Unreal Engine and NVIDIA: From One Generation to the Next

NVIDIA has supported Unreal Engine 4 throughout its eight-year run — that continues with today’s debut of Unreal Engine 5.
by Ethan Einhorn

Square/Enix presents the fictional city of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII Remake at a filmic level of detail. Epic’s Fortnite bathes its environments in ray-traced sunlight, simulating how light bounces in the real world. And artists at Lucasfilm revolutionized virtual production techniques in The Mandalorian, using synchronized NVIDIA RTX GPUs to drive pixels on LED walls that act as photoreal backdrops.

In the eight years since Epic Games launched Unreal Engine 4, graphics has evolved at an unprecedented rate. UE4’s advances in world-building, animation, lighting and simulation enabled creators to bring to life environments only hinted at in the past.

In that same time, NVIDIA produced the optimal GPUs, libraries and APIs for supporting the new features the engine introduced. Tens of thousands of developers have enjoyed the benefits of pairing Unreal Engine with NVIDIA technology. That support continues with today’s debut of Unreal Engine 5.

Epic and NVIDIA: Building the Future of Graphics

From the launch of the GeForce GTX 680 in 2012 to the recent release of the RTX 30 Series, NVIDIA has supported UE4 developers in their quest to stay on the bleeding edge of technology.

At Game Developers Conference 2013, Epic showed off what Unreal Engine 4 could do on a single GTX 680 with their “Infiltrator” demo. The big rendering advances in that demo were a physically-based rendering pipeline, a groundbreaking temporal anti-aliasing solution, and a lighting solution that mixed the best of precomputed and dynamic lighting. It would be one of many times Unreal Engine and NVIDIA raised the bar.

In 2015, NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang appeared as a surprise guest at an Epic Games event to announce the GTX TITAN X. Onstage, Tim Sweeney was given the very first GTX TITAN X off the production line. It’s a moment in tech history that’s still discussed today.

At GDC 2018, the development community got their first look at real-time ray tracing running in UE4 with the reveal of “Reflections,” a Star Wars short video. The results were so convincing you’d have been forgiven for thinking the clip was pulled directly out of a J.J. Abrams movie.

Textured area lights, ray-traced area light shadows, reflections, and cinematic depth of field all combined to create a sequence that redefined what was possible with real-time graphics. It was shown on a NVIDIA DGX workstation powered by four Volta architecture GPUs.

Later in the year at GamesCom, that same demo was shown running on one consumer-grade GeForce RTX graphics card, thanks to the Turing architecture’s RT Cores, which greatly accelerate ray-tracing performance.

In 2019, Unreal Engine debuted a short called “Troll” (from Goodbye Kansas and Deep Forest Films), running on a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. It showed what could be done with complex soft shadows and reflections. The short broke ground by rendering convincing human faces in real time, capturing a broad range of emotional states.

Epic and NVIDIA sponsored three installments in the DXR Spotlight Contest, which showed that even one-person teams could achieve remarkable results with DXR, Unreal Engine 4 and NVIDIA GeForce RTX.

One standout was “Attack from Outer Space,” a video demo developed solely by artist Christian Hecht.

Today, Epic debuts Unreal Engine 5. This launch introduces Nanite and Lumen, which enables developers to create games and apps that contain massive amounts of geometric detail with fully dynamic global illumination.

Nanite enables film-quality source art consisting of billions of polygons to be directly imported into Unreal Engine — all while maintaining a real-time frame rate and without sacrificing fidelity.

With Lumen, developers can create more dynamic scenes where indirect lighting adapts on the fly, such as changing the sun angle with the time of day, turning on a flashlight or opening an exterior door. Lumen removes the need for authoring lightmap UVs, waiting for lightmaps to bake or placing reflection captures, which results in crucial time savings in the development process.

NVIDIA is supporting Unreal Engine 5 with plugins for key technologies, including Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), NVIDIA Reflex and RTX Global Illumination.

DLSS taps into the power of a deep learning neural network to boost frame rates and generate beautiful, sharp images. Reflex aligns CPU work to complete just in time for the GPU to start processing, minimizing latency and improving system responsiveness. RTX Global illumination computes multibounce indirect lighting without bake times, light leaks or expensive per-frame costs.

You can see DLSS and Reflex in action on Unreal Engine 5 by playing Epic’s Fortnite on an NVIDIA GeForce RTX-powered PC.

NVIDIA Ominiverse is the ideal companion to the next generation of Unreal Engine. The platform enables artists and developers to connect their 3D design tools for more collaborative workflows, build their own tools for 3D worlds, and use NVIDIA AI technologies. The Unreal Engine Connector enables creators and developers to achieve live-sync workflows between Omniverse and Unreal Engine. This connector will supercharge any game developer’s art pipeline.

Learn more about NVIDIA technologies for Unreal Engine 5.