New to the user interface is the Tree Lab, which allows users to specify one of 60 different types of tree to add to a scene. You can use the pre-sets, or manipulate the settings to make your own trees. Almost every tree you can think of is there, from apple to willow. One small niggle is that while you can mix and match trees and leaves – a dogwood tree with monkey puzzle leaves, for instance – there’s no way of simply selecting a pre-made tree. Also, trees are created singularly – it would be useful to be able to create smaller forests of trees. Alias|Wavefront’s Maya can paint 3D flora onto landscapes, but the price tag of £6,360 means that it isn’t worth buying for this feature alone. Metaballs are another new addition to Bryce. This primitive-object type can be manipulated and moulded to achieve all kinds of organic shapes. It isn’t a fully fledged modeller, but it does add to the capabilities of Bryce. Version 5’s Lighting Lab offers much more control over lighting than before. You can now add as many lights as you like. Different options – such as intensity and shadow ambience – can be set for each light. You can also use colour or virtual gels on the lights. The difference between the OS X and the pre-OS X versions is negligible, as Bryce takes over the whole screen with its own interface. Both completely ignore the normal Mac interface, and force you to learn a new one. This is a throwback to the original developer of the Bryce, Kai Krause. For those not familiar with Kai’s work, he has made some of the most innovative interfaces, for products such as Kai’s Power Tools, Kai’s Power Goo and Photo Soap. The thing about these innovative interfaces is that they take a while to learn. Bryce looks lovely, and it’s pretty much the same as before, but new users may be a little irritated at its less than intuitive design. However, long-time Bryce users will be reassured to know that things haven’t changed. Render settings have always been a bit of a dark art, especially to the uninitiated. With all the new gadgets in Bryce, the render engine itself remains unchanged. This is a shame, as the G4’s Velocity Engine (aka AltiVec) is capable of achieving much-accelerated render times in applications that are optimized for it. Although the render engine is no faster than in previous versions, there are additional features such as depth of field settings that you can access. Unfortunately, the additional render options can only slow proceedings. A new way to speed rendering is over a network. This allows spare processing power on other machines to be used. With all the odd features of Bryce, it’s still very easy to use. It has been designed to be accessible to people without a great deal of 3D experience. However, it does offer high-end features, so if you are a 3D expert it’s still a useful tool. One thing I always have trouble figuring out is exactly who the target audience is. There is certainly a market for landscaping for architectural design, and of course it’s a tool capable of creating pictures worthy in their own right. It’s a bit like being a landscape painter, but without the inconvenience of heading to the great outdoors. Bryce is also a great tool for illustrators.
For £195, it’s relatively cheap for the pro designer to get this tool. If you’re an amateur wanting to try your hand at being the next Roger Dean (you know, those 70’s album covers and student wall hangings), then the price is a little high.