Real-time roundup: the growth of interactive 3D and emerging 2021 trends

January 13, 2021
Last year was huge for real-time technology. From online events like Travis Scott’s virtual concert in Fortnite to new filmmaking techniques, creators continued to harness the power of interactive 3D to transform the way we play, create, and communicate. 

Behind the scenes at Epic, this story has been reflected in the numbers. By the end of 2020, nearly half of announced next-gen games were being built in Unreal Engine; the number of film, TV, and animation projects that are using or have used Unreal Engine doubled; and innovation in areas like HMI saw real-time workflows fuel cutting-edge new experiences, such as the digital cockpit in General Motors’ recently announced GMC HUMMER EV and Cadillac LYRIQ.

Incredibly, 2021 is set to be even more exciting. Let’s take a look at some of the bellwether statistics that reveal why.
 

Games: developing the next generation 

Game developers both large and small continued to amaze us with their creativity in 2020. At The Game Awards 2020, titles developed using Unreal Engine were nominated for 17 awards, winning five, and making up over half of the world premieres featured during the main show. These include ARK II, The Callisto Protocol, Back 4 Blood, Just Cause: Mobile, Evil Dead: The Game, and more. At the close of last year, nearly half of announced next-gen titles were being built using Unreal Engine.
 

Film & TV: opening up new creative avenues 

Real-time technology continued to transform creative processes in film and TV in 2020, with virtual production techniques used on high-profile shows such as The Mandalorian, Westworld, and His Dark Materials. In-camera visual effects (ICVFX) gained traction all around the world as filmmakers used Unreal Engine for real-time visual effects on set. The engine has been leveraged on productions such as Call of the Wild, Bill and Ted Face the Music, Jingle Jangle, The Witches, and many more. Overall, the number of film and TV projects that are using or have used Unreal Engine doubled in 2020*.
* Data from period January 1 - December 1, 2020
 
In live broadcast, The Weather Channel continues to trailblaze with AR graphics, Dreamwall is creating beautiful sets in Belgium, and multiple news channels covered the US election with Unreal Engine-powered solutions. Unreal Engine is now being used in over 150 TV networks around the world, from ESPN, NFL Network, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, SKY, Aljazeera, MBC, CCTV, NHK.
 

AEC: streamlining archviz workflows

An increasing number of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals turned to real-time engines for their super-fast rendering capability in 2020. A survey by CGarchitect last year found that of respondents who are testing out rendering engines, 43% are experimenting with Unreal Engine, and 22% are trying out Twinmotion. 
 

Automotive: fueling pipeline innovation  

Unreal Engine is now a key driver in the digital shift to real-time technology in the automotive industry, with key brands building platforms that are based on a metaverse philosophy.

Car brands around the world are now using Unreal Engine across all stages of the automotive pipeline, including nine of the top ten car makers and an array of luxury brands*. These major automotive companies use Unreal Engine to manage the marketing assets for their entire fleets, as well as adopting it as their data model for design, training, simulation, and HMI development. 
* Data from period January 1 - December 31, 2020
 

Unreal Marketplace: building blocks for creativity

The community’s appetite for real-time projects saw the Unreal Marketplace boom last year, with new content for creators in all categories growing by nearly 50%*. Highlights included ten packs from What Remains of Edith Finch, and two large environments that developers can get for free: an expansive 200-acre urban park and a factory environment
* Data from period December 2019 to December 2020
 

Quixel Megascans: taking world-building to the next level 

Creators took full advantage of the more than 14,000* high-quality Megascans assets that have been made free for use with Unreal Engine, with nearly 20 million scanned assets downloaded from the Megascans library. 

Despite travel being greatly reduced, Quixel produced more than 3,000 premium-quality scans last year with the scan team capturing data from multiple countries across four continents including a variety of natural and urban environments.
* Data from period January 1 to December 31, 2020 
 

Epic MegaGrants: empowering the creative community

All manner of creators began new journeys with support from the Epic MegaGrants program in 2020. To date, over $60 million in support has been distributed, with $47 million handed to 765 recipients last year alone*. Notable recipients included Random42, a medical animation studio creating a coronavirus cinematic about the importance of a vaccine; XRStudios, one of many XR live entertainment companies doing amazing things with Unreal Engine; and Loomiarts, makers of Squadron51, a shoot-em up game where aliens have conquered the Earth. 
* Data from period January 1 to November 30, 2020 
 

Learning: expanding real-time skillsets 

Our community was hard at work developing skills last year. You racked up over 285,000 skill badges*—kudos! These record levels of learning come at a time when jobs that require interactive 3D skills are growing 601% faster than the job market overall. To meet demand, we’ve grown our online learning platform to over 90 courses—there are now more than 160 hours of learning content accessible for free
* Data from period January 1 to December 11, 2020
 

What’s on the horizon for 2021

We’re living through a period of extraordinary technological change. In the past few years, we’ve seen huge advances in cloud computing and connectivity, artificial intelligence and automation, and interactive and immersive technology. These are now converging, and we see a number of key trends emerging that are set to define innovation in the year ahead, across industries as diverse as film and TV, games, AEC, and automotive.

Virtual entertainment

The live entertainment industry was forced to adapt last year as in-person restrictions made it impossible to produce live attendance concerts, shows, and other events. This led to a boom in virtual entertainment, with people seeking out online the up-close experiences they couldn’t have in real life. 

What’s more, many existing events were given a real-time twist to enhance the viewer experience at home—whether it was the spectacular XR environment for League of Legends Worlds 2020, MLB stadiums filled with virtual fans, or zeitgeisty festivals like Tomorrowland and Burning Man. We predict that this trend is set to persist well into 2021 and beyond, as creators refine virtual entertainment offerings to provide ever-more engaging shared digital experiences. 

Virtual product launches

From Balenciaga’s video game debuting its next clothing collection to Ferrari’s first fully digital car launch with a photoreal configurator for the Portofino M, companies increasingly turned to real-time technology to launch new products last year. We anticipate this trend to escalate as more and more brands seek to capitalize on the scale and interactivity virtual product launches afford.

Digital twins

Digital twins are set to revolutionize entire industries, from AEC to automotive and beyond. We’ve already seen digital twins being used in the AEC industry to develop next-generation buildings and smart cities. In 2021, digital twins will be increasingly used for everything from managing renewable energy plants to improving the performance of hardware in the aerospace and defence industries. 

Real-time innovation in 2021

With real-time workflows developing apace, one thing is certain—it’s going to be an exciting year for anyone leveraging the power of interactive 3D technology, whatever you’re creating. We can’t wait to celebrate the amazing achievements of our community as the year unfolds! 
 

    Explore real-time workflows

    New to real-time technology? Check out The Pulse, a thought-provoking video series that uncovers emerging interactive technology trends, and discover how Unreal Engine empowers creators to push boundaries at our Unreal for All Creators hub.