156 hours of rendering…gone!

156 hours of rendering…gone!

My latest image was busy rendering – estimated to take a whopping 156 hours to render (after the initial radiosity pass) that is 6 ½ days! I was using Vue 9 (64-bit) as a render engine. Bryce 7 wouldn’t handle the file (over 2.5Gb big) and it is limited to 32-bit address space so it can’t use all my 8Gb of memory! The render started last Tuesday and when I checked last night at 11pm there was only 4 hours left and a thin strip remained to complete, so I went to be happy in anticipation for the results for the next morning.

So this morning (it is now a full week later) I got up all excited and instead of being greeted by a completed render, I was greeted by the Windows 7 welcome screen! My PC had rebooted in the night, and 156-hours solid of rendering was gone! Even Vue’s famous “Resume Render” function didn’t work becuase the machine had simply shut down!

Needless to say I was more than slightly irritated…I was furious! What caused this reboot? It certainly wasn’t a powercut. I have a nice little UPS that will keep my system going for a couple of hours should the power go down.

Then a little notification popped up that revealed the guilty party. Windows ***ing Updater! By default it seems Windows 7 updates regularly and reboots the system once the update is complete!

After much cursing andsmashing my forehead into the keyboard, I discovered how to prevent this potentially disasterous occurance from happening every time Microsoft patches its operating system! This will work with any version of Windows 7 – Professional and above. It might even work with XP.

  1. Click the Windows 7 orb
  2. Type “gpedit.msc” in the Search field to find and start the Group Policy Editor
  3. Go to Local Computer Policy -> Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Windows Update
  4. Double-click on “No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Update installation”
  5. Enable it!
  6. Reboot the computer

In Vue I also set the Rendering to render to a file rather than the screen and to backup the render file very hour. I will report back next week – at the same time – with the results of my looonnnggg render!

[After this posting I recieved a note from David Brinnen informed me that Bryce can be made to see more than the default 2Gb limit for memory. Techpowerup has a link to a little utility “LargeAddressAware” that can allow Bryce to have a 3Gb limit – Thanks David]

Speed up preview rendering…

Speed up preview rendering…

Any user of Bryce with common sense will tell you that the “nano preview” postage stamp isn’t worth a damn! It is too small to see any meaningful detail in it, and you cannot really use it for the “tweak-check-tweak-check” method that most of us use when using Bryce, especially with big files.

Add a HDRI file for lighting or switch on “soft shadows” and then you will see your render times jump from minutes into hours. (or days) A bristlecone pine’s growth now becomes fast compared to Bryce’s rendering speed!

I often use the Light Lab’s Render Options and change the settings in the drop-down menu (that appear when you click on the small white arrow below the Preview Window) and change it to “Render in Scene” to see how my file will look. The preview is double the size of the useless Nano-preview in the Main Editing Window, but you still have to jump back and forth between the Main Editor Window and the Light Lab, and if you have Bryce 7, then prepare yourself of random crashes when you jump between Labs too quickly!

But with the frustrations of using Bryce 7 (a good, but still a Beta product in my mind and opinion) I have discovered a useful little trick that allow you to reduce the render time of your main window to handle quick tweaks.

Take  look at a normal render time…36 Minutes! (Time to leave the computer room and go make some coffee, or do some washing or take an afternoon powernap!)

You would have to wait 36 minutes each time you move a light or an object. By switching off the Textures in the render, the render time is reduced.

You can switch on the Fast Preview mode too. This will show you a more complete picture sooner rather than rendering line for line.

The rendering speed is reduced considerably from 36 minutes down to 1 minute 15 seconds! You sacrifice the rendering of textures, but when you are tweaking and changing settings back and forth, time is important, textures are not! Later when you have set your lighting and atmospheric settings just right, you can switch the textures on again for the final renders.

The discovery of this little setting certainly has done my impatient nature a ton of good!

Keep on Brycin’

Speed up preview rendering…

Bryce 7 – What Vue 8 should try to be like…

Passion is the singlemost word that best describes a Bryce enthusiast, and judging by the comments on this blog and the e-mails that I have received it on part 1 of my latest posting “Vue 8 – What Bryce 7 should have been…” it seems that that passion is still alive and living.

I have been with Bryce since the beginning, when it first was ported over to Windows back in 1997. It was as unstable as a Klingon female with PMS, slow as molasses, but it gave me access to the world of the 3D artist, and it was fun, and it still is fun!

So consider my previous posting as the lecherous fantasies of an old married pensioner: His wife is no longer the attractive, energetic girl he married, but is now a weathered old woman, wrinkled and somewhat slow and saggy in places, but she is a familiar comfort to him. It doesn’t disqualify him from looking at the young, flirtaceous models that pass him by in the streets. They look very pretty and remind him of a time long ago when he was attractive and active himself, but his thoughts always return to the familiar and faithful woman at his side!

Bryce is that faithful old woman – slow and saggy in places but still fun!

The program begs one to play and click and drag and use all manner of key-combos to discover “Easter Eggs” hidden in its musty old code. Take the “new” particle emitter for one. Pretty and exciting and hidden! From what I read up on various forums, the particle emitter has been there for a while but never “activated” – what a shame!

But be that as it may. Bryce still has a lot going for it. Price for one thing! The new version cost me less than $10 for the upgrade – complements of DAZ3D’s generousity, some forgotten vouchers and my Platinum Club.

Now look at Vue 8: Getting a good package like Esprit or Complete and you will get a fair amount of models included in the “Extras Disk”, some Atmospheres, Materials, and some Trees and Plants.  When you scroll through your oodles of Trees, for instance in Vue and choose one, the chances are you will be greeted by a message from Cornucopia3D (e-On ‘s store) saying that the tree you want has to be purchased from the Cornucopia Store.

When I encountered this for the first time (and being a faithful DAZ3D store frequenter) I proceeded to go to the store and see what the cost would be. Shock and horror. $14.95 for one tree!

OK, I thought, if a tree is expensive then perhaps I could create one from scratch using Vue’s tools. Sorry, you can tweak existing trees, but you cannot create one from scratch and what’s more you cannot export that “updated tree” into the SolidGrowth format. There are no tools for creating SolidGrowