Artists working in visual effects, animation, games can take advantage of the latest enhancements for digital humans, VFX, cinematic depth of field.
Unreal Engine 4.20 is here, featuring some of the most amazing tech, we’ve seen at GDC 2018. New proxy LOD system seems incredibly interesting. Check out the full list of improvements here.
- New Proxy LOD System: Handle sprawling worlds with ease via UE4s production-ready Proxy LOD system for the easy reduction of rendering cost due to poly count, draw calls and material complexity. Proxy LOD yields huge gains when developing for mobile and console platforms.
- Smoother Mobile Experience: Well over 100 mobile optimizations developed firsthand for Fortnite come to all 4.20 users, marking a major shift for easy shippability and seamless gameplay optimization across platforms. Major enhancements include improved Android debugging, mobile Landscape improvements, RHI thread on Android and occlusion queries on mobile.
- Better for Switch: Epic has significantly improved Nintendo Switch development by releasing tons of performance and memory improvements built for Fortnite on Nintendo Switch to 4.20 users as well.
- Niagara VFX (early access): Unreal Engine’s new programmable VFX editor, Niagara, is now available in early access and will help developers take their VFX to the next level. This new suite of tools is built from the ground up to give artists unprecedented control over particle simulation, rendering and performance, for more sophisticated visuals. This tool will eventually replace the Unreal Cascade particle editor. Watch this GDC talk to learn more.
- Cinematic Depth of Field: Unreal Engine 4.20 delivers tools for achieving depth of field at true cinematic quality in any scene. This brand new implementation replaces the Circle DOF method. It’s faster, cleaner and provides a cinematic appearance through the use of a procedural bokeh simulation. Cinematic DOF also supports alpha channel, dynamic resolution stability, and has multiple settings for scaling up or down on console platforms based on project requirements. This feature debuted at the Game Developers Conference as part of the Star Wars “Reflections” demo by Epic, ILMxLAB, and NVIDIA.
- Digital Humans Improvements: In-engine tools now include dual lobe specular/double Beckman specular models, backscatter transmission in lights, boundary bleed color subsurface scattering, iris normal slot for eyes, and screen space irradiance to build the most cutting-edge digital humans in games and beyond. All users now have access to the same tools used on Epic’s “Siren” and “Digital Andy Serkis” demos shown at this year’s Game Developers Conference. Check out the updated Photorealistic Human sample, which has been updated to include the static bust from “Meet Mike,” revealed at SIGGRAPH 2017.
- Proven, Exclusive Cross-Platform Capabilities: Developers only have to create their game once when building with Unreal Engine. Use the same content and gameplay across any device to deliver experiences anywhere players want to enjoy them.
- Live Record & Replay: First shown at this years Game Developers Conference, all developers now have access to code from Epics Fortnite Replay system. Content creators can easily use footage of recorded gameplay sessions to create incredible replay videos.
- Sequencer Cinematic Updates: Creating real-time cinematic content has never been easier with Sequencer. New features include frame accuracy, media tracking, curve editor/evaluation, anim instance control, and Final Cut Pro 7 XML import/export.
- Shotgun Integration: Shotgun, one of the industrys leading production management and asset tracking solutions, is now supported in 4.20. This will streamline workflows for Shotgun users in game development who are leveraging Unreals real-time performance. Shotgun users can assign tasks to specific assets within Unreal Engine, making the latest content and associated data easily available for review.
- Improved Support for Live Broadcast: UE 4.20 now offers greater support for users leveraging the engine in broadcast, from virtual sets to virtual production to eSports. UE 4.20 includes support for AJA Video Systems KONA 4 and Corvid 44 video cards with a plugin for HD/SDI video and audio input and output, enabling seamless integration of AR and CG graphics in live broadcast transmissions.
- Mixed Reality Capture Support (early access): Users with virtual production workflows now have mixed reality capture support that includes video input, calibration, and in-game compositing. Supported webcams and HDMI capture devices enable users to pull real world green screened video into the engine, and supported tracking devices can match your camera location to the in-game camera for more dynamic shots.
- Robust AR Support: Unreal Engine 4.20 ships with native support for ARKit 2, which includes features for creating shared, collaborative AR experiences. Also included is the latest support for Magic Leap One, Google ARCore 1.2 support. Be sure to check out the new FaceAR sample project that is now available with this release.
Unreal Studio 4.20 also includes the following advantages:
- Datasmith for SketchUp: Unreal Studios Datasmith workflow toolkit for streamlining transfer of CAD data into Unreal Engine now supports SketchUp. Save hours by automatically converting SketchUp cameras, materials, and geometry into UE assets. This plugin also includes support for layers, groups, and components, as well as units, scale, pivot points, and instances. SketchUp materials are automatically converted to a matching SketchUp material in Unreal Engine for greater simplicity.
