NanoVDB clouds in Unreal 5

Rendering a realistic representation of volumetric data such as fluid, fire, smoke or clouds within a realtime 3D environment can be challenging. Data is often stored in three-dimensional grids within the OpenVDB file format, which was suboptimal for realtime processing.

NanoVDB was created to solve these challenges, and it allows for a sparse portable VDB data structure to run on memory constrained GPUs in realtime. A plugin developed by Eidos-Montréal now brings NanoVDB into Unreal Engine 5.

Realtime clouds rendered in Unreal Engine 5.

NanoVDB support within Unreal opens a whole new range of creative possibilities. To kick-start artist experimentation, developers at JangaFX have shared a free set of project files, containing a variety of cloud types, within a pre-built Unreal enviroment.

A short cloud animation in Unreal 5.

Using only the default settings, the results can be impressive. This time-of-day animation plays back in realtime and renders nearly instantly.

A realtime sky rendered with the NanoVDB plugin.

There are a variety of settings to adjust to dial in the desired look, and a handy cheat-sheet is provided to streamline the learning process. Ideally this technology should be incorporated into Unreal Engine directly, but in the meantime there is plenty of fun to be had with these tools as they are.