Bryce 5.5

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Nov - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Nov - 2007
Bryce 5.5

Creating 3D imagery wasn’t easy, we thought—until we discovered a  software called Bryce

Rendering 3D images is a wonderful and addictive passion as well as an attractive career option. But some people—for example, graphic artists—are actually afraid of 3D rendering software, and their fears are well-founded many a time; seldom will you find a software that’s easy to learn and master. Here, we’ll introduce you to one software that is!

Bryce 5.5 is a 3D illustration and rendering software available for free download (122 MB) from (You’ll also find it on our August 2007 DVD.) You’ll need to create an account at the site to procure your free serial code.

The beauty of Bryce is the ease with which you can create breathtakingly realistic 3D landscapes and animations using a drag-and-drop interface on a “real-time canvas” (meaning you can alter the position and shape, and even replace objects in the scene any time you want). All this in an intuitive manner, in a matter of minutes. You design a scene in 3D within Bryce, then Bryce takes the 3D information and figures how it would look in 2D (with shading and all) so when you render it, it looks like a painting with a 3D effect.

Let’s look at how handy this tool really is.

Easy-to-use GUI Toolbars

You’ll see three types of toolbars: one for creating objects, one for editing them, and one for editing the environment (“Sky & Fog”). There is also a camera control section that allows you to change the camera angle or your view of the scene (refer image below). The mountain in the image—with the objects around it—changes your camera view to top, then front, left, right, back, and underneath. Clicking on the small ring at the upper right corner gives you a “flyaround” preview of your creation, meaning you can look at the whole scene at once. You can either move the camera angle on any of the three axes by clicking and dragging on the flat arrows, or you can move all three at once with the trackball—though this is a bit harder in terms of ease of control. Just below the trackball are the render options, with the render button at the centre. The rest of the options allow you to do such things as turning textures on and off while rendering, doing a quick preview render, resuming rendering, and clearing a render.

At the very top of the screenshot alongside (Camera controls and Nano Preview) is the Nano Preview window, which gives you a preview, in quick thumbnail size render form, of your creation. This saves time because full-screen rendering takes much longer. You can save camera angles by clicking on the little buttons to the left of the window.  The top button gives you the default camera angle.

The Create Toolbar

The Create Toolbar is the one which you will be using the most while using this software. The first three of these icons represent infinite planes; the blue one is water, the white one is clouds, and the last is a ground plane.

Next is the mountain, which allows you to create random mountains, and there’s a tool that allows you to edit almost everything about the mountain. Similarly, there is the random rock, symmetrical lattice, and a multitude of objects (in blue) that can be placed in the manipulation field (the 3D canvas). The last group of objects (in yellow) are the light sources; these let you place spotlights, radial light sources, parallel lights, etc. and decide their directions to illuminate the scene. Clicking on the icons places them in the manipulation field.

As you probably know, proper lighting can make all the difference between just another illustration and a masterpiece.

The Edit Toolbar

This toolbar allows you to edit the objects you just created. The tool on the far left is the material editor, which opens up a window where you can choose from or create custom textures for your objects.

Next is the stretch tool, which allows, as the name suggests, to stretch objects on the three axes. This can also be used to mirror objects. The rotation tool and the move tool are obvious. The align tool that comes next lets you line up all your objects in reference to one thing or another. Next is the randomise tool, which sends your objects scurrying in random directions… Last comes the terrain editor tool, which brings up different edit windows for rocks, mountains, light sources, and more. You can also edit objects in the manipulation window using the mouse.

The Sky & Fog Toolbar

This toolbar allows you to create custom skies and atmospheres for your scene. Each of the controls has a slider using which image attributes can be controlled.

The control on the far left selects the sky mode and sky colour.  The second control selects shadows and ambient colour. The third modifies haze amount and colour, and the fourth modifies fog and fog colour. Experiment with the others…

The next tool is the cloud frequency, which is used to randomly place clouds in the scene. By clicking and dragging your mouse over this field, you can alter the position of the sun. Clicking on the small sphere at the top left of this sphere will toggle the sun to night mode; clicking on the small rectangle at the bottom left of the sphere will let you choose the colour of the sun.

