Do you dream of
creating realistic or fantasy landscapes, tropical beaches and beautiful sunset skies?
Add ray tracing to light the results, CAD functionality to create geometric objects,
bring it all to life with animation and you have the main functions of the singular
application that is Bryce.
Bryce, a ray-tracing 3D modeling application, had its foundations in a set of algorithms
for generating realistic fractal landscapes. These were developed by Ken Musgrave,
a student of Benoit Mandelbrot, the mathematician who discovered and popularized
fractal mathematics. The algorithms were developed into the original Bryce for the
Mac platform in 1994 by Eric Wenger and Kai Krause. Bryce passed from one company
to another and eventually languished undeveloped for some years. Lately it has been
rescued from oblivion by DAZ 3D, who with version 5.5, have made it capable of importing
human and animal figures and other models from DAZ Studio and Poser.
You can buy a boxed or download version of Bryce from DAZ 3D. To do so, you have to set up a free
account on their website. Once you have your account in place you have a set time
and number of attempts to download the software. There was no license code enforcement
with Bryce 5.5, which is the topic of this review. However, license code enforcement
has been introduced with Bryce 6.0.
Along with Bryce you get Bryce Lightning, which you are free to install on any machine,
allowing you to divide lengthy renders amongst available computers. You also get
the free application DAZ Studio which can pose and clothe models you obtain from
- Mac OS X 10.2 or
- 500 MHz Power Macintosh
G3, G4, or G5
- 256MB RAM
- 100MB free hard drive
space for installation (500 MB recommended)
- 32 bit color display
- CD-ROM drive
- Open GL- compatible
video card (NVIDIA GeForce recommended)
- NOTE: A graphics
card with at least 128MB onboard RAM is highly recommended
- 1GHz iMac G4
- Mac OS X 10.4.8
- 1GB RAM
- 80 GB hard disk
Bryce 5.5 was offered
in high and low bandwidth download versions for $99.95 as well as a slightly more
expensive boxed version. Additionally, there was a 3D starter bundle of Bryce 5.5
with DAZ Studio content including a male and female figure, a cat, a dog and a dragon
for $109.95. The DAZ Studio application comes free with Bryce under a "tellware"
agreement - free to download as long as you tell at least 2 other people about it.
Recently Bryce 6.0 has been released for $99.95 with upgrades from Bryce 5.0 or 5.5
costing $39.95. Extra content packages are also available for Bryce 6.0. Note that
Bryce 6.0 is not universal (likely to run slow on Intel Macs).
When you install
the Bryce package, DAZ studio is also installed.
If you switch to your administrator account to install Bryce, you will end up with
Bryce 5.5 and DAZ Studio folders where you expect them to be in your system Application
folder. Unfortunately, Bryce will then (at best) be unable to save from your normal
user accounts and DAZ Studio will not even be accessible from your user accounts.
The default location for all Bryce files will be the Bryce 5.5 folder in system Applications
and all DAZ Studio models will have to be placed in a folder named "content"
in the DAZ Studio folder in system Applications.
On the other hand, if you do the installation from a user account, then the Bryce
5.5 and DAZ Studio folders and the default content locations will end up in folders
in that user's Application folder, accessible to that user without issue, but to
no other user.
This is an abject failure to follow Apple's standards for locations of files and
data within the Mac OS X system, and the non-standard installation leads to problems
later. For example, once I'd been using DAZ Studio for a while and amassed a collection
of DAZ Studio models, along came an update to DAZ Studio. Upon trying to install
it, I was warned to uninstall the old one first. There are no uninstall instructions
or uninstall utilities. Simply throwing away the DAZ Studio folder isn't an option
as that will result in deletion of all the models in the content folder within.
Bryce creates a mystifying first impression by displaying a window with strangely
tactile unlabeled controls and no obvious menu. If you are adventurous, you may get
some distance by simply getting a feel for the controls, especially once you notice
the tool tips which are always in the bottom left of your display. You may also discover
that there is indeed a regular Mac OS X menu which appears if you move the mouse
to the very top pixel of your display. Here you will discover the help option that
leads you to the manual - over 500 pages of clearly written and thoroughly hyperlinked
PDF. You can keep it open and consult it by command-tabbing to it as you work, learning
about the user interface and what all those mysterious pearls, arrows and trackballs
As you learn to create more complex scenes, you will discover the pain of 3D modeling
with today's computers - waiting for interminable rendering operations to complete.
