Bryce 2 graphics program sees 3-D picture, gives realistic look

A powerful, easy-to-use 3-D graphics program, it is equally good for architectural
backgrounds or low-level satellite fly-bys of an imaginary planet. Anyone can use it to do
photo-realistic terrain sculpting.


Although it's a Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT program, its interface is unlike
Windows. But it's easy to learn and use.


The interface idiosyncrasies come from its origin on the longtime leading desktop
graphics platform, the Apple Macintosh. But even the Mac version of Bryce shows some
deviations from the Apple standard.


Once you get used to the different interface, you see advantages. The colorful 3-D
icons convey more about what they do than the usual flat Windows palette. MetaTools packs
more features on-screen for instant access, leaving Windows room to do work.


What Bryce does best is generate landscapes that are so real that land, sky and water
elements resemble a lightly processed photograph rather than something you dreamed up at
the keyboard.


This package could be useful in any office that generates presentations with
landscapes. It can perform common graphics design tasks, create training programs and
simulations or liven up a World Wide Web site. Though not as precise as architectural
walk-through programs, it's less expensive, easier to learn and faster at producing final
results.


Its speed and ease help it make rough sketches of images to be rendered in high-end
computer-aided design or illustration packages. Also, the learning curve is a bit easier
than for programs such as Autodesk Inc.'s 3D Studio Pro.


You can forget the 8M RAM and 486DX machine that supposedly are minimum requirements
for this package. Don't install Bryce 2 on anything less than a fast Pentium loaded with
memory. It does, however, run on far less powerful platforms than high-end computer-aided
design and graphics packages.


You start from a stylized 3-D palette that has primitive object shapes, lighting,
clouds and terrain objects. There are many keyboard shortcuts, and advanced features
appear in the usual Windows menus.


First enter Create mode, select an icon such as terrain, then switch from Create to
Edit mode to edit the wire-frame objects in the work window. Once you've placed a few
objects and primitive shapes, adjust their sizes, apply as many as four textures at a
time, select lighting and camera motions, and render the scene. Rendering takes time, so
be patient.


Editing tools include materials options, resizing, rotation, positioning, alignment and
randomization.


One big improvement over the earlier version of Bryce is the variety of available light
sources instead of a single overhead sun.


You can create terrain by default using a fractal algorithm, and there's an erosion
algorithm that simulates wearing away by falling or running water. Play with the dozens of
filters, special effects and basic terrain editing such as slope noise and Gaussian edges.
For great results, import a grayscale image and apply terrain surfaces to it.


To speed rendering, go to the nano-preview mode, where an option-loaded preview window
renders quickly in a tiny space or renders just the bits of the scene you're working on.


Turn on the auto-update preview mode and see changes rendered in thumbnail almost as
fast as you can modify the main screen.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.


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