Epic Updates Unreal Engine

Version 4.26 offers new tools for crafting believable real-time environments and characters for film and television and advances Unreal's virtual-production toolset, among other improvements.

Epic Games has released Unreal Engine 4.26, which includes new tools for crafting believable real-time environments and characters for games, film and television and also offers advances in Unreal’s virtual-production toolset, higher-quality media output and improved design-review tools.

Hair and Fur now delivers the ability to edit, simulate and render true, strand-based hair, fur and feathers. A new Asset Groom Editor sets up properties, and there is compatibility with features such as Depth of Field and Fog. LOD generation is built in, and users can now generate cards and meshes for lower-end hardware in engine as an experimental feature.

Users can now create animations in Sequencer by blending animation clips such as motion-captured data; the workflow will be familiar to animators who’ve worked in other nonlinear animation editors. Animators can preview skeleton animations to easily see how one skeleton blends into the next, and match joint placement for a smooth transition between clips. The feature is integrated with Control Rig, which now offers an experimental, full-body IK solution in addition to the standard FK/IK.

Unreal Engine 4.26 also introduces a Volumetric Cloud component that is able to interact with Sky Atmosphere, Sky Light and up to two directional lights, improving the quality of both realistic and stylized skies, clouds and other atmospheric effects. The atmosphere can receive volumetric shadows from meshes and clouds; lighting and shadowing updates in real time to reflect time-of-day changes. In addition, there’s a new Environment Lighting Mixer window that enables all components affecting atmosphere lighting to be authored in one place.

This release also sees the introduction of a new Water system, enabling artists to define oceans, lakes, rivers and islands using splines. Users can adjust and visualize the depth, width and velocity of rivers along their lengths and the wavelength, amplitude, direction and steepness of waves on oceans and lakes. A new Water Mesh Actor uses a quad tree grid to render detailed surfaces up close, smoothly transitioning to simplified ones at distance. Built-in fluid simulation enables characters, vehicles and weapons to interact with the water; the fluid also responds to terrain, such as reflecting ripples off the shore.

Unreal Engine 4.26 leverages technology such as NVidia’s NVLink, which enables data to be transferred between two GPUs at high speed, in order to support the increasing number of pixels on today’s LED volumes. This allows any viewport to be rendered on another GPU; for example, one display-facing GPU would render the entire scene while another handles the inner frustum, passing the pixels back to the first one.  

The 4.26 release also introduces a Remote Control API that enables users to collect and organize any parameters or function libraries from the Unreal Engine UI into customizable presets. These can be used in a panel in the Unreal Editor or seamlessly connected to widgets (such as radial dials, sliders or color pickers) in web applications without coding. This could, for example, enable an artist on a virtual production stage to easily change the sky rotation or the sun position from an iPad.

4.26 adds new features to Movie Render Queue, now making it possible to output render passes including matte IDs, camera-motion vectors, Z-depth, ambient occlusion, reflections and more so that users can refine their images in a downstream compositing or photo-editing application. Movie Render Queue also now supports OpenColorIO, enabling users to work in any color space while ensuring that their image will look as intended on its target platform.

In addition, 4.26 delivers new support for exporting multi-channel EXRs, Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHR codecs and Final Cut Pro XML EDLs, as well as the ability to integrate render farms.

Users will see improvements in the Collaborative Viewer template that enable multi-user design reviews on VR/AR/Desktop, both enhancing the collaborative design-review process and allowing more users to join a session. In addition, there is now support for voice communication between participants over VOIP using in-engine, peer-to-peer protocols.

Unreal Engine 4.26 also offers improvements to the Chaos physics tool, ray tracing, new GPU Lightmass, a new Virtual Camera system and enhanced DMX support.

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