Bryce has a lot of tricks to help you. For example, as you work, you may be trying
to perfect one small area of your picture rather than the whole; if you drag over
the area to create a rectangle, you can render it on its own, and make whatever corrections
may be necessary before spending time on the final render.
Bryce's core capability is to create realistic landscapes. Below is a screen shot
of the Bryce window. Under the Create menu at the top of the window, there are icons
which you click once to create an infinite plain (water, cloud or land), procedural
object (terrain, tree, rock, symmetrical lattice), primitive object (sphere, cone,
torus, cube etc) image, light or DAZ Studio object. The screen shot shows a terrain,
the object which forms the land in a landscape.
Bryce 5.5 Main Window
One click on the Render button (the biggest pearl in the necklace under the trackball)
results in this view:
Bryce Render View
It's not very realistic yet, but only a few steps are needed to make an interesting
scene: resize, edit the terrain, set the sun angle and select materials.
Bryce terrains are more convincing if they are bigger and more distant - dragging
the position and size of the terrain results in this view when rendered:
Larger Terrains render more realistic
The terrain is too rough, so use Terrain editor; this tool applies a variety of algorithms
to shape the terrain. You can also import images to form the basis of your terrain
or import USGS DEM files of real places to make realistic landscapes.
Bryce Terrain Editor
Erosion makes the landscape look more natural:
Bryce Erosion Tool
Now choose a material
for the terrain:
Bryce Materials Lab
Adding Snow to the Terrain
This material creates snow on flatter areas and rock in steeper areas. Obviously,
the infinite plain should be given the same texture. Next, switch to top view and
select the Sky and Fog palette.
Sky and Fog Tool
The red mesh is the
snowy terrain. At its top left corner you can see a smaller gray mesh which is the
infinite plain (it only becomes infinite when rendered) and you can also see a little
blue triangle - the camera. The gray triangle emanating from it is the field of view.
In the top menu there is a trackball with a lit area bottom right. This trackball
sets the sun angle and the net result of its present position with respect to the
camera is that the sun is behind the mountain, throwing it into shade. Drag the trackball
to a position a little to the south side of the camera angle to create interesting
shadows rather than flat light:
Resulting Snowy Mountain
So, just a few clicks
create pleasant landscapes with the terrain editor, infinite plains, the materials
lab and the Sky and Fog menu. There is also a Sky Lab which gives more precise control
over atmospheric conditions and the light in your scene - including day and night,
sun, moon, stars and rainbows.
Bryce 3D modeling
Here are some of the primitive objects you can make in Bryce.
Bryce Primitive Objects
Metaballs are spheres
which grow together when rendered. On the left, two metaballs flow together in a
chrome dumbbell. Next we have a malachite cone which is reflected in a pitted gold
sphere. Finally a blue marble cube is also reflected in the sphere.
The Edit menu gives you an alternative to direct manipulation for positioning, stretching
and sizing the objects you create. Direct manipulation is not always the easiest
thing to do for a variety of reasons - your current view may not let you drag in
a particular direction, you may have multiple overlapping objects or you may be confounded
by the odd behavior of the resize handles. If any of these happen, the Edit menu
will come to your rescue. I liked the way a particular menu can let you easily choose
between growing an object out from the center or leaving one side at its current
position and growing the opposite side.
As well as the primitive objects shown above, the easily overlooked object preset
menu provides more complex ready-made objects such as springs, polygonal prisms,
polyhedrons, trees, vegetation and mountains. Unfortunately, Bryce does not seem
to have functions for making a 3D object by extruding or rotating a 2D shape.
Once you have created an object, a tiny menu appears beside it when it's selected.
Here you will find controls for editing it in various ways. You can edit its name,
position, size and orientation numerically. You can select a material for your object,
and for a terrain, you can edit the elevation using the terrain editor. You can define
an object to be made out of negative material which will be subtracted from an object
you define to be positive when you group the two together.
For example, this goblet was made from an elongated sphere which had another slightly
smaller version of itself subtracted from its inside and then had another negative
object positioned on top to cut off the top of the sphere. The stem is a cylinder
and a cone. I selected emerald for the material and Bryce looked after all the reflections
and the light passing through the goblet.
