Company Streamlines Offering, Incorporating Unreal Studio in Core Product

Epic Games said today that it has acquired Swedish software developer Quixel, and with it Quixel’s Megascans library of more than 10,000 2D and 3D photogrammetry assets.

Epic said the entire Megascans library will be free to use with Epic’s Unreal Engine. The company said those assets will remain available for paid use with other tools, but at a lower price.

With a wide array of scanned assets available for reuse, the Quixel Megascans library has been tapped to create photorealistic environments for films including The Jungle BookBlack Panther and The Lion King and games such as Metro ExodusDestiny 2 and Battlefield V. Now, Epic hopes to make high-quality, ready-to-use 3D photogrammetry ubiquitous for all users.

“We want to accelerate the production of those Megascans,” Unreal Engine GM Marc Petit told StudioDaily. “That will be a critical factor in helping people make photorealistic content for less money. Currently they are available as a subscription for every [3D content creation software] package, but we are going to make them come free for use with Unreal Engine 4, and we’ve lowered the price and made it more affordable for non-UE4 users.”

The announcement was made at Epic’s Unreal Academy London 2019 event, taking place today through November 14 at ExCeL.

A scene from <i>The Lion King</i>

Quixel assets were used at MPC to build the photoreal environments in The Lion King.
Courtesy Disney and MPC

Quixel will remain headquartered in Sweden, Epic said, with more than 100 employees in six companies expected to join Epic Games. In addition to curating scanned assets for the Megascans library, Quixel makes 3D content creation tools Bridge, a tool that manages and exports 3D assets for use with other 3D applications or game engines, and Mixer, a material creation tool.

At Game Developers Conference in San Francisco earlier this year, Quixel debuted a short film, “Rebirth,” directed by Teddy Bergsman Lind, that showed how artists could use Quixel’s photogrammetry elements to create photorealistic landscapes and other elements in Unreal Engine v4.21. Watch it, below.

Quixel said that 10 high-resolution packs have been made available as a free download on the Unreal Engine Marketplace, along with some assets from the Iceland collection used in “Rebirth.” More assets will be available when the next version of Unreal Engine is released, Quixel said. Speaking of which …

One Engine to Rule Them All: Unreal v4.24

Also announced today was the upcoming release of Unreal Engine 4.24, which is due in early December. The new version will feature the usual slate of feature upgrades and updates, but it also represents a shift in strategy for the company, which is opting to streamline its Unreal offerings.

Specifically, Unreal Studio and the accompanying Datasmith toolset were originally aimed at helping users outside the game industry use Unreal Engine for real-time rendering and visualization. All of those tools — including Datasmith, static mesh editing, and the Variant Manager — will be incorporated in Unreal Engine 4.24, Epic said.

This means that Unreal Studio, which has been in beta for well over a year and has been downloaded by more than 350,000 users, will no longer be offered as a standalone product — because there will no longer be a need for it. However, Petit said, the source code for Datasmith will be made available for any third-party partners who are interested in working with or building on it. Likewise, users can continue to use Unreal Studio 4.23 along with Datasmith if they choose, though Epic will no longer offer support.

A ray-traced scene in Unreal Engine v4.24

A ray-traced scene in Unreal Engine v4.24
Epic Games

Unreal Engine 4.24 will also support the Universal Scene Description (USD) format developed and subsequently open-sourced by Pixar, improving collaborative and iterative workflow for virtual productions, Petit said. “You can transfer all of the creative decisions made on set back to the traditional post pipeline, if you so desire,” he explained. “You can finish content in real time, but if the shot doesn’t work, you can export it in USD format and have tight interaction with a legacy VFX pipeline.”

The new release builds on v 4.23’s in-camera VFX features that were showcased at SIGGRAPH 2019 and ramps up support for mobile platforms and AR projects. A new hair and fur renderer gives “beautiful results,” Petit said.

Still Free Until 2020: Twinmotion

Finally, Petit offered some news about Twinmotion, a simplified rendering tool that Epic acquired in May. It can be used to create basic visualizations — including video, interactive content and VR experiences — by aggregating CAD data and assets, Petit said, making it a popular tool for architects. (Since Epic acquired it, Twinmotion has been downloaded more than 300,000 times.)

A Twinmotion screenshot.

A Twinmotion screenshot.
Epic Games

Epic had planned to start charging for Twinmotion in November, but decided instead to keep it available as free software until the release of Twinmotion 2020 sometime in the first quarter of next year.

Twinmotion 2020 will offer “much better visual fidelity, higher quality content, better characters, better vegetation, and better rendering,” Petit vowed. The price will be announced when the software ships, he said.

We asked if filmmakers had figured out ways to use Twinmotion for their own visualization needs, and Petit said he thinks it may be starting to happen. “With SketchUp and Twinmotion, you can create anything,” he said.

Epic Games Unreal Engine: