AUGUST 29, 2001
Room for improvement
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.
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.