Creating a Goblet
The Bryce application has a normal Mac OS menu at the top of the window, but it is
normally hidden. To view it you have to get your mouse to the very top pixel of the
display and wait a second or two. The menu has controls for setting up your Bryce
document, setting up animation, accessing the edit controls and help.
Bryce has several "Labs" which are editing windows for more precise control
of the objects in the scene. For example, there is a Sky Lab in addition to the Sky
and Fog controls, there is a Tree Lab which you can use to design your own trees,
and there's a Motion Lab. Other editing windows aren't called Labs but are still
complex, most notoriously the Deep Texture Editor which lets you design the structure
Bryce Tree Lab
Usability and Bryce
Bryce's many treasures are reached via a user interface that is simply unlike anything
else. Its original designer, Kai Krause, aimed to make user interfaces that hid complexity
from the user and encouraged creativity by avoiding text and numeric data entry -
laudable goals. He introduced user interface concepts such as shadows and transparency
which are now commonplace but were then revolutionary. Since Bryce was originally
designed, user interface standards in Mac and Windows have settled down and solidified,
usability principles have become better understood and newcomers to Bryce may have
difficulty adapting to its non-standard interface.
Another problem for newcomers could be that what Bryce can do is so far removed from
anything else you may have done before. Scrolling around in a 2D document doesn't
prepare you for moving your position, direction of view and angle of view in 4D spacetime.
Developing a Powerpoint presentation doesn't build the experience and understanding
you need of optics to create a material in Bryce. Working with spreadsheets all day
won't teach you the fractal geometry that underlies terrain creation. On the other
hand, if you're experienced in photography and/or video, then some of your skills
will find new application in Bryce. You won't just position your camera and lights;
you will define the position of sun or moon and create the weather conditions you
need for your perfect landscape view.
However, I do have some observations about Bryce's usability in terms of the time
it takes to do things and avoid errors:
- Bryce has direct
manipulation but it doesn't work intuitively. You drag a grow handle right to increase
size and left to decrease - even when you are increasing or decreasing the vertical
dimension of an object. Sometimes it's easier to break down and type size, position
and rotation numbers into the edit window for an object.
- Some important features
are not readily discoverable without resorting to the manual. These include holding
down various keys while you click and drag on buttons to have different effects.
It would be ok to provide these methods as short cuts if there were more long-winded
but visible means of achieving the same end.
- Some important controls
are tiny - one appears to be about 2 pixels on a side. Fitt's law states that the
time a user takes to click on a target is longer the smaller and further away the
target is. There are some very small and far away targets in Bryce, especially as
it insists on totally filling up your display no matter how large or small an image
you are working on.
- Some important controls
have icons that appear to be meaningless. There are tool tips which explain what
icons are when you hover the mouse over them, but the tool tips are in a fixed location
on the display rather than at the mouse pointer location.
- As mentioned above,
Bryce completely fills your display including the menu bar, whether or not it's necessary
for the size of your Bryce view. To see the menu you have to go to the very top pixel
of your display. To use another application you have to use command-tab.
My main conceptual
difficulty with Bryce is at a more strategic level, and it's one that in all my reading
I haven't seen anyone write about - Bryce only works in fictitious distance units.
When you create an object in Bryce, it is typically sized at 20.48 of these units
per side. Why? In Bryce you manipulate transparent objects such as glass, gems and
infinite planes of water and clouds. You know from experience that a glass of sea
water is clear enough but 60 feet of sea water isn't. So how does distance affect
the transparency of materials in Bryce? Bryce evades the issue somewhat by allowing
you to use surface rather than volume textures, so that the transparency is determined
by the choice of material rather than the size of the object. All the same, I often
find the sea in my models too transparent, and making realistic fog takes a delicacy
of touch that is not developed overnight.
A Total Gym for your imagination
Bryce stretches your mental muscles by leading you to think of new ways to construct
objects, and new combinations of textures and materials.
Want to make a 4-legged table? The pedestrian method would be to make 5 cubes, reshape
one into a tabletop and the other 4 into legs and put them together. But how about
making one cube and subtracting a couple of bricks from it?
Water textures not wavy enough? How about taking a rough fractal terrain and making
it out of water instead of rock?
Want wispy fog in your picture? Make giant footballs and put wispy foggy textures
on their surfaces.
Want to model a viewpoint half above and half under water? Make a box out of negative
material, place your camera inside it and sink it into the water.
