Epic Games has recently launched the initial public preview of Unreal Engine 5.3, marking a noteworthy advancement in the game engine's evolution. It has significantly enhanced and optimized its core functionalities, including Lumen, Nanite, Path Tracing, and more, resulting in improved workflows and capabilities.
This update offers users greater control over performance, leading to enhanced visual outcomes. Moreover, build times are reduced through Multi-process Cook, enabling faster project iterations.
Additionally, Unreal Engine 5.3 presents several new experimental features. With Volumetric Rendering, users can now directly generate volumetrics like smoke and fire within the Unreal Engine. Furthermore, a Skeletal Editor facilitates weight and skinning adjustments in-engine.
The update also introduces full support for Orthographic Rendering, which proves valuable for architectural visualizations, manufacturing projects, and stylistic games. Lastly, the Panel Cloth Editor and ML Cloth contribute to improved cloth tooling.
Let us introduce to you in detail the top 7 important features of UE5.3:
Unreal Engine 5.3 introduces a significant enhancement in the VFX domain, offering the ability to import smoke, fire, and clouds in OpenVDB format from DCC applications like Houdini. Unlike third-party plugins that convert data to NanoVDB, Unreal Engine adopts Sparse Volume Textures (SVTs) that require much less memory.
These SVTs can be indexed with 3D UV coordinates and are supported in the Deferred Renderer for smoke and fire as Heterogeneous Volumes, or as Volumetric Cloud or Volumetric Fog. Rendering volumes with the Path Tracer achieves more comprehensive support, simulating scattering, self-shadowing, and GI.
A major addition to Unreal Engine 5.3 in the animation realm is the Skeletal Editor, enabling character rigging and skin weight editing directly within the Unreal Editor, eliminating the need for external DCC applications.
Users can convert Static Meshes to Skeletal Meshes, add or modify bones, and perform skin weight painting using standard options like Flood, Relax, and Normalize. Animators benefit from updates to the Curve Editor and Smart Bake system, along with workflow improvements for animation retargeting.
Unreal Engine 5.3 introduces a new Cloth Editor, streamlining cloth simulation with support for XPBD constraints and existing PBD constraints. The editor follows a non-destructive workflow, replacing masks with reusable weight maps and accommodating cloth-flesh interactions and Level Set Volume (LSV) collisions.
By eliminating the baking of simulation metrics into the draped pose, the quality of simulations, even with PBD constraints, should improve. Additionally, the new approach lays the groundwork for real-time cloth editing and a more VFX-oriented strategy that allows users to balance simulation time and accuracy through simulation caching.
In the realm of visualization, Unreal Engine 5.3 now offers proper support for orthographic rendering, a boon for architectural professionals and visualization artists. While an Orthographic mode for cameras existed previously, it was deemed impractical due to the lack of support for several rendering features.
However, Unreal Engine 5.3 addresses this limitation, now providing support for "most modern features," including dynamic GI system Lumen, Nanite virtualized geometry, shadows, and Temporal Super Resolution (TSR) render upscaling.
Artists using Unreal Engine for virtual production work or previsualization can take advantage of new features in version 5.3, such as the Anamorphic Lens Model and Anamorphic Lens Solver. These additions enable rendering CG elements in real time with distortion that matches live-action footage shot using anamorphic lenses. Other notable improvements include initial support for Unreal Engine's virtual camera system on macOS and the CineCameraRigRail, facilitating the setup of rail camera shots within Unreal Engine.
The Collab Viewer Templates bring together multiple users into a collective encounter with identical 3D content. These templates are designed to simplify and expedite the process of team-based design review and communication, facilitating the prompt identification of issues and streamlined content iteration. In UE 5.1, OpenXR support for Enhanced Input was introduced and subsequently endorsed as the preferred input system for XR applications.
In UE 5.3, these templates have been revamped to harness the benefits of the abstractions and adaptability empowered by Enhanced Input.
In UE 5.2, the Render Resource Viewer was introduced as a tool revealing GPU memory allocations and their originating render resources, aiding artists and developers in optimizing their projects' GPU memory usage. Now, in UE 5.3, advancements include the ability to select and locate source assets from render buffers/textures via the Content Browser.
Furthermore, Insight Memory Trace encompasses DX12 resources, and Insight Metadata Trace tracks resource owner paths, complementing the Render Resource Viewer's capabilities for tracking asset paths, render resource debug names, and owner render class names in packaged builds.
Additional changes in Unreal Engine 5.3 encompass further updates to Nanite, Lumen, as well as the in-engine modelling and UV toolsets, along with other simulation toolsets.
Nanite now includes support for explicit per-vertex tangents, leading to better results with low-poly models. Additionally, it can be enabled in Landscape Actors, enhancing runtime performance for large landscape assets.
Lumen's capabilities have expanded, allowing more than one bounce for rendering reflections using hardware ray tracing. Furthermore, Lumen Reflections can be used independently of Lumen GI, elevating the visual quality of levels with static lighting.
The in-engine modelling toolset receives a revamped UI and introduces new vertex paint tools. Meanwhile, the UV editor gains the ability to visualize texture distortion through heatmaps.
Niagara, the particle effects system, now supports transforming fluid simulations after they are cached, enabling the duplication and offsetting of caches to create more intricate effects.
The hair grooming toolset now supports streaming of groom and groom binding assets, and there is initial support for hair strands in the deformer graph.
The Procedural Content Generation toolset introduced in Unreal Engine 5.2 receives hierarchical workflow support, allowing multiple grid sizes for generating game worlds.
Regarding pipeline integration and platform changes, Unreal Engine 5.3 extends support for USD and MaterialX standards. Users can now edit USD materials directly in the viewport and import USD files with MaterialX shading networks. OpenColorIO (OCIO) is adopted as the standard for internal texture conversions, and there is beta support for the Unreal Editor on Apple's new M2 processors.
Important points to note:
Unreal Engine 5.3 is currently available as a public preview for 64-bit Windows, macOS, and Linux. The stable release remains Unreal Engine 5.2. The use of the editor is free, as is rendering non-interactive content. For games developed with the engine, Epic charges 5% of the gross royalties after the first $1 million generated by a title.
In conclusion, Unreal Engine 5.3 emerges as a significant milestone with its array of powerful updates and features. From empowering VFX artists to import and render sophisticated smoke and fire simulations, to providing animators with advanced editing tools for characters and cloth, the engine proves its commitment to enhancing creative workflows.
As developers embrace this cutting-edge technology, the future of game development and visual storytelling stands poised for even greater innovation and creativity.