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AMD Ups its Blender Game with New Rendering Technology for Cycles X

The company’s continuing support for the growing Blender community through new tools like the HIP (Heterogeneous Interface for Portability) API and planned support for USD and materialX means Blender artists can access an expanding set of high-performance graphics card options for their creative production.

There’s no hiding AMD’s long-standing support of Blender. Any artist who keeps up to speed on Blender news will know that AMD regularly contributes to both the Blender Development Fund and the Blender Code Base. This continued support demonstrates their desire to make AMD the hardware of choice for Blender artists. On top of supporting Blender in direct ways, AMD has also sought other ways to supply their own tools that work in the Blender ecosystem. The clearest example of this is with the company’s own render engine, Pro Render, a plugin renderer that can be used directly inside Blender.

During this continued support and development, Blender announced in April 2021 that they were going to completely rewrite their default renderer, Cycles. It was welcomed by most of the Blender community, but a fairly significant detail in the rewrite affected AMD directly. Particularly, OpenCL™ rendering support was removed for rendering on AMD GPUs. The motivation, on Blender’s side, was for technical and performance reasons but it left Blender with no support for AMD GPUs.

As you can imagine, with Blender’s increasing popularity on the world stage, this was something that AMD needed to address, so the Blender community was keen to see how the company would respond.

One option was for AMD to remove their support of Blender completely. “We could have invested in other tech and left Blender to forge stronger links with other hardware creators, but that’s not our company’s style,” shares Rob Jamieson, ISV Manager at AMD. “Instead, AMD decided to redouble its efforts to focus on the relationship and support for an application that is increasingly becoming the tool of choice for many artists. AMD’s long-standing relationship with the Blender team won out.”

With OpenCL gone, AMD needed a new vehicle for delivering rendering technology using their hardware. That vehicle was their HIP (Heterogeneous Interface for Portability) API. By accessing HIP Architecture, Blender has been able to bring back support for AMD hardware, starting with version 3.0. Those in the Blender community that use AMD hardware were certainly relieved. They could finally make use of all the enhancements that were found in Cycles X, including improved rendering of hair and fur, support for micro-jittering and enhanced ambient occlusion handling. All of this is assuming the use of RDNA™ architecture graphics cards and up.

Danny Austin, from design studio creative visual content, notes, “For Blender users like me that use AMD hardware, we were certainly relieved that we could finally make use of all the enhancements found in Cycles X, including improved rendering of hair and fur, support for micro-jittering and enhanced ambient occlusion handling.”

Now that AMD is back online with Cycles X, they’ve turned their attention to its future with Blender. Enmeshed with Blender through HIP, AMD is making every effort to strengthen this API. One of the ways they’re doing this is through HIP RT (ray tracing), not to be confused with what this acronym predominantly means in the 3D world: real-time rendering.

HIP RT was just released in the public beta version of Blender 3.6 and will allow for Blender to take advantage of the ray tracing acceleration that is available in RDNA™ 2 and above GPUs. There has long been a fierce battle between AMD and NVidia for quickest render times. That rivalry isn’t going away anytime soon and if anything, the debate has become more heated with this new generation of cards. These chips have been engineered from the ground up rather than just being tweaked from a previous generation. All this hard work delivers superior performance as RDNA™ becomes the architecture powering AMD’s 7nm GPUs, delivering 1.25 performance per clock compared to previous 14nm processors. They are equipped with GDDR6 memory and PCI Express 4.0 support to take things to a new level. With these performance improvements alongside enhanced power efficiency, render times are a lot faster. This will see AMD cards becoming an increasingly attractive option for Blender artists.

Alongside HIP and HIP RT with Cycles X, it’s worth noting that AMD also has its own render engine, Radeon™ ProRender. By using this physically based engine, developed to open industry standards, artists are able to create images and videos that rival the likes of VRay, Arnold and other renderers. ProRender works on all major platforms including Microsoft Windows®, macOS®, and Linux® ensuring maximum flexibility and broad appeal across creative industries. To help artists hit the ground running, ProRender also ships with a whole library of materials that can be applied directly to models. This will be particularly appealing to artists who are new to the renderer but want to give it a spin as photorealistic results can be achieved in a fraction of the time previously needed.  

AMD has a long and supportive history with Blender. The development of HIP, HIP RT and its own render engine, ProRender, show AMD’s commitment to a continuing partnership. Planned support for USD and materialX compatibility will further cement AMD’s place in the Blender community and the addition of hardware ray tracing will ensure artists have the speed and capability they need from their graphics cards. This all adds up to a very bright future for AMD and Blender.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.