Want an abstract picture? Make a sphere out of wavy glass, put your camera at the
center of the sphere and look out.
The link to DAZ Studio
It's hard to imagine how this could be easier. Click the big DAZ Studio button in
Bryce to fire up DAZ Studio. Choose, pose and clothe your model in DAZ Studio. Click
the big Bryce button in DAZ Studio to return to Bryce. Here's the cat from the DAZ
starter bundle, in one of several available poses and clothed in the sole available
option, gray tabby.
DAZ Model incorporated into Bryce from DAZ Studio
The only issue here
as far as Bryce is concerned is that when you return to Bryce, your DAZ Studio model
will be placed at the center of your model and selected, but may be half underground
or inside another object so you may not be able to move it directly with the mouse.
You will have to position and orient it as you want and size it to suit the scale
of your Bryce model.
DAZ Studio is, of course, a separate application with a totally different user interface.
Just about everything you do in Bryce can be animated and rendered as a Quicktime
movie. For example, you can keep your camera still and animate the objects in your
scene; you can animate the sky conditions and position of the sun and moon; and you
can move your camera through your scene instead of or in addition to animating objects
Although it was daunting to get started with animation, it's actually pretty easy
to do - just set up how long you want the animation to be in seconds, how many frames
a second and then move the cursor on the timeline and change object position, camera
position, weather conditions. The one pitfall is that if you change some aspect of
your scene when the timeline cursor is not at the start of the animation then your
scene will change unexpectedly in the middle of your movie. Animations can take many
hours to render but Bryce makes it easy to change the number of frames per second
and the size of each frame temporarily for a rough render and increase these back
to normal later once you think you're ready for the final render.
I have used Bryce for creating several animations now, including the MacSurvivor
contest animation that was featured in my "Seven Days with Bryce" article.
I found that a more complex model (with a couple of DAZ tarantulas and webs) began
to be difficult to load if I had any other applications running at the time of loading.
I had to quit the applications, load the model and then Bryce didn't mind at all
how many applications started up afterwards. There is a way to make Bryce crash instantly
too - move one of your models to a different folder and then try to open it from
the recently opened items list and Bryce will blink out of existence instantly.
Apart from those issues, Bryce appears to be stable and happy to run under Tiger.
The Bryce manual is a well structured, indexed and hyperlinked PDF which you can
read online while you work with Bryce. All the same, a manual tells you what the
software does, which may not align with your hopes and dreams as a designer. Once
I had read the manual in some detail, I still found Robin Wood's tutorials comprehensive and useful.
The DAZ 3D site also has tutorials as well as a weekly newsletter with special offers
and occasional free models.
Bryce has its own Wikipedia page from which you will find links
to many more Bryce tutorials and other sites of interest.
If you are new to fractal geometry, try the Wikipedia Fractal page and look out for books by
Benoit Mandelbrot, Michael Barnsley, Heinz-Otto Peitgen and Dietmar Saupe.
If you would like to discover how simple algorithms govern the complex designs of
plants, check out the Algorithmic Botany papers. From there you can download
the wonderful geek coffee table book "The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants" for free.
Bryce, a ray-tracing 3D modeling application, is a Total Gym for your imagination,
and brings anything you can imagine to virtual life. Suppose you were a rose expert
and somebody gave you a strange plant and told you it came from Mars? Suppose you
were a family doctor and somebody brought a Vulcan to your dinner party? Well, as
a usability engineer, I find getting to know Bryce has the same compelling fascination
of applying professional knowledge to something all but utterly alien. For people
who are used to the Mac or Windows user interface however, Bryce may well be a case
of "Life, Jim, but not as we know it." Take heart - the learning curve
can be ascended and you will be rewarded every time you look at a stone wall, a tree,
a cloud or a sunset, and your newly toned imagination leaps into overdrive figuring
out how it could be done in Bryce.
Bryce has its share of user interface issues, and even a few bugs, but for what it
does, it does it amazingly well. I highly recommend Bryce for any Mac creative artist
- Handles terrains,
weather, textures, light and basic CAD
- Numeric as well as
mouse entry for parameters
- Animation for objects
- DAZ 3d models can
- Time intensive rendering
can be divided amongst multiple computers
- Installation under
admin account gives unusable installation for user accounts
- Content files by
default go in application folders
- No CAD extrusion
and rotation functions
- User interface quirks
- No real distance
4 out of 5 Mice