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A new era for Unreal Engine

Does the new release of Unreal Engine live up to all the hype? Paul Hatton takes a closer look…

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Check out the Apollo 11 Mission AR Project Sample available now on the Unreal Engine Marketplace © Unreal Engine

Introduction

At the end of 2019 Epic Games announced that they were retiring Unreal Studio and integrating all of its features into their Unreal Engine. With the release of Unreal Engine 4.24 users now have a one-stop solution for working across a broad array of sectors including game development, architecture, and automotive to name only a few. With this new release there are a number of exciting new features and improvements. In this review we’ll take a closer look at the Datasmith integration, the new strand-based hair and fur system, as well as the free use of Quixel’s amazing Megascans.

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Quixel’s Megascans will have you creating stunningly realistic environments in no time at all © Unreal Engine

Integration

First of all, let’s take a look at how Unreal Engine integrates with DCC, CAD, and BIM packages that you may well be creating your 3D scenes in. It’s fair to say that the integration is broad and extensive with seamless conversion from applications such as 3ds Max, SketchUp Pro, Cinema 4D, Revit, Rhino, SolidWorks, and Catia. This will be pleasing to users who are increasingly needing to work with data from a variety of different sources. This is particularly true with the architectural field, with different disciplines using different packages, but it would also be true in other sectors that utilize specific software to achieve specific results.

Datasmith is included in Unreal Engine as standard, and also includes mesh editing tools, UV projections, jacketing, and defeaturing tools, and a Variant Manager. Datasmith is robust and gives users the exact tools needed to bring assets in from a range of packages for use in the Unreal engine. Unreal Engine has your integration needs totally covered.

Hair & fur

Secondly, in this new release of Unreal Engine, Epic Games chose to announce its new and exciting strand-based hair and fur tool. In their press release they are explicit that this is an experimental tool which is strange because it’s incredible. I imagine it’s early days and they want to manage people’s expectations but if you see it in action I think you’ll be blown away by it. Not only is it responsive, handling a surprisingly large number of hair strands, but it is also incredibly realistic. It looks good and moves even better. I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed with it.

One of the essentials for any hair simulation is that it needs to follow skin deformations, and it does exactly that. Perfect for humans and animals alike. On top of the excellent simulation is a robust hair shader that gives excellent results, all contained within the engine itself. Grooms can be created in your favorite DCC package and imported into Unreal Engine which provides excellent interoperability.

Megascans

Thirdly and finally there’s the integration of the Quixel Megascan’s library. For those unaware Quixel produce a wide array of 3D assets for quick and realistic scene and environment creation. This library is provided completely free of charge which is impressive in and of itself. They provide this access through both the Unreal Marketplace as well as through something called Quixel Bridge; a tool developed by Quixel for integrating their scans into design packages.

This tool provides a near instant and natural integration that will take your environments to the next level. Another impressive thing about this library is the sheer size of it! They have over 10,000 assets available to import in. Wow. This is quite an offering to make available to game and scene designers and will save a huge amount of time in the creation process.

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The strand-based hair and fur tool creates seemingly unlimited possibilities for creating hair and fur that not only looks realistic but moves realistically too © Unreal Engine

GI

Alongside these excellent new features there are a number of other additions and improvements including an alternative Global Illumination solution called “Screen Space Global Illumination.” This is in beta but looks like a promising addition. Another beta feature is their improved USD support which will be music to the ears of artists who need to work collaboratively.

Additionally, the release of this new version of the Unreal Engine comes with a demo sample project that is available through their Marketplace. It’s called “Apollo 11 Mission AR” and utilizes HoloLens 2. This demo project demonstrates the ability to build interactive environments using the Unreal Engine. It includes 7 million polygons in a physically-based rendering environment with fully dynamic lighting and shadows, multi-layered materials, and volumetric effects. If you’re unsure where to start with creating interactive environments then this is a great place to start.

To see in-engine footage check out the official ‘Feature Highlights’ video.

Is the new release worth taking a look at?

I would say most definitely yes. Come on, downloading it and using it is completely free after all! This is a seriously robust and complete tool for creating interactive environments. One reason to take a look at it and trust it is that it has a history of improving and being developed. New features are released regularly and they seem to always be thinking of ways to make improvements. I also love how they’re trying to make things easier all the time for beginners, without compromising the quality of the tools being produced. So whether you’re thinking about getting into creating games or similar fields then why not take a look, what’s the worst that can happen?

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