Epic launched the ‘Early Access’ release of the Unreal Engine 5. It includes new features such as Nanite and Lumen which provide a generational leap in visual fidelity, while the new World Partition system enables the creation of expansive worlds with scalable content.
The new Nanite virtualized micropolygon system lets users create games with massive amounts of geometric detail. Users can directly import film-quality source assets comprising of millions of polygons and place them, millions of times, in a scene, while maintaining a real-time frame rates, and without any noticeable loss of fidelity. Nanite intelligently streams and processes only the detail a user can perceive, largely removing poly count and draw call constraints, and eliminating time-consuming tasks such as baking details to normal maps and manually authoring LODs
Lumen is a fully dynamic global illumination (GI) solution that lets users create dynamic, believable scenes. With Lumen, indirect lighting adapts on the fly to changes to direct lighting or geometry, such as changing the sun’s angle with the time of day, turning on a flashlight, or opening an exterior door. This means users no longer have to author lightmap UVs, wait for lightmaps to bake, or place reflection captures—they can simply create and edit lights inside the UE5 Editor.
Valley of the Ancient
The new sample project, Valley of the Ancient, allows anyone to explore the new features of UE5. Valley of the Ancient is a data-rich world and practical example of how the new features included with Unreal Engine 5 Early Access can be used. The project was Epic’s internal stress-testing, so they were keen to have a real team at the core of the creative, solving practical real-world problems.
For Valley of the Ancient Epic turned to Aaron Sims Creative (ASC). The team at ASC directly provided the ‘Ancient One’ Robot that lies at the heart of the Valley of the narrative. The Robot was designed and sculpted in Maya and then imported into UE5. Apart from this first stage, everything else was done in UE5, as the new version of the Engine is both powerful and productive to author projects.
ASC is a premier concept design-focused visual effects studio for film, television, and gaming. From big-budget studio films to independent passion projects and everything in between, ASC is known for its stunning character work and creature designs. They often work with filmmakers, producers, and storytellers to produce stunning creatures and world-building projects with iconic characters. The Studio does concept design, rapid prototyping, pre-visualization and visual effects, in a process which founder Aaron Sims calls ‘Sketch to Screen’. Founder and CEO, Aaron Sims, began his legendary career over three decades ago as a special effects artist working alongside industry giants Rick Baker and Stan Winston. In 2005, ASC was formed with the sole purpose of bringing together the world’s most talented concept and visual effects artists to create and bring to life unforgettable characters, creatures, and environments. The team works regularly in UE4 but for this project, the team had to not only create the creatures, environment, and gameplay but also learn the new tools of UE5 as they were being developed. Jeremiah Grant, Epic’s Animation Tech Product Manager was quick to point out how skilled the ASC team was in “grasping the various new creative and technical challenges in UE5 and doing such a brilliant job in using them”. Sims commented that the ASC team found the new UI of UE5 and the overall production environment significantly improved. “I think animators and effects artists are going to definitely have a better time in this version, … as so much can now be done so easily in Engine,” he explained. There was a close collaboration between ASC and Epic, but the UE5 team was keen to allow the ASC artists to learn the new tools and test drive them.
UE5 does provide superior visual but it is also much more of an authoring platform than ever before. All of the environment was built on assets from the newly integrated Quixel tool. The actual new rock landscape assets came from a scanning trip done in October of 2020. Galen Davis, an Epic / Quixel producer, and a team headed to the Moab desert in Utah, just south of the Colorado River, on the Colorado Plateau. The team both hand-scanned and used drones to capture the environment with high fidelity. The data was brought back and processed ready for the actual Valley of the Ancient project to start at the beginning of January. The dense high polycount assets are now able to be incorporated directly in the engine as Quixel is integrated into the new user interface.
Users can download the sample project and modify it to make it their own in UE5 from Epic’s site.
MetaHuman’s in UE5
With the early release, Epic is also extending the set of Metahuman example characters. The Metahuman characters work seamlessly in UE5 and require no significant change from UE4. In Valley of the Ancient”, Echo -the female hero from last year’s, first look, “Lumen in the Land of Nanite PlayStation 5 demo is back. Echo has had an upgrade and she is now sporting a full hair groom, Chaos cloth sim and a new 3lateral facial rig setup, (not that one sees her face much in the launch video). Her face was all hand-animated using a traditional face board for the demo piece.
The Robot also used the MetaHuman body rig which was modified in Maya for some additional mechanical aspects, but then animated by hand when imported into UE5 using the standard MetaHuman control rig.
Artist-friendly tools like Control Rig let users quickly create their own rigs and share them across multiple characters; pose them in Sequencer and save and apply the poses with the new Pose Browser, and easily create natural movement with the new Full-Body IK solver.
The new animation tools allow for the scaling of animations based on the environment, thus a base jump motion file can allow a character, in-game, to jump a different height item correctly and land appropriately on the ground. The new Motion Warping can dynamically adjust the character’s root motion to align to different targets with a single animation.
For Aaron Sims, the lighting in UE5 was really impressive and easy to work with. As the Lumen system allows for GI, the ASC team would take a copy of the current project and play with the lighting by using bounce cards and a big key light, and not just adding lights. While it is possible to use bounce cards when baking lighting the new approach was much more responsive and, in many ways, less technical. Sims commented that “GI is one of the most impressive parts,” he comments. “I could bounce light into the shadows, – it is a new paradigm for artists – with no baking, no normal maps, and animation in real-time. It just has fewer restrictions and complications.” Sims generally loves using ray tracing in Unreal and he found in this project that the GI “worked really well”.
The ‘cinematic’ pieces and the gameplay pieces are all handled identically, apart from a new camera. The lighting did not change. For the cinematic pieces, a new camera was added, and the animation was run through Sequencer, other than this the cinematics matches the gameplay technically.
There was no Houdini or other external DCC used for the effects in the demo. All the area where the robot is interacting was fractured and simed in Engine. This also highlighted the way the new production tools aid in collaboration. As the immediate environment around the robot was key to the story the animation team and the Chaos destruction team could jointly work on the production assets around the robot. There was no need to have temp stand-in environments while the chaos sims were being worked out, which both teams found greatly improved their workflows.
Temporal Super Resolution
Temporal Super Resolution is separate from DLSS, which has plugin support. Temporal Super Resolution, was developed in-house, at Epic Games. It addresses any time when the engine produces higher resolution frames from a sequence of lower resolution frames. It is also used in video processing when the engine is involved in increasing the frame rate of a video feed. This is why the term includes the word Temporal. The real-time Temporal Super Resolution enables the UE5 engine to render at a much lower resolution, cutting frame times, and therefore allowing the system to present a frame to the player at a higher frame rate than we would otherwise be able to with similar output pixel fidelity.
Hardware and shipping
The new UE5 early preview is available now and there will be a lot of educational material released in the coming weeks and months. The company also highlighted the Shooter Game as an example of an existing UE4 project that could immediately be opened and used in UE5. To date, the Shooter Game is Epic’s most downloaded starter template.