Bryce is one of the big names in 3D
as it pioneered the whole field of naturalistic scenery generation. And its long history has enabled Bryce to build up some impressive power with dedicated terrain, atmosphere and tree handling along with animation support and network rendering. However its dated and idiosyncratic interface has always kept Bryce from reaching the audience it deserves and it looked as if Corel had allowed the legend to die. The good news is that 3D content provider DAZ has taken up the challenge of developing Bryce while Eovia is handling distribution. So is Bryce back with a bang?
When you first load the program there's little new that strikes you but begin working on a project and you'll soon appreciate the new OpenGL-based display modes, especially the support for onscreen low-resolution texture maps. For final output quality you still need to render and with Bryce's scenes often involving millions of polygons and billions of rays this is inevitably a major operation. It still is with Bryce 5.5, but DAZ claims that rendering optimizations cut down average rendering times by around a third. Even more useful is the ability to minimize Bryce when rendering so that you can get on with other work. Alternatively, if you're on a network, you can take advantage of Lightning 2, a new release of Bryce's network renderer that can be installed freely on any number of systems.
Other than these changes, the major introduction in Bryce 5.5 is the incorporation of DAZ's DAZ :Studio character plug-in. This is a separate application that can be used to open Poser PZ3 files and DAZ's own low-cost figures. You can then pose your figures and apply clothes, materials and props and, when you return to Bryce, the model and maps are automatically imported. The ability to incorporate static figures into your Bryce scenes is a major step forward but having to switch between applications to fine-tune a pose is awkward. Direct PZ3 support such as that provided by Vue 5 Esprit would certainly be more useful if you already own Poser, but otherwise the combination of Bryce and DAZ :Studio provides a low-cost route to both creating and populating your scenes.
It's good to see Bryce back. However, during the four years it's been away, its thunder has been comprehensively stolen by Vue Esprit and its professional sibling Vue Infinite. Ultimately Bryce just can't compete with Vue when it comes to power or usability. Where it can still put up a challenge is value and Bryce 5.5's new budget price certainly provides a lot of bang-per-buck for new users. It's disappointing however that no upgrade path has been provided for Bryce's many longsuffering fans.
3DSOM (3D Software Object Modeler)
Even when using a dedicated hands-on modeler such as Eovia Hexagon, creating new objects from scratch can still be a major chore. And trying to accurately recreate the shape and surface of existing objects is even harder. When you're holding such an object in your hand, you can't help wishing there were some way you could just press a button to "computerize" it. That's where 3DSOM (3D Software Object Modeler) Pro comes in.
Before the magic happens though, you have to prepare the trick. This involves fixing your object to a stand above a printed-out calibration mat, setting it against a contrasting coloured background, and then taking a series of side-on and bird's-eye shots with your digital camera. You then load these into 3DSOM Pro -around 20 should do it. All being well, you can then simply hit the Make All command and a minute or so later your fully textured 3D object appears onscreen ready for export to 3DS format for use in larger 3D workflows, or directly to Shockwave, VRML or 3DSOM's own dedicated Java-based format for web display.
So how is the trick achieved? Essentially it's a four stage process. When the images are loaded, 3DSOM Pro uses the calibration map data to work out the camera angle with which each photo was taken. When you hit Make All, each image is then automatically masked to isolate the object against its contrasting background. The combination of the masked silhouettes and their camera angles are then used to generate a wireframe model. Finally, based on the co-ordinates of this mesh and their relation to the originating photos, an optimised texture map is created. It's a beautiful system (based originally on research done for Canon) and for the provided sample projects it does indeed work like magic.
Of course there's a huge difference between tutorial examples and actual projects, but 3DSOM has always prided itself on its real world flexibility. For example the default auto-masking is a great timesaver but, where necessary, you can always paint on a mask either internally or in a third-party external editor. And for those jobs that still don't go completely to plan, 3DSOM also pioneered simple but effective editing capabilities. In particular, to remove obvious errors in the shape of your object, you simply rotate the model until the incorrect geometry is clearly displayed, generate a "pseudo silhouette" and then edit this mask before regenerating the wireframe model. And to remove errors in the surface appearance of your object, you again rotate the model into position and then simply copy the current view to the clipboard, edit it in a bitmap editor and paste the new version back - 3DSOM automatically updates the texture map accordingly.
3DSOM has always offered impressive power then, but this new Pro release takes things onto a new level. To begin with, it sports a more professional interface built on wizards which simultaneously provide more handholding and more control. This combination of greater usability and greater power is noticeable throughout the program. When it comes to masking your images, for example, there's now an interactive auto-masking threshold selector and this can be applied to different selections in the image. Alternatively, for semi-automatic masking, you can use the new Shrink Wrap tool to quickly outline the object to be isolated while the new Fill and Polygon tools enhance manual masking.
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