Digital Landscape Creation 4: Bryce 7 Pro

Dec 21, 2021 at 12:30 pm by -gToon


This is the fourth article in a series that will cover contemporary 3D landscape creation software. I’ll share my experiences with each one from installation to the final creation of a landscape scene. And, of course, links will be provided in every article. I hope to post every Tuesday of each week, although some applications will take longer than a week to learn and create with. You can read the introduction to the series here
 

Bryce 7 Pro

Bryce 7 Pro is probably the oldest application we'll be reviewing in this series. It was originally developed by Ken Musgrave (Mojo World) and Eric Venger for the Mac computer. Version 1 was released in 1994 as a fractal-based application that created mountain landscapes and coastlines. Bryce was named after Bryce Canyon, a gorgeous series of mountain landscapes in Utah. 
 
The program continued to be developed with improvements and additional features until it was sold in 2000 to the Corel Corporation. Corel released Bryce 5 in 2001, but this version was not well-received because of a price increase and slower rendering speeds. Corel sold Bryce to Daz 3D in 2004. Daz immediately began actively developing the software and released Bryce 6 in 2006 which included (for the first time) a Mac version of the software. Bryce 7 was released in 2010 with major updates and features. One update (7.1) was released the same year. Since 2010, there has been no further development of Bryce, although the application is still sold for $10 along with Bryce materials/objects/skies, etc., at the Daz 3D website. This final version of Bryce is the one we will be working with today. 
 
Note that the program is Windows-only at this point. There was a Mac version, but it has not been updated to the current version of the Mac IOS. 
The main interface of Bryce 7 Pro

VUE Workflow

Bryce has an unusual interface that appears to resemble that of Poser. There are six areas where the user interacts with the program; the viewport (or “working window”), the nano preview window, camera controls, viewport controls, the Create Palette, and render controls. There are other buttons on the interface for additional controls, but these six areas are the main controls. 
In addition to these controls, there are several “labs” that allow the user to refine specific parts of your scene. They are the Light lab, the Sky lab, the Materials lab, the Advanced motion lab, the Tree lab, and the Terrain editor. 
 
Although my description makes Bryce sound complicated it is not. The interface is intuitive and uncluttered. Using drop-down arrows and small tabs to the right of each object you add to your scene, you can drill down to surprisingly detailed panels which themselves are fairly easy to understand. I was able to get oriented in about half an hour to the interface and started on my first project with relative ease. 
 
Essentially, you choose elements/objects from the Create palette to populate your scene. You can start with a landscape, a primitive object, an infinite plane, trees, water, lights, and others. Upon selecting each object it is automatically added to the working window. You then adjust the properties of each object according to the scene you are building. Adjusting the view is easy with either keyboard shortcuts or arrow/balls to the left. There is a large render ball where you can quick render the scene (or stop it after a few passes) in order to check the look of your scene. 
The Materials Editor in Bryce 7 Pro
Bryce comes with a large number of materials, objects, trees, and skies. All of which are accessible either through the various labs or through small tabs that appear to the right of the object you select. 
 
A typical project might include a landscape that you edit to fit your scene requirements (very easy), materials added and adjusted, lighting (sun and/or specific types of lighting) which are also adjusted to fit your scene requirements. Bryce allows for all kinds of randomization in landscape, foliage, skies, and objects. The final part of a typical project could be focused on detailed lighting, environmental and rendering adjustments until the scene looks its best. 
 
Exporting from Bryce is very easy. It has a built-in interaction with DAZ Studio so you can import Bryce scenes into DAZ and vice versa. Multiple file export formats are supported including .fbx, .obj, Autocad, Lightwave. There is a complete list on the Bryce support page on the DAZ websiteDAZ also has a huge manual for Bryce 7 Pro which you can find here. It is very well-written and in a pdf format which you can run in a browser and search for topics as you need them. 
 
Unfortunately, most Bryce 7.1 tutorials are quite dated. I enjoyed tutorials by David Brinnen on YouTube, but they are 8 years old. Renderosity has a great collection of tutorials and a huge cache of free materials and objects on their Bryce page

Bryce 7 Pro Results

I had a lot of fun creating a spooky tree scene based on a David Brinnen tutorial. Essentially, you add a tree and then duplicate (random) by a factor of say 20. Then adjust the tree’s height so that the roots don’t show. Then you remove all of the leaves from the tree in the tree edit-mode and add a black material (coal or lava rocks) to them so that they look blasted and dark. 
Fog volume around the trees in spooky trees scene
Next, you remove all of the default lighting from the scene in the Sky Lab so that the scene is totally black. We now add a light source and place it behind the trees at a low angle. Clicking the edit dot next to the light lets you adjust the light properties to be essentially white. At this point, we create a fog material by using a sphere object, changing the material to a volume material, and then adjusting the properties (low render quality for speed). 
 
Now we start refining the scene by carefully adjusting the properties of the fog and the light along with adjusting the camera angle to get the best shadows. I ended up duplicating several trees and deleting others to get the right arrangement. I had several crashes during my hour-long effort to create this scene. I realized that you have to save your work every five minutes or so. It’s a shame that there isn’t an auto-save function. Most of the crashes came while manipulating the trees, so I wonder if it’s a ram-related issue. I have 32GB of ram in my windows 10 machine, so the problem is with Bryce. 
 
My last step was to go into the render quality and up it to a high amount so that the scene would be finely rendered. Bryce has a built-in render which is pretty good. There are several render passes and then a final anti-aliasing pass before the scene is done. My render took about 5 minutes on a medium-level AMD GPU. The results are below: 
Final Render of Spooky Tree scene in Bryce 7 Pro
Final render of spooky tree scene in Bryce 7 Pro

Final Thoughts

My simple scene in Bryce is only a fraction of what the program can do. In its time, Bryce was a popular and capable digital landscape creator with a very wide range of possible scenes. Not only can you create landscapes, seascapes, graphics and animations, but there is even the ability to create scenes set in outer space or abstract renders. For an idea of some of the possibilities, check out the Bryce gallery at Renderosity.com. 
 
I really like working with Bryce 7 Pro. It is cheap and easy to use. There are tons of free materials and objects (see links below) and although tutorials are old, they are still quite useful. The problem with Bryce is that too many other programs have emerged which are more contemporary and allow for better rendering. Blender is a free, open-source 3D application that can do everything Bryce does and more. Blender’s EEVEE real-time renderer is based on open-source NVIDIA graphics that DAZ uses, but Bryce doesn’t. Bryce could be a very popular program if it were updated, but as it is there are bugs, moderate rendering quality, and an outdated interface that keep the program frozen in time. I’m glad DAZ makes it available, but wouldn’t it be great if someone purchased the program and then made it open-source? Community-driven coding would bring Bryce into the 21st century and perhaps build an entirely new user base. 
 
As it is, Bryce 7 Pro is a fun and interesting program to use, but I don’t know if I’ll be coming back to it since there are so many better programs available. 
 

Next: Digital Landscape Creation 4: TERRAGEN

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