Review: Bryce 5

Bryce has long been a staple of Mac-using digital artists (November 13th, 2001)

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Product Manufacturer: Corel

Price: $300.00

The Good

  • Comprehensive texture/object set, innovative interface, speedy rendering engine.

The Bad

  • Interferes with Finder, weakened deep texture editor, stability problems.

Bryce has long been a staple of Mac-using digital artists. The once Mac-only tool has long provided a comprehensive feature set for rendering nature scenes and other still-life settings that are unmatched in similarly priced 3D modelers. With its latest release, and now under the ownership of Corel, Bryce 5 gains some solid new functionality, but neglects some of its most attractive older capabilities.

Interface

Corel, unlike some other large software developers, decided to retain the ground breaking interface in Bryce when it acquired the application (along with several others) from MetaCreations. The interface used by Bryce may require a sharper learning curve than applications with a standard Aqua-look, but provides a combination of form and function. Icons pulse and display information when the mouse cursor is held over them, organized panes pop up for special features, and the entire application essentially is contained within a single window.

For advanced users, the tight interface can shave serious time from a project's completion time. However, for novice users, the completely non-Mac (and non-Windows for that matter) style, and lack of detailed labels can impose difficulty. In addition, Bryce 5's interface hogs the entire screen with a black backdrop that hides the Finder and can cause some glitches in other applications.

One sorely needed feature that has finally been incorporated into Bryce 5 is a "recently used files" menu that allows access to recently opened projects.

Documentation

Bryce 5 is a fairly complex application for users who want to exploit all of its functionality. As such, it comes as no surprise that the application comes bundled with a rather hefty user manual. The guide provides an excellent explanation of the interface, which is a necessity for newcomers. However, it also provides details on virtually every lab, editor, and preference panel included in Bryce 5, as well as a section on using the tool in conjunction with other applications.

Corel has also included a "Links" menu in Bryce 5 that includes reference to a half-dozen pertinent Web sites, and can be customized to include other sites.

New Features

With its latest release, Bryce gains a feature that 3D artists have been yearning for quite some time: network rendering. Dubbed "render farming," the clustering capabilities included with Bryce 5 allow users to spread a rendering task across numerous systems, significantly accelerating the process. The function can be used either over a LAN (local area network) or across the Internet. In addition, Bryce's implementation of network rendering is platform independent, so both Mac and Windows users can devote processing power to the same task. Tile rendering, where separate systems each render a portion of a single image, can also be used.

Bryce's already amazing lab set gets a powerful addition in version 5. The Tree Lab automatically generates a tree-like shape, which can then be modified according to branch density, leaf density, coloration, and tree species. The Tree Lab even generates a complex network of roots for each model.

Meanwhile, the Light Lab has received a complete overhaul. The lab now essentially consolidates all of the lighting elements that were previously scattered throughout the application. However, some advanced users may find that the compressed new lab offers less control over some lighting aspects than previous releases.

Unfortunately, one of the most powerful tools in Bryce 5 has been slightly crippled in the new release. The deep texture editor, which allows users to blend a series of patterns into a complex texture, has been reduced a simple set of controls that deny the creative options available in previous releases. In return, Corel offers a "Metaballs" feature which purportedly allows users to create organic looking shapes that need less texturing. Most advanced digital artists, however, would likely prefer the older, more complex system for generating textures.

As part of Corel's increasing attempt to appeal to novice 3D designers, Bryce 5 includes a sundry of presets that include already generated skies, objects, land maps, and other elements of a scene.

Compatibility

Bryce 5 now includes support for a host of image formats, including USGS digital elevation data files, TrueSpace, VideoScape, DirectX 3d, LightWave, and VistaPro. Bryce 5 also supports all Photoshop plug-ins, including KPT (also a former MetaCreations property). Lacking, however, is 2D image support, which is limited to about a six formats.

An export lab allows users to convert Bryce terrains into mesh objects, so they can be used by other 3D applications. Users can further customize objects in the export process, for a more aesthetically pleasing result when projects are opened in other applications. Among the export formats in Bryce 5 are Ray Dream Studio, AutoCAD, MetaStream, Wavefront, LightWave, and Infini-D.

Bryce 5 offers functionality and attention to detail unrivaled in its price range. Despite a few stability mishaps and back-tracking on some oft-used functions, the new release is a worthy upgrade and includes new features that will certainly entice current Bryce users. A trial version of the application is available from Corel's Web site.

by Ben Wilson


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