Bryce 5
at a Glance

Maker: Corel
Price: $299 for the full version, $149 upgrade
Trial version available? Yes
Platforms: Macintosh, Mac OS X and Windows
URL: http://www.corel.com

Overall Impression: For new users looking for software specifically designed for landscape/terrain modeling, Bryce is an excellent choice. There will be a workflow learning curve, as with virtually all 3D software, but once you learn where things are in the program, the creation of terrestrial features becomes a snap. For users of earlier versions of Bryce, the upgrade is definitely worth it for the wealth of new features you get.

Key Benefits: The benefits of using a dedicated system for the creation of 3D worlds is pretty self-evident. Bryce 5 takes the concept to the next level with valuable new and refined tools for getting the job done. The Light Lab and Tree Lab are brilliant additions to the program's features. And other enhancement's to the program's other workspaces, such as volume lighting and volume blending for both distance and altitude, bring Bryce squarely into the realm of professional 3D tools. The Sky Lab is highly customizable and allows for the creation of sophisticated atmospheric and astronomical features. And the Terrain Editor allows for easy modification of terrain features, such as erosion, spires, height, etc. Finally, network rendering is a critical and much appreciated addition to this program.

Disappointments: There are three negatives to Bryce 5, all related to workflow. First, the interface, while attractive, can easily get in the way. In many cases, you'll find that functions can be accessed only through little dots or icons not really related to the function they represent. I would like to see a customizable interface in the next update, including the ability to add nested functions to the main interface and the ability to add text labels to icons. Second, when you mouse over an icon in the main interface, explanatory text appears in the lower left corner of the screen; however, in subsections, such as the Motion Lab and Sky Lab, you get no indication whatsoever as to the function of a given button. Third, I would like some standard interface elements added in, such as the ability to move and resize windows, more functions accessible via menus, etc.

Recommendation: Strong Buy as both an upgrade and a straight purchase.

 

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REVIEW AUGUST 29, 2001
Corel Bryce 5
[Page 5 of 5]

Room for improvement
I've mentioned already several features that I think could be added in future updates of Bryce 5. These suggestions are not to detract at all from what the program can do right now; they just seem like features that could help the landscaping process along.

I have to say that in terms of disappointments, which I include in every review, Bryce offered very few. Rendering speed, of course, can always be improved. And more procedural objects could always be added. But for me the one thing that I think detracted from the experience of using Bryce was the interface. It's been improved, no doubt, but there's still room for more improvement.

In terms of appearance, the interface is actually quite nice. But in terms of function, in many cases, you'll find that functions can be accessed only through little dots or icons not really related to the function they represent. I would like to see a customizable interface in the next update, including the ability to add nested functions to the main interface and the ability to add text labels to icons.

Second, when you mouse over an icon in the main interface, explanatory text appears in the lower left corner of the screen; however, in subsections, such as the Motion Lab and Sky Lab, you get no indication whatsoever as to the function of a given button.

Third, I would like some standard interface elements added in, such as the ability to move and resize windows, more functions accessible via menus, etc.

I'm not saying that every interface should resemble Photoshop. Just that icons should be linked to function in a memorable and logical manner, that users should be able to make adjustments to the interface to make it work better for them and that in no case should interface design get in the way of the work.

The bottom line
Bryce is by no means the only dedicated landscaping tool on the market, but in its own right it has matured into an elegant tool for composing 3D landscapes and terrestrial, atmospheric and astronomical features. As I say, the interface will take some getting used to for those who are unfamiliar with Bryce, as, in my case, I would often find a feature after much searching, only to forget where I found it the next time I needed to access it. Nevertheless, the world of 3D is littered with highly stylized interfaces. If you can get used to any other 3D application's workflow, you can get used to Bryce.

As for the capabilities of the program, I have to give high marks. As it should be, the creation of hills, plains and bodies of water is simple but with enough customizability to allow you to be as creative as you want to be. Beyond simple terrestrial features, I also have to give high marks to all of the individual workspaces (Light Lab, Sky Lab, etc.) for their ease of use and sophistication. Animation is also very easy, with several automatic animation features (such as cloud movement), which can also be keyframed. In other words, you can set the rate of movement for clouds and then keyframe the rate of movement later in the timeline, all within the Sky Lab workspace.

Finally, the rendering features in version 5 have gained some great additions, particularly in the areas of depth of field and volume lighting and atmospheres. The network renderer is also a critical addition to this process for times when you need to render large, complex files with maximum ray tracing (256 rays per pixel), which can take an enormous amount of time to complete on a single machine. I really came into this review expecting not too terribly much from Bryce's rendering capabilities, figuring I'd focus more on the creation and editing tools. But, in the end, the renderer impressed me. It puts out some very nice looking images. The improvements to the quality of the renders have made the rendering engine a bit on the slow side, but hopefully this is a matter of optimization for a forthcoming update.

Corel has done a great job of taking Bryce to the next level in version 5 and bringing it further into the realm of professional 3D tools. Long-time Bryce users will appreciate all of the new features of the program, and new users should be delighted by the sophistication of this program. For those who need software for developing 3D worlds and animating them, I give Bryce 5 a strong buy recommendation.

Bryce 5 is available for Macintosh, Mac OS X and Windows for $299 for the full version, $149 for the upgrade. For more information, visit http://www.corel.com.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.
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