Improved support for stage operations, a VCam overhaul to make cinematographers more familiar, animation and rigging improvements, and lighting improvements are all part of Unreal Engine 5.1.
Epic Games announced that Unreal Engine 5.1 is now available. With this release, the team says, “We’ve built on the groundbreaking feature set introduced in UE5 and made it more robust, efficient, and versatile for developers across industries,” adding, “As part of that effort, we were stressed -testing the engine through different workflows, making it applicable to more sectors.”
The exponential increase in Unreal Engine adoption over the past two years by media and entertainment professionals and companies of all sizes has resulted in successful projects such as performance-oriented character animation YouTube show Xanadu, Pixomondo’s Caledon football commercial, and Fox’s new virtual production studio Sports. With Unreal Engine 5.1, Epic Games aims to enable the industry to build on that success with a toolset that’s richer, more robust, and more accessible than ever.
Updates to Lumen, Nanite, and Virtual Shadow Maps are a key element of this new version. Epic Games has laid the groundwork for the Lumen dynamic global illumination and reflection system, the Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry system, and Virtual Shadow Maps (VSM) to power games and experiences running at 60 fps on next-gen consoles and powerful PCs, and way faster -Fast-paced competitive games and detailed simulations run with zero latency.
The new or updated features cover various aspects, particularly those related to game development where software is a popular choice, but this note, based on information shared by Epic Games, takes a specific look at what’s new in Unreal Engine 5.1, for makers of live-action and animated film and television content—including virtual production and LED stage projects—as well as broadcasters and live event production teams.
So, without further ado, here is a list of what’s new in Unreal Engine 5.1 for media and entertainment:
Improved support for stage operations
Stage operators working under pressure in the fast-paced environment of an LED stage will welcome a new dedicated in-camera VFX editor that supports a range of workflows specifically tailored to the tasks they need to perform. This largely eliminates the need for stage operators to search the outliner for specific objects and controls.
A corresponding iOS application, reflecting the functionality of the editor but with a user interface adapted for touch interaction, is planned for release within the next few weeks. In related news, we’ve improved the UI, UX, and performance of the remote control APIs, making it faster and easier for you to create more powerful custom browser-based remote controls.
The new editor hosts an interface to an improved light map system, which is previewed on the nDisplay wall. The new light maps not only make it intuitive and efficient to create, move and edit light maps and save templates, but also maintain their shape on the wall, eliminating distortion.
Color grading is a key tool in the transition between the LED wall and the physical set, as well as in fine-tuning the content on the LED wall and critical to the workflow on the LED stage. You can also access new color correction windows (CCWs) via the in-camera VFX editor, which allow the adjustments to be applied exclusively to everything behind them (similar to power windows in color correction applications), along with the ability to apply color corrections per actor, eliminating the need a complex masking is reduced.
Improved Media Plate workflows and EXR playback
Remember when it took tens of clicks to add an EXR or movie file to a level or sequencer track? With Unreal Engine 5.1, a new Media Plate Actor allows you to easily drag and drop footage from the content browser. Additionally, you can now play mipmapped and tiled uncompressed EXRs in both engine and nDisplay with the appropriate SSD RAID. We’ve also integrated the ability to convert EXRs to the right format for optimal playback.
Meanwhile, Unreal Engine’s virtual camera system has been overhauled with a new underlying framework that uses Epic’s pixel streaming technology for improved responsiveness and reliability, and an updated user interface with a modern camera-centric design that will be more familiar to camera operators. We’ve also added the ability to connect hardware devices and laid the groundwork for future UI customization.
Improved DMX workflows
In an effort to more seamlessly integrate the Unreal Engine into the larger DMX ecosystem, Epic Games has expanded its own support for the MVR format to include fixtures, plots and patches; If both Unreal Engine and a lighting console need to share DMX data, it can be synchronized between the two systems. Epic Games also enhanced the pixel mapping system UX to support the ever-increasing complexity of driving DMX lighting fixtures from Unreal Engine content data.
Lumen, Unreal Engine’s fully dynamic global lighting and reflection system, now has initial support for nDisplay. With Lumen, indirect lighting adjusts on the fly, for example when you change the position of the sun, adjust lights or position bounce cards. Previously, these changes would have required a baking step, which could halt production and disrupt the creative flow.
Currently, the number of lights supported is modest (about five to seven lights in total, depending on the graphics card). For more complex setups that require more lights, we’ve also made improvements to GPU Lightmass, including support for Sky Atmosphere, stationary sky lights, light features like IES Profiles and Rect Light textures, and overall improved quality and performance.
Animation and rigging improvements
For anyone involved with animated content, especially characters, Unreal Engine 5.1 offers some valuable enhancements to the built-in animation authoring toolset.
The Machine Learning (ML) Deformer, now in beta, generates high fidelity approximations of nonlinear deformers, complex proprietary rigs, or any deformation using a custom Maya plugin to train a machine learning model, which in turn runs in real time in Unreal Engine. This allows you to simulate film-quality deformations, e.g. B. muscle curvature, bulging veins and sliding skin.
Other character deformation improvements include improvements to the Deformer Graph Editor for easier graph creation and editing.
On another front, Control Rig continues to expand toward fully procedural rigging, increasing the impact and scalability of rigging teams. Updates to the core framework include a new construction event that allows you to generate rig hierarchies from a diagram, and custom user events to create and fire rig events such as Snap FK to IK.
These updates allow you to create a single control rig asset that can build itself to fit characters that may have different skeletal proportions and traits. For example, the same control rig can adapt to a three-fingered monster or a five-fingered human with no changes to the rig asset.
Epic Games has also enhanced Sequencer – Unreal Engine’s multitrack nonlinear animation editor – by adding support for constraints such as position, rotation and look-at. With these you can quickly and easily create and animate relationships between any control rig or actor, for example having a camera always follow a character; holding a character’s hands on a steering wheel; Animate a clown juggling balls; or to constrain a cowboy’s hips so that he sits naturally in the saddle while the horse moves while his hands hold the reins.
Sequencer also sees additional functionality exposed through Blueprint and Python scripting, and we’ve redesigned the UI/UX to increase stability, extensibility, and improve animation creation and editing workflows.
If you are already an Unreal Engine user, you can download Unreal Engine 5.1 from the Epic Games Launcher. If you’re new to diving in, click this link to get started. Unreal Engine is free to use for creating linear content such as movies, as well as for custom and internal projects. In many cases, it’s also free for game development – a 5% royalty only occurs when your title earns over $1 million.