- Metadata Control: Import metadata from 3ds Max, SketchUp, and other common CAD tools for the opportunity to batch process objects by property, or expose metadata via scripts. Metadata enables more creative uses of Unreal Studio, such as Python script commands for updating all meshes of a certain type, or displaying relevant information in interactive experiences.
- Mesh Editing Tools: Unreal Engine now includes a basic mesh editing toolset for quick, simple fixes to imported geometry without having to fix them in the source package and re-import. These tools are ideal for simple touch-ups without having to go to another application. Datasmith also now includes a base Python script that can generate Level Of Detail (LOD) meshes automatically.
- Non-Destructive Re-Import: Achieve faster iteration through the new parameter tracking system, which monitors updates in both the source data and Unreal Editor, and only imports changed elements. Previous changes to the scene within Unreal Editor are retained and reapplied when source data updates.
Here are some more details:
New: Optimizations and Improvements for Shipping on Mobile Platforms
Unreal Engine 4.20 brings well over 100 mobile optimizations developed for Fortnite on iOS and Android, marking a major shift for developers in terms of ability to more easily ship games and seamlessly optimize gameplay across platforms. Major enhancements include improved Android debugging, mobile landscape improvements, and occlusion queries on mobile.
Hardware and Software Occlusion Queries on Mobile
Hardware Occlusion Queries are now supported for high-end mobile devices on iOS and Android that support ES 3.1 or Vulkan using the GPU. They are enabled by default for any device that supports them.
Software Occlusion Queries is an experimental feature that uses the CPU to cull primitive components from the scene. Because it uses a conservative approach, it can be used on any mobile device.
Left – r.Mobile.AllowSoftwareOcclusion 1, r.SO.VisualizeBuffer 1; Right – Render frozen showing occluded parts
To enable Software Occlusion Queries, follow these steps:
- Enable r.Mobile.AllowSoftwareOcclusion 1.
- Disable r.AllowOcclusionQueries 0.
- Enable any primitive to be an occluder by setting LOD for Occluder Mesh true in the Static Mesh Editor.
You can visualize the results in the Mobile Previewer when using High-End Mobile and then enable r.SO.VisualizeBuffer 1.
Platform Material Stats
Quickly profile and optimize your Materials using the new Platform Stats window inside of the Material Editor! You can now see stats for multiple shader platforms and quality levels. For mobile platforms, we use an offline shader compiler to give more accurate instruction and Texture usage information.
Improved Android Debugging
Iterate and debug on Android without having to repackage the UE4 project! When compiling Android, we now generate a Gradle project file which can be opened in Android Studio. You can place breakpoints in C++ and Java code and use Android Studio to launch a debug session. You can also make changes to C++ source code and recompile. If you start a new debug session, Android Studio will notice the change and quickly upload the new shared library to your device.
Mobile Landscape Improvements
Make your terrains on mobile more interesting now that you can have unlimited Landscape Material layers on mobile devices! While three is still the best optimized case, any number of Landscape layers are supported, provided there are sufficient Texture Samplers available.
You can now use the Feature Level Switch Material nodes in Landscape Materials enabling you to create a single Landscape Material for all platforms.
1 – Mobile Landscape; 2 – PC Landscape
Miscellaneous Mobile Improvements
The following improvements were made to ship Fortnite on mobile and brought into Unreal Engine 4.20 to benefit all developers:
- Minimum Static Mesh LOD per platform
- Minimum Skeletal Mesh LOD per platform
- Hardware occlusion improvements
- HLOD tools and workflow optimizations
- Audio quality node
- Audio variation culling
- Audio downsampling per platform
- Audio compression quality per platform
- Shading model tweaks to better match PC
- Reflection capture brightness fix
- Landscape support for four layers
- Landscape tessellation improvements
- No memory cost for unused LODs, including:
- Static Meshes
- Skeletal Meshes
- Material quality levels
- Grass and foliage
- High detail components and meshes
- High detail emitters in Cascade
- Settings based on device memory
- Material memory reduction
- Editor scriptability for bulk asset changes
- Particle component pooling
- Material parameter collection update cost
New: Optimizations and Improvements for Shipping on Nintendo Switch
We have significantly improved Nintendo Switch development by releasing tons of performance and memory improvements built for Fortnite on Nintendo Switch to all Unreal Engine developers!
This includes the following:
- Support for Dynamic Resolution and Temporal Upsampling
- Low Latency Frame Syncing for Controller Input
- Significant CPU Rendering Optimizations
- Improvements to Threading
- Better Texture Compression
- Support for Memory Profiling
- Backbuffer support for 1080p while in docked mode
- And many other fixes!
