Bryce is a 3D illustration and rendering program intended to help you create breathtakingly realistic 3D landscapes and animations in a fairly intuitive way, using a drag-and-drop interface on a real-time canvas.
You may download Bryce 5.5 for free from the TechRepublic Software Library.
Bryce has been around in various forms for years, and has changed hands several times along the way. Now it looks like DAZ Productions is making version 5.5 available for the Mac under OS X. To me, this is a welcome upgrade from having to run it under Classic, which was never as fast as running it natively on my pre-OS X PowerPC. I am eager to see if it's still as fun and easy to use as it used to be, and creates the same great 3D images.
View this image gallery to see Bryce 5.5 in action and discover whether it is the Right Tool for the Job.
Standard license agreement (I hope). I cross my fingers and click "Accept."
Uninstalling an older version
I had an older KPT version installed, so I choose to Uninstall first. They were nice enough to offer a quick pulldown option rather than making me go hunt for it. After it disintegrated my old version (it's still there, just uninstalled) I choose to then "Easy Install."
In order to install, you have to then get a free serial number from Daz3D.com. In order to do that, you need to create an account there, (www.daz3d.com/bryce55), and then activate it from a link they will promptly email to you. Once you do all that, you can go back to the www.daz3d.com/bryce55 page and log in to get your serial code.
Apparently the trick here is to get you interested in Bryce 5.5 enough to buy version 6.0, but at under $40, I can't see where it wouldn't be worth it. We'll soon find out.
I had to install a secondary program from within the installer. Hopefully this will all be over soon. I had to agree to tell other people about Daz Studio or their Web site. The marketing spiel mentioned something about keeping Bryce free. Fine. Hopefully there are at least two people reading this review!
At this point, the installer forces a restart.
I hate software restarts. They always manage to make me have to force quit applications that don't feel like quitting right then.
After restart I navigated to the Bryce 5.5 folder in my Applications folder and got the thing started up. On my 1.5Ghz G4 PowerBook, it took a few seconds of revving-up to get past the splash screen.
Landscape creation screen
I am greeted by the familiar Bryce landscape creation screen. Everything seems to be in the same place as I remember from version 2, the camera navigation buttons on the left, the small render preview in the upper left, the Create objects and lights up top, along with the object Edit and Sky & Fog menus, the view buttons on the right and the wireframe creation area in the center scene. There's an addition of a Time bar under the wireframe window, a tree shape and what looks like a director's chair under the view presets. I can only assume this is for making fly-through animations. There's also a large "S"-marked ball in the top center that will launch Daz Studio.
I will start with making a simple landscape scene.
Landscape creation screen
First, I clicked the water object under the Create menu. This gives me a water plane on the wireframe grid. It is an infinite plane, even though it has definite edges as seen in the wireframe. In the preview rendering screen, at top left, you can see that it does indeed go on to the horizon. I want to edit this water, so I then click the "M" in its object options at the right of its boundary handle points.
This brings up the Materials Lab. Here you can futz will all aspects of the 3D texture applied to the object. I am okay with presets at this point, so I will go to the preset menus by clicking the small arrow to the upper right of the preview window.
Materials Lab - Materials menu
Clicking the materials menu at the bottom brings up the preset textures for waters.
Materials Lab - Changing the preview object
In order to preview the texture better, I change the preview object to "Ground" via the pulldown menu beneath its window. This way I can tell what I'm picking for a texture.
Materials Lab - Selecting texture
I like "Deep Blue." To okay this, hit the check mark button at bottom right, and again on the first Materials Lab screen.
Back on the main screen, I can see my upper left preview window has updated to show the new texture. Now I want some land interacting with the water. I click the Terrain creator two blocks over from the water one. Now I am given a basic mountainous shape. This object does have edges, as opposed to the infinite water plane.
Now I want to edit the dimensions and position of the land shape. There are two ways to do this. One way would be to click on the wireframe and drag it around the scene, checking the results in the preview window as I do, and then click one of its edge handles and drag it to the proportions I want (using Shift to keep the proportions locked).
However, I'd rather be a little more precise and use some of Bryce's interactive editing tools. Switching the menu from Create to Edit, I use the Reposition tool to raise the land mass vertically by clicking on the vertical arrow pole (it is highlighted by a cube as you do) and dragging my mouse right. Then, I resize it vertically as well by doing the same thing with the Resize tool. This method allows us to change certain XYZ aspects of the shape without affecting others.
The result of our previous steps is a tall, jagged mountainous form rising out from the water.
I realize that my terrain shape may be too close up to the surface of the water, so I decide to lower it a bit. To edit this form further, I could click the "E" box beneath the "M" and other small boxes to the right of its shape on the wireframe.
Instead, I decide to try it this way: On the Edit top menu, I click on the last tool -- the terrain editor.
Terrain Canvas Screen
This brings up the Terrain Canvas screen. Here we can manipulate the terrain form like painting on a surface. The center image is the top-down view of the elevation, and the 3D preview is to the upper right. The editing tools do various things by clicking on the bullet switches and dragging left or right to affect the terrain positively or negatively (in elevation terms.) You can experiment with many different effects, and as always, Command-Z will undo anything you don't like.
