Unreal Engine 5.4 brings animation, rendering, and AI upgrades

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Epic Games has released Unreal Engine 5.4, packed with new features and improvements aimed at benefiting game developers and creators across industries. The latest version delivers toolsets used internally by Epic to build high-profile releases like Fortnite Chapter 5, Rocket Racing, Fortnite Festival, and LEGO Fortnite.

“Unreal Engine 5.4 is here, and it’s packed with new features and improvements to performance, visual fidelity, and productivity that will benefit game developers and creators across industries,” stated the official Epic Games announcement.

Animation overhaul

One of the major focus areas in 5.4 is animation, with Epic describing “substantial updates” to Unreal’s built-in toolset. This allows developers to quickly rig characters and author animations directly within the engine without external software.

“With an experimental new Modular Control Rig feature, you can build animation rigs from understandable modular parts instead of complex granular graphs, while Automatic Retargeting makes it easier to get great results when reusing bipedal character animations,” Epic explained.

The company says its animation authoring tools have been made “more intuitive and robust” with streamlined workflows. This includes experimental new gizmos, reorganised animator controls, constraint system upgrades, and a layered control rig feature to simplify adding animations atop clips.

Rendering advancements

Nanite, Unreal’s micropolygon geometry system, gains an experimental tessellation feature to add fine details at render time. Software variable rate shading via Nanite compute materials delivers substantial performance gains.

Epic has enhanced its temporal super resolution (TSR) tech with improved stability, reduced ghosting, and new visualisation modes to ease fine-tuning.

The company has refactored rendering systems to improve parallelisation and 60Hz performance. GPU instance culling boosts hardware ray tracing which also gains new primitive types and an optimised path tracer.

AI and machine learning

Unreal Engine’s Neural Network Engine (NNE) moves from experimental to beta status with runtime and in-editor support. NNE allows loading and efficiently running pre-trained neural network models for use cases like tooling, animation, rendering, and physics.

“NNE addresses these disparate needs by providing a common API, enabling easy swapping of backends as required. We’ve also provided extensibility hooks to enable third-party developers to implement the NNE interface in a plugin,” said Epic.

Productivity boosts

Several major features aim to improve developer productivity and iteration speed in 5.4:

  • Cloud Derived Data Cache for sharing cached engine data across distributed teams  
  • Faster local caching using a new Unreal Zen Storage server architecture
  • Multi-Process Cook (now production-ready) to leverage extra CPU/RAM for content cooking  
  • Unreal Build Accelerator (beta) to accelerate C++ compilation across distributed nodes

Media and entertainment updates

Virtual production capabilities see the Virtual Camera tool promoted to production-ready status with Android support added. VR scouting gains an experimental OpenXR toolkit.

An experimental Motion Design mode introduces specialised tools for 2D motion graphics authoring based on feedback from broadcasters.

The USD Importer allows importing garments and simulation parameters from apps like Marvelous Designer to simulate clothing within Unreal in minutes.

You can find the full Unreal Engine 5.4 release notes here.

(Image Credit: Epic Games)

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