Product Review: Page (1) of 4 - 10/06/01 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

Corel Bryce 5 3D landscaping and animation suite

Available For Mac/Mac OS X and Windows By Dave Nagel
I haven't even looked at Bryce since version 1 or so, so when I got a hold of Bryce 5, I was, needless to say, pleasantly surprised. Bryce 5 is Corel's 3D landscaping, modeling, animation and rendering suite that the company acquired during the dissolution of Metacreations. As with an awful lot of tools originally developed by Metacreations, Bryce has achieved something of a cult status among users, along with Painter (which Corel also owns), Poser (now owned by Curious Labs) and Carrara (now owned by TGS). There's better reason for this now than ever, as we'll get to below, as well as more reason than ever for professional 3D artists to consider Bryce as an addition to their toolset.

First off, I should note that Bryce 5 is Corel's first Mac OS X-native application. However, I'm reviewing it under Mac OS 9.0.4 because, as with most applications running under OS X, there are still some limitations attributable to the OS itself that won't be worked out until the OS X 10.1 release due in September. These are chiefly related to OpenGL, but there are also some quirks in the OS X interface and device support that simply make working in OS 9 better for the time being. In OS X, this translates to slightly longer render times, which can create unnecessary problems for those working on multi-frame pieces, and a lack of support for some input devices, such as pressure-sensitive tablets.

All of this said, it should also be noted that Bryce 5 is Carbonized for OS X, meaning that you simply install the OS 9 version, which will then work natively in OS X as well without any further installation or hassles.

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


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.

At any rate, kudos to Corel for putting out an OS X version for what is right now a very limited subset of the Macintosh market. This is the kind of move that shows when a company's interested in serving the customer's needs, even customers in a small niche. It takes time and money to port applications to OS X, and it says a lot about a company that chooses to do so.

What it does
Bryce is a tool for creating terrestrial, atmospheric and astronomical features in 3D and rendering scenes either as still images or as QuickTime movies (including QuickTime VR). While it is possible to do some modeling with the primitives and new metaballs in Bryce 5, the program is geared much more heavily toward landscapes and seascapes than anything else. Ideally, the output from Bryce would be used for compositing with the output from another 3D package, and the program offers a number of masking options to make the process easier. It's also possible to export some (but not all) of Bryce's objects into popular 3D formats or import 3D objects into Bryce.

I see Bryce as a tremendous tool for creating mattes/backdrops for film or video work to be incorporated into either live action or animated pieces. I think it would be even better if it could be hosted from within other 3D packages (a la Poser) or gain better integration with other programs (as detailed below), but, as it stands, it's still quite a useful, professional-level tool.

Bryce 5's new interface
Now I already know what a lot of 3D artists out there are thinking. First, they're very attached to their 3D package. They've invested years of training to master it; no other tool can do what it can do; and they surely do not want to leave it to do a portion of a project in another application. Add to this the fact that Bryce is almost never the topic of interest in professional discussions, and they have lots of fuel for skepticism. These seem to be fairly common attitudes for 3D artists, but they're also very impractical and limiting views. If you're a little more open-minded, I suggest simply going to Corel's site and downloading the 30-day trial version. It's more than enough time to learn the basics of the program and give you enough information to tell you whether it will be useful for your needs. Couldn't hurt, right?

New and improved
Version 5.0 adds major new features and minor tweaks that make this a very worthy upgrade for users of previous versions. It would simply take too long to cover every feature of this program, but we'll take a look at some of the major functions and enhancements that appear in this latest release.

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Related Keywords:Bryce, Corel, rendering, landscape, 2D, 3D, animation, Quicktime

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