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MetaCreations' Bryce began its existence as a fun way to create both natural- and alien-looking 3-D landscapes, not as a serious application for creative professionals. But with its intuitive interface, powerful texture-generating functions, and ultrarealistic rendering capabilities, Bryce has become a useful tool for many 3-D pros while remaining approachable for hobbyists. Version 4 doesn't add any earth-shattering new features, but it does offer refinements that should please both groups of users.
If you've never known Bryce's charms, this 3-D rendering and animation program lets you create realistic?or surrealistic?landscapes with relatively little effort. Drop in a terrain, apply a stony texture, and choose a sky preset, and you can produce an eye-catching mountain scene within a few minutes. You can also set up keyframe animations in which objects move as a virtual camera flies through the landscape. It's all done within a well-conceived, if quirky, interface that does a good job of shielding novices from the program's underlying power.
This version's predecessor, Bryce 3D, represented a quantum leap over Bryce 2, adding animation functions and a faster rendering engine. Bryce 4 is a more evolutionary upgrade. Graphics pros will most appreciate Bryce's new import and export functions, especially the ability to import scenes and objects from NewTek's LightWave 3D. You can also bring in U.S. Geological Survey digital elevation files to re-create real-world terrains. And you can export textured Bryce terrains in a variety of popular 3-D formats (Bryce can export other models, but the method is a little cumbersome).
Perhaps the biggest addition to Bryce 4 is the new Sky Lab, which offers fine control over the sun, moon, and atmospheric elements (see Starry Night ). You can add star fields or comets; change the moon phase; and determine the appearance of clouds, fog, and haze. A preview window lets you see the effect quickly rendered within your scene or against a neutral background, and a timeline in the dialog box can animate sky movement.
Along with the new Sky Lab, Bryce 4 features several enhancements to the Terrain Editor, one of the program's longtime strengths. Via a pop-up menu, you choose from a variety of terrain styles, such as rolling hills and lava flows, to use as a basis for your own topologies. A helpful new tiling feature automatically removes seams between adjacent terrains. You can also apply Adobe Photoshop filters to terrain maps; the software ships with a selection of filters from MetaCreations' Kai's Power
Bryce's ray-tracing engine is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, it produces incredibly realistic imagery. On the downside, it can be painfully slow on an older Power Mac, although G3s handle the rendering process reasonably well. If you plan to do serious animation with Bryce, a G3 is a necessity: a 50-frame, 320-by-240-pixel QuickTime movie that rendered in 70 minutes on a Power Mac G3 took 9 hours on a 604e system.
Fortunately, Bryce offers several options to speed rendering. New in this version is a nifty rendering brush that lets you selectively render a scene by painting into it. It works much like a progressive JPEG image, spraying a pattern of dots until it has completely rendered the area. As with the rendering engine, it performs much better on a Power Mac G3 than on an older 604e system.
Also new is a timesaving nano-preview that lets you create quick versions of your animations at thumbnail size. In addition to showing the actual animation, the program displays each frame in a storyboard, so you can render scenes selectively. It would be nice if you could drop every nth frame to save time, but the preview is reasonably fast even on a 604e system.
Aside from the nano-preview, Bryce's keyframe animation features haven't changed from the previous version's. Setting up an animation is easy: you can have the program add keyframes as you move the camera and objects, or you can add the keyframes yourself. But there's also a lot of power here: you can animate almost any aspect of a camera's or object's movement, and edit the motion paths within the scene or in the program's Motion Lab.
Bryce's texture-generation features also remain unchanged from the previous version's, but that's nothing to complain about; the program has long had one of the most powerful texture generators of any 3-D software. You can choose from dozens of realistic preset textures, with lots of options for modifying the presets or creating new ones.
Bryce 3D, which added animation capabilities and a speedier rendering engine, was a huge advance over the previous version. Bryce 4 is a much more modest upgrade. Animators will appreciate the timesaving nano-preview, and 3-D pros will like the new import and export capabilities. But aside from the Sky Lab, there are no major additions here?just refinements to what was already a powerful and easy-to-use 3-D landscape generator.
RATING: PROS: Easy to use; powerful texture- and terrain-editing features; realistic ray-tracing engine. CONS: Slow rendering on older Power Macs. COMPANY: MetaCreations (800/472-9025, http://www.metacreations.com ). LIST PRICE: $249.
July 1999 page: 39