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Epic shows off digital Andy Serkis and real-time ray traced Star Wars at GDC

Epic Games delivered its annual State of Unreal presentation at GDC today, giving the audience an updated look at what's been done with the powerful, popular game engine, and where it's going next. You can watch the whole thing above if you'd like.

It's long and quite technical in spots, but there are a few moments that are definitely worth laying eyes on even if you don't have much interest in how they're accomplished, because they illustrate the capabilities of the engine, which in turn points toward the sort of visual fidelity we can look forward to in the future. 

First up is Andy Serkis, famous for his mo-cap performances as Gollum, Kong, Caesar, and Snoke, who finally gets to play himself—although ironically, it's still a digital proxy. Not terribly exotic, perhaps, but it does represent a dramatic shrinking of the uncanny valley. 

Next is the exact same performance, except this time delivered as Osiris Black, a fictional character (I guess that's obvious) created by 3Lateral Studio that looks like Martin Landau crossed with a xenomorph.

Finally, and to my eyes most impressively, the Reflections trailer demonstrates "real-time raytracing in Unreal Engine 4 using Microsoft’s new DXR framework and Nvidia RTX technology for Volta GPUs." We looked more closely at DXR and RTX a couple of days ago, and suffice it to say that you're not going to see this kind of thing turning up on your desktop anytime soon. (The Volta hardware in question actually Nvidia's DGX Station, which has four Tesla V100 GPUs connected via NVLink and is currently on sale at a discounted price of $50,000, and it renders the Star Wars ray-tracing demo at a cinematic 24 fps.) But it's doable, and it looks fantastic.

"A decade from now ... you won't be able to tell the difference between the real world and the virtual world," Epic CTO Kim Libreri says at one point during the full presentation. I wouldn't bet against him.