Quick Menus For Presets

Each of the toolbars we’ve talked about has quick menus that can be accessed by clicking on the small triangle at the right (of Create, Edit, as well as Sky & Fog). You can access preset objects in here, or you can save your custom creations for later use. This makes sets of theme scenes easier to create. For example, say you’ve created a decent model of a car. Instead of saving the scene and repositioning it for every subsequent picture with the car, you could just save the object group under the user section of the quick create window, and place it in your scene in a jiffy.

Next is the much-used quick menu for the Edit toolbar, which again lets you choose from a selection of preset textures and materials. Again, you can also save user-created presets here.

Finally, the quick menu for the Sky & Fog toolbar lets you create and save custom skies. You may not feel the need to make your own skies, but we recommend that you do, because all the preset skies leave the scene shrouded in black—since the clouds block out the sun! If you create it from scratch, you can let the sun shine through.

The Animation Tool

Bryce comes with a complete animation tool. The animation is controlled by means of a small toolbar at the bottom right of the window. Select File > Animation Setup, and specify the duration of the animation as well as the frames per second. To animate a scene, first create the first one (using the composite image you’ve created) with the slider at the 00.00 position. Now make the animation toolbar completely visible by clicking on the Time / Selection Palette Toggle (the small sphere at the extreme bottom right of the window). Then click the little Plus beside the icon that looks like a key. Next move the slider forward to a desired time in the animation (the measurement is in seconds). Then change the location, shape, and texture of objects in the first scene.
When you press Play, the objects will get animated. The results are similar to a 3D morph. (You can also curve the objects’ paths.) That’s how you make animations in shape and position, but if you want to animate the material of the object, there is the material editor.

Select Objects > Edit Material to open the Materials Lab. Here, you can change aspects of the object’s texture such as ambience, specularity, bumpiness, transparency, reflection, refraction, and more, and wrap textures around them. You will notice the familiar animation control at the bottom of the window, and it can be used in the same way as before. You can change the texture according to the time slider and click the Plus icon beside the key icon to add a key event. When you render this animation, the texture will change scene by scene according to what you’ve done in the animation.

Work better with Bryce Texture Presets

Since textures are the basic building blocks of materials, it would have been great to have a preset menu for textures, like you have for materials. Well, it is there, but hidden. To access it, instead of simply clicking to get the texture list pop-up, hold down the [Shift] key while clicking on the texture name or the button beneath it. Now you can view the graphical texture presets dialog, which not only allows you easily select textures, but also lets you import and export textures.

Precise Placement Of The Sun and/or Moon

If you would like to place the sun and/or the moon at a precise location in the picture, you can do it this way: first select the Sky&Fog Palette, hold down [Ctrl] [Alt], and double-click on the sky sphere. This is to switch to the sun/moon placement mode. Hold down [Ctrl] [Alt] and click into the scene to place the sun at the cursor position. To place the moon at the cursor position, hold down [Ctrl] [Alt] [Shift].

Negative Lights (Virtual Black Holes)

In Bryce, light can have a negative value in the Light Editor. So while the upper limit for this is 999 (very bright light), the lower limit is -999. In the latter case, the source will suck the surroundings, creating an eerie, unreal effect. As you might have guessed, the shadows casted in this case will be bright. Give it a try—amazement guaranteed!

It’s Good Fun

Bryce 5.5 is a great 3D illustration and rendering program, we think, and is equally useful for the beginner as well as the expert graphics artist. While it does not offer advanced CAD-style 3D creation or figurative animation capabilities, it is an effective tool for achieving attractive 3D scenery and well-lit environments.

Go ahead, create a stunning landscape, put it up as your wallpaper, but don’t submit it to wallpaper sites. It’s yours!

Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.