Terrain Canvas Screen
In this example, I use the brush tool in the center to "paint" a plateau on top of my mountain, and then adjust the Blob Maker and Mounds toggles to create a sloped cliff shape with smaller islets around it. When done, click the check mark.
This is personal preference, but I feel that the mountain looks a little too tall and unnatural, so I decide to resize it horizontally by option-clicking the X-dimension on the resize tool and stretching it. Now it feels more like a massive bit of rock and less like a sand castle. As always, I check my preview screen for the result.
Now I want something besides basic rock grey. So with the terrain still selected (the wireframe is red), I go to my Materials Lab again (remember, the "M" button or the first tool under the Edit menu bar) and select a new material map from the presets. I change the preview shape to Terrain in order to choose more easily. I like "Mediterranean Hills" under "Forested," but maybe that's just because I'm part Italian. Who knows? Tones of home, I guess.
Sky & Fog
Now I want a new sky. I click onto the Sky & Fog menu at the top, and open the preset menu with the small arrow to the immediate right of it. There's a lot to choose from here. Scroll down if you don't see what you like on the first set of options.
I like "Autumn Morning."
You may need to do some trial and error to see if you like what it does in the render preview screen. You won't get a real-time sample to your setting until you click the checkbox.
Sky & Fog
I want some more dramatic lighting, so I click inside the sun control sphere and drag it a bit to the lower left to increase shadows. You can move this all over the place to find a sun position you like. Move it too far one way and the sun "sets," giving you moonlight. I also drag inside the haze and cloud height boxes to find the atmospheric effect I like.
Camera trackball control
The camera trackball is a 3D control. The above arrows handle the X, Y and Z perspectives and the small marbles handle the angle of view and tilt of the camera. For dramatic effect, I often like to use a wider angle of view and then move closer in to the shape to give an illusion of size.
For a slightly different angle, I click the camera trackball control and swivel it so I'm looking from more of a water's-level perspective at the island, as if I were in a boat. I recommend you don't go too crazy with this control, however, or you'll find your viewpoint has swiveled to be completely underwater!
Play with this control until you find a viewpoint you like. Remember, the preview screen is how your final image will be cropped.
Selecting a camera angle
When I get a view I like, I like to save it as a preset camera angle by clicking one of the empty tic-tacs next to the preview. Because you can't undo a camera angle change, this can come in quite handy as you experiment with viewpoints. Clicking a saved one will bring you back to that angle and viewpoint. (Option-clicking will erase that saved viewpoint.)
Selecting a camera angle
Just for fun, clicking on the world map will toggle between camera angles directly to the 4 cardinal points of your scene, as well as directly above and below. It will always include your last camera angle as well.
Ok, let's make something of this simple scene. First, if you haven't done so already, save the file on your local drive. I name mine "Island_Mountain."
Rendering your file
Now, in order to really see what you've made, go to File > Render. Depending on the speed of your machine, your wireframe should render your image pass-by-pass within a few minutes or so.
This gives you an idea of what your final file will look like. If for some reason you don't like where it seems to be going, you can click to stop it at any time and resume editing.
I think this is pretty cool. A few simple shapes and textures gives a great effect, for very little effort. I'd like to save this as an image for posterity.
Rendering to disk
Go to File > Render to Disk and select your output size in pixels and resolution. The higher the output size/resolution, the longer it will take to render out. I'll keep it at its default settings of 1120x696 @72dpi. That's not print quality, but will look nice on screen. I choose to render out as a Photoshop TIFF.
Note: Bryce will take over your computer for the duration of the render, so this is a good time to go do something else you've been meaning to do, like learning how to make the perfect cosmopolitan or calling your mother. Come on, she'd love it.
And there's your final image. From here, I can do whatever with it. Not bad for a 3-ingredient image: water plane, terrain and sky.
We have barely touched on half of what Bryce can do, but this simple project has given us a good idea of how to begin. Bryce is basically a drag-and-drop interface with interactive menu tools that respond to dragging on them. You can be as nitpicky as you want with the details of light and camera angles, and besides sunlight, there are a lot of lighting effects that can be added as well.
With this introduction to the basic tools under our belt, we look forward to discovering the rest through experimentation.
The Right Tool for the Job?
Bryce 5.5 is what it is: a landscape and scenic modeler and basic 3D shape creator. While not offering any advanced CAD-style 3D creation or figurative animation capabilities, it is nonetheless a very effective tool for achieving attractive 3D scenery and well-lit environments. Its interface is quirky at times but easily learned, with a graphic-style interface and clearly-labeled buttons (if you know where to look for the label).
A great 3D program for curious beginners, Bryce also has features to attract seasoned 3D artists. If you're a Poser user or already a 3D artist, you can import preexisting forms into Bryce. This recent version features animation capabilities as well as many new preset textures. Of all the 3D programs I've tried, Bryce is one that allows me to create something attractive within minutes of starting it up, and yet has a lot to discover under the surface as well. For the price -- um, free -- you really can't go wrong with Bryce 5.5. A big thanks to Daz Productions for making it available on the Mac again. I can't wait to learn more about it myself. Bryce 5.5 is the Right Tool for the Job.