Epic Games has released the latest version of the game engine and real-time renderer, Unreal Engine 5.1. Highlights including performance improvements as well as workflow updates to the new toolsets introduced in Unreal Engine 5.0, such as Nanite geometry virtualisation and dynamic GI system Lumen.
| Lumen, Nanite, and Virtual Shadow Maps
The following new features support games and experiences running at 60 fps on next-gen consoles and capable PCs, enabling fast-paced games and detailed simulations to run without latency.
The Lumen dynamic global illumination and reflections system
The Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry system. In addition, Nanite’s update includes a Programmable Rasterizer allowing for material-driven animations and deformations via World Position Offset and opacity masks so artists can program specific objects’ behavior, for example, Nanite-based foliage with leaves blowing in the wind.
Virtual Shadow Maps (VSM) support games and experiences running at 60 fps on next-gen consoles and capable PCs, enabling fast-paced games and detailed simulations to run without latency.
| Animation, Rigging & Modeling
The Machine Learning (ML) Deformer (still experimental) can be used to create high-fidelity approximations of complex proprietary rigs—or any arbitrary deformation—using a custom Maya plugin to train a machine learning model, which runs in real-time in Unreal Engine. Other character deformation improvements include enhancements to the Deformer Graph Editor for easier graph creation and editing.
Control Rig continues to expand toward fully procedural rigging with updates to the core framework, including a new Construction Event that enables users to generate rig hierarchies via a graph and Custom User Events for creating and triggering rig events such as “Snap FK to IK.” With these updates, users can automate rig creation for characters with different skeletal proportions and properties.
| Virtual Production & Broadcast VFX
A new in-Camera VFX Editor has been added in Unreal Engine 5.1, supporting a range of workflows tailored to their tasks. The panel features an improved Light Card system that presents a preview of the nDisplay wall and the light cards, enabling operators to create, move, and edit light cards and save templates.
The release also overhauls VCam, Unreal Engine’s virtual camera system, improves EXR playback, and introduces initial support for Nanite in nDisplay multi-display set-ups.
Unreal Engine 5.1 is available now for 64-bit Windows, macOS and Linux. Although some features are still in Beta, the new version is free to use. For games developed with the engine, Epic takes 5% of the gross royalties after the first $1 million generated by a title.