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Cycles (software)

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Original author(s)Brecht Van Lommel
Developer(s)Blender Foundation, community
Initial releaseApril 2011[1]
Written inC, C++, and Python
    Operating systemCross-platform
    LicenseApache License

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    Cycles is a free and open source physically based unbiased path-traced rendering software developed for Blender[2]. It was originally authored by Brecht Van Lommel and has been integrated in various other 3D software.


    Cycles is able to render surfaces with diffuse, reflective, refractive, subsurface scattering and volumetric shading interactively using physically based algorithms.[3] Cycles supports rendering on Multi-core CPUs and GPUs with CUDA and OptiX for NVIDIA devices and HIP for AMD devices.[4][5] Cycles also has an advanced shader system that can be manipulated with node graphs. It supports image textures, procedural textures, math operations, pbr shaders, displacement and vector displacement[6]. All components of a render, such as direct light, indirect light and shadows, can be split up in separate passes in EXR files for compositing in a VFX pipeline.[7][8]Shading is also possible with Open Shading Language but is currently only available on CPU.[9]


    After taking a break from Blender development, Brecht Van Lommel, who previously worked at the Blender Institute during Elephants Dream, Big Buck Bunny and Sintel[10] returned to modernize Blenders rendering and shading workflow.[11] Due to the difficulty in refactoring Blender's internal renderer, a new render engine was proposed. This engine was Cycles.[12] Cycles was initially licensed with GNU GPL but due to the quick gain in popularity it was later decided to changed it to Apache 2.0 to allow the engine to be integrated by commercial software and in-house software.[13]

    Blender 2.8[edit]

    The Blender 2.8 project resulted in various improvements to the cycles render engine. The blender user interface now renders over the cycles render for more intuitive interaction.[14] The ambient occlusion shader was improved and now is able output color data for procedural texturing.[15]

    Cycles X[edit]

    On the tenth anniversary of the announcement of cycles, the Blender Foundation announced Cycles X, a project to refactor and improve the Cycles architecture for future development.[11] This project lead to the integration of HIP support[5], shadow catcher, improved noise threshold options for adaptive sampling and new render kernels. This also lead to the removal of features such as branched path tracing and OpenCL.[5] Features like Cycles metal support did not make it into Blender 3.0 so will be available in 3.1.[16]


    Nvidia plan to turn Cycles into a Hydra-delegate renderer. This will likely be implemented in a separate branch of Blender and will get merged into master at some point in the future.[17]

    Facebook Reality Labs, a division of Meta, have worked on developing improvements for rendering dynamic 3D characters in real-time. This includes scene optimizations, accelerate baked geometry animation loading and real-time playback, and BSDF shader improvements.[18]

    Modified versions[edit]


    Due to Blender's open source nature, Blender has been forked to expand and add features that, for various reason would not fit the master branch of Blender. Many of these forks focus on Cycles. Here is a list of Blender Cycles forks:

    • E-Cycles- a modified version of Cycles that renders faster, also adding more more features such as lightgroups.[19]
    • K-Cycles- a modified version of Cycles with faster rendering and post processing effects.[20]
    • Specral Cycles- A version of Cycles that implements spectral rendering.[21][22]
    • hdBlackbird- a fork of Cycles that turns Cycles into a hydra delegate renderer meaning it can be used in any application through Pixar USD.[23] Blackbird was developed by tangent animation but due to the closure of the studio in 2021, it is uncertain whether it will be further developed.[24][25][26]

    Use in external software[edit]

    Cycles has also been integrated in other 3D software such as Poser[27] and Rhino and is available as plugins for Cinema 4D[28] and 3DSMax.[29][2]


    1. "Modernizing Shading and Rendering". Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    2. 2.0 2.1 Foundation, Blender. "Cycles". Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    3. Foundation, Blender. "Cycles". Retrieved 2021-12-22.
    4. "GPU Rendering — Blender Manual". Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Foundation, Blender. "Next level support for AMD GPUs". Blender Developers Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    6. "Shader Nodes — Blender Manual". Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    7. "Passes — Blender Manual". Retrieved 2021-12-21.
    8. "Supported Graphics Formats — Blender Manual". Retrieved 2021-12-21.
    9. "Open Shading Language — Blender Manual". Retrieved 2022-01-02.
    10. "Brecht van Lommel". IMDb. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
    11. 11.0 11.1 Cycles X, retrieved 2021-12-04
    12. "Modernizing Shading and Rendering". Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    13. Foundation, Blender. "Cycles render engine released with permissive license". Blender Developers Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
    14. Cycles & Viewport combined! - Blender 2.8 Development, retrieved 2021-12-14
    15. Foundation, Blender. "Cycles Mini Code Quest". Blender Developers Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-14.
    16. "Cycles Apple Metal device feedback". Blender Developer Talk. 2021-12-13. Retrieved 2021-12-19.
    17. Kowalski, Michael A. (2021-12-17). "[Bf-usd] Cycles / Hydra and USD Discussion". Retrieved 2021-12-20. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
    18. Foundation, Blender. "Improving Real-time Rendering of Dynamic Digital Characters in Cycles". Blender Developers Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-20.
    19. "E-Cycles Pro + RTX 2022 free". Gumroad. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    20. "K-Cycles". Blender Market. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    21. "Thoughts on making Cycles into a spectral renderer". Blender Developer Talk. 2018-09-21. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    22. "Cycles Spectral Rendering". Blender Artists Community. 2017-06-25. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    23. HdBlackbird, Tangent Animation, 2021-11-30, retrieved 2021-12-03
    24. Open Source Production Renderer - Stefan Werner, retrieved 2021-12-03
    25. "Stefan Werner's Talk About his Cycles Work at Tangent". BlenderNation. 2021-08-22. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    26. "Tangent Animation Closes Down - Hundreds of Talented Artists Laid Off". BlenderNation. 2021-08-04. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    27. "Poser Documentation". Retrieved 2021-12-03.
    28. Limited, Insydium. "Cycles 4D". Insydium. Retrieved 2021-12-03. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
    29. "Cycles for Max". Retrieved 2021-12-03.

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