convert light colors from Kelvin to RGB. Various tools to convert vectors and mappings to different spaces have also been added to help making transformations of textures etc. more intuitive.
In early days of Cycles it had an option to apply film response curves to emulate the photographic look of films from Agfa and Kodak directly to the Cycles rendering in both the viewport and the final render. That feature had been moved to the compositor but is now back for viewport and direct rendering as “Looks”. It can be found in the color management panel under the scene tab.
Blender 2.69 can now import FBX files with support for cameras, lamps and mesh with UVs, vertex colors and textures. Armature or animation are not yet support, though. The export of FBX and OBJ has also been improved and supports split vertex normals now. This way sharp edges can be exported without the need to split the edges on mesh level. The FBX exporter has been refactored to better support lights, cameras and materials and for meshes it has become faster, generates in general smaller files and can handle polygons instead of just tris and quads converted to tris.
On the modelling side, the new mesh bisect tool can be used to cut a mesh in half and optionally remove one side. Another option is to fill holes that have been generated this way with materials, UVs and vertex-colors based on the surrounding geometry.
The mesh cleanup tools now have the option to automatically detect and fill holes in the mesh. Just like the new bisect tool, the operation automatically copies mesh data-like materials and Uvs from the surrounding geometry.
The new option “hidden wire” in GLSL mode will overlay wireframes on the visible geometry which is useful for retopology work. The bridge tools have been improved again and can fill non-square grids now. They also preserves Uvs and vertex colors better now.
This article only gives an overview of the more significant new features. In addition, a myriad of small features and improvements have been added and more than 270 bugs from previous versions have been fixed. Blender 2.69 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux in both 32 and 64 bit.