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A look at the future of Unreal Engine graphics

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Real-time ray tracing, digital humans and more work for Andy Serkis

Siren demo - close-up of eyes and nose Epic Games/3Lateral/Cubic Motion/Tencent/Vicon

During today’s State of Unreal presentation at the annual Game Developers Conference, Epic Games spent some time looking forward to the era of photorealistic, real-time graphics for its Unreal Engine. Three demos showed off how Unreal Engine is powering real-time ray tracing for realistic lighting and reflections, and “digital humans” that push the boundaries of the uncanny valley.

Here are three peeks at the future of real-time graphics running in Unreal Engine.

Reflections from ILMxLAB

ILMxLAB used Unreal Engine 4 and some familiar Star Wars characters to show off real-time ray tracing, the ability to render and illuminate a scene in real time with cinematic quality. A short movie titled “Reflections” shows Stormtroopers and Captain Phasma from the new Star Wars trilogy realistically lit using Unreal Engine, Nvidia’s RTX technology for Volta GPUs and Microsoft’s DirectX Raytracing API. On stage, Epic and ILMxLAB used an iPad running ARKit as a virtual camera to show the scene being filmed in real time.

Next-generation rendering tech shown in the “Reflections” demo includes textured area lights, ray-traced area light shadows, reflections and ambient occlusion, cinematic depth of field, and Nvidia GameWorks ray tracing denoising.

Siren, a digital human

Epic Games partnered with companies 3Lateral, Cubic Motion, Tencent and Vicon for Siren, a “high-fidelity, real-time digital character based on the likeness of Chinese actress Bingjie Jiang.” Actress Alexa Lee plays the character.

“To create a realistic digital character requires more than just tracking movements, you need to be able to isolate and mimic everything down to the most minute details,” Vicon VFX product manager Tim Doubleday said in a news release. “There have been some incredible attempts to create realistic digital avatars recently, and so when Epic approached us, we were eager to get involved and help push the field even further.”

Siren is on display at Vicon’s GDC 2018 booth, where attendees can see her rendered in real time as a performance capture artist portrays her.

A future-proof Andy Serkis

Actor Andy Serkis is famous for his digital acting skills. He’s played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series, Snoke in the new Star Wars trilogy and Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes movies. Now, Serkis himself is a digital human, captured and rendered in real time, thanks to developer 3Lateral and Epic Games.

Serkis performed a monologue from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and that captured performance was applied to a photorealistic scan of the actor’s head. It was also applied to that of an alien creature, which used the same data from Serkis’ human performance to act out the scene.

On stage, Epic and 3Lateral showed how an animator could, in real time, modify Serkis’ performance by tweaking things like his brow and where his eyes were looking.