Unreal Engine 4.26 is out

Epic Games updates virtual production toolset, hair and fur, and other features.

It’s been a year in VFX dominated by virtual production news, and now Epic Games has announced the release of Unreal Engine 4.26.

There are a whole bunch of updates–especially relating to virtual production and also production-ready hair and fur. I’m going to excerpt some notes directly from an Epic Games press release below for you to check out. There’s also a bunch of behind the scenes pics and renders. Full release notes are here.

More convincing animated characters

Hair and Fur is production-ready in 4.26, delivering the ability to edit, simulate, and render true strand-based hair, fur, and feathers. Hair and Fur now features a new Asset Groom Editor for setting up properties, and compatibility with features such as DOF and Fog. LOD generation is built in, and users are now able to generate cards and meshes for lower-end hardware in-engine as an experimental feature.

Adding further believability to their characters’ movements, 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.

Immersive natural worlds and environments

Unreal Engine 4.26 introduces a new 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. The system includes a new Water Mesh Actor that 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, and reacting to river flow maps.

Extended virtual production toolset

Unreal Engine 4.26 leverages technology such as NVIDIA’s NVLink, which enables data to be transferred between two GPUs at very 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 new fully REST-compliant Remote Control API that enables users to easily 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. For example, this could enable an artist on a virtual production stage to easily change the sky rotation or the sun position from an iPad. This feature also benefits broadcast and live events teams who may need to make changes remotely in real time.

Enhanced high-quality media output

Movie Render Queue lets users create high-quality frames with accumulated anti-aliasing and motion blur for film and television, cinematics, and marketing, and extremely high-resolution images for print. 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 (OCIO), 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.

More effective collaborative design reviews

Users will see significant usability and performance improvements in the Collaborative Viewer template that enables 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’s now support for voice communication between participants over VOIP using in-engine peer-to-peer protocols.

And more

Unreal Engine 4.26 also offers new improvements to the Chaos physics tool, ray tracing, new GPU Lightmass, a completely new Virtual Camera system, enhanced DMX support, and new Datasmith exporter plugins for Rhino and Naviworks.

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