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It begins with light: The definitive guide to the High Definition Render Pipeline

November 19, 2021 in Engine & platform | 3 min. read
Image of a shiny gold globe with Unity's logo against a grey background
Image of a shiny gold globe with Unity's logo against a grey background

The High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) has gone through many iterations since its debut in the Unity 2018 release cycle. Now that it’s become a key feature, we want to share a new expert guide for teams and technical artists to leverage its full potential.

The HDRP was built to help creators realize their vision. By tapping the power of high-end PC or console hardware to reach new levels of graphical realism, HDRP represents the technological advancement of Unity’s real-time rendering. Ultimately, it allows you to work with light just as it behaves in the real world.

Our comprehensive guide, The definitive guide to lighting in the High Definition Render Pipeline, supports existing Unity artists, technical artists, and developers like you to further explore the physically based lighting techniques available in HDRP.

Looking to render a lush rainforest landscape with natural sunlight? Or are the neon lights of a concrete jungle more your style? With HDRP, you can paint detailed scene levels using the brush of a cinematographer.

While this guide is currently based on Unity 2020 LTS, we plan to update it next year when the new Unity LTS version is released.

Download the e-book

Made by experts, for experts

The e-book was inspired by the Unite Now talk Achieving high-fidelity graphics with HDRP, given by Unity Technical Art Manager Pierre Yves Donzallaz, who specializes in lighting, level beautification, system design, and workflow improvements. In collaboration with Wilmer Lin, an experienced technical artist who has authored many tutorials and courses for Udemy, we expanded on that talk to create a comprehensive introduction to lighting in HDRP. Mathieu Muller, a longtime Unity field engineer – now, product manager for high-end graphics – also greatly contributed to this guide.

Some of the topics covered in the guide include:

  • HDRP concepts, settings, cameras, and Volume frameworks
  • Understanding exposure, modes, physical camera settings, and formulas
  • Light units, types, properties, and IES profiles
  • Creating natural-looking skyscapes with the physically based sky system
  • Refining shadows, reflections, and real-time lighting effects to add even more depth to your scenes
  • Understanding the rendering debugger
  • Improving visual quality with ray tracing and post-processing

Many recent games and experiences have been powered by HDRP, including I am Fish by Bossa Studio, Naraka: Bladepoint by 24 Entertainment, and LEGO Builder’s Journey.

Image of a goldfish in a clear container looking at a bubble while floating inside a spaceship
I Am Fish by Bossa Studio is a next-gen physics puzzle adventure that uses the HDRP to refract and reflect light in a world of water to achieve stunningly realistic effects. Stay tuned for our full case study on Bossa Studio in December.

Check out our HDRP documentation for details on the latest capabilities. Then see what’s new for artists and designers in the latest Tech Stream release, Unity 2021.2.

Don’t miss our next free e-book

The Unity Game Designer Playbook cover

More guides are on their way! Game designers, or anyone interested in game design, can preregister for a free copy of the upcoming Unity Game Designer Playbook, a new resource to inspire your next prototype and provide best practices for testing your game in Unity.

Editor's Note: This guide has been updated for Unity 2021 LTS. See the blog post, Updated for 2021 LTS: The definitive guide to lighting in the High Definition Render Pipeline, for more information.

November 19, 2021 in Engine & platform | 3 min. read
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