New: Proxy LOD Improvements
The new Proxy LOD tool has graduated from “Experimental” to production-ready! This tool provides performance advantages by reducing rendering cost due to poly count, draw calls, and material complexity which results in significant gains when developing for mobile and console platforms. This tool provides an alternative to the third-party package Simplygon and can be used in conjunction with the Level of Detail (LOD) systems in Unreal Engine.
The Proxy LOD tool produces a simpler representation by creating a proxy in the form of a single low-poly parameterized mesh and associated textures that visually approximate a collection of more complex source geometry models. This proxy can then be displayed at runtime when a reduction in model quality is acceptable – for example, when geometry only occupies a small number of pixels on screen.
Note: The Proxy LOD tool is currently only available in Unreal Editor on Windows.
The above image shows the buildings and parking lots in Fortnite Battle Royale constructed using theProxy LOD tool where both Gap-Filling and Hard-Edge Splitting were in use.
The production-ready version of the Proxy LOD tool has several enhancements over the Experimental version found in 4.19. Particularly, improved user control over the Normals on the Proxy Geometry and the ability to generate much simpler proxies by using gap-filling to automatically close doors and windows.
Improved Normal Control : Hard Edge Split Normal
The extreme constraints on Fortnite memory usage call for highly efficient uses of LODs. For most proxies, very small base color textures are generated and no Normal map is used, this approach requires the highest possible quality Normals on the proxy mesh itself.
1 – Hard Edge Angle = 80; 2 – Hard Edge Angle = 0
The above gif shows the effect of hard-edge splitting for vertex normals. The image 2 shows smooth vertex normals, as calculated in the 4.19 Experimental version of the Plugin – the dark regions near the bottom of the house are indicative of the shortcomings. Compare this with image 1 which shows hard-edge vertex normal splitting with a user-supplied hard-edge cutoff angle.
In addition to the hard-edge cutoff angle, the user may now specify the method used in computing the vertex normal, by selecting between Angle Weighted, Area Weighted, and Equal Weighted.
For watertight geometry, the Proxy system automatically discards any inaccessible structures (for example, interior walls or furniture within a closed house). For ideal results, source geometry should be constructed or altered with this in mind, but due to game production constraints that isn’t always feasible. To facilitate the generation of efficient Proxy LODs from source geometry that is nearly watertight, the Proxy LOD tool can optionally use the level set-based techniques of dilation and erosion, to close gaps. The intended use case is primarily doors and windows in distant buildings.
1 – Original Mesh; 2 – No Gap Filling; 3 – Gap Filling
The above gif shows the effect of using Gap Filling. All images were constrained to use a fixed small amount of texture space. Image 2 is the result of Proxy LOD on a building without using Gap Filling, in which case the LOD includes the interior of the building (at the cost of unseen triangles and texels). Image 3 is the same building with Gap Filling used to automatically close the doors and windows of the buildings, resulting in fewer total triangles and a better use of the limited texture resource.
New: Cinematic Depth of Field
The new Cinematic Depth of Field (DoF) enables you to achieve your vision of rendering cinema quality scenes in a real-time environment! This new method is designed as a higher-quality replacement for the Circle DoF method and is faster than most other DoF methods, such as Bokeh. With Cinematic DoF, the depth of field effect is cleaner, providing a cinematic appearance with the use of a procedural Bokeh simulation. This new DoF implementation also supports alpha channel, dynamic resolution stability, and includes settings to scale it down for console projects.
Cinematic Depth of Field is enabled by default and replaces the current selection for the Circle DoFmethod in the Camera and Post Process settings.1 – Cinematic Depth of Field enabled; 2 – Depth of Field disabled
- Cinematic DoF supports the following Platforms:
- D3D11 SM5, D3D12 SM5, Vulkan SM5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Mac.
- The procedural Bokeh simulation supports the following features:
- Configuring the number of blades for the Diaphragm.
- Configuring the curvature of the blades directly with the Lens’ largest aperture (Minimal F-stop).
- Configurable controls available in the Camera settings of the Post Process Volume, Camera Actor, and Cine Camera Actor.
- Many customizable scalability settings using r.DOF.* console variables to scale it according to your project needs on hardware with finite resources.
For additional information, please see the Depth of Field documentation.
New: Niagara Visual Effects Editor (Early Access)
The Niagara visual effects (VFX) Editor is now available as an Early Access plugin! Try out an early access version of the all-new visual effects tool that will eventually replace Unreal Cascade. Watch this GDC talk for a deeper dive on the vision for Niagara.
Note: The early access nature of this feature means that we are far enough along in development that we want to share it with our customers and get as much feedback as possible before it becomes a standard UE4 Feature. Early Access does not mean that Niagara is production ready as we still have quite a bit of performance optimization and bug fixing that needs to be done before you can consider using this tool for production. However, we hope that effects developers begin investing in learning Niagara and work with us to make it the best VFX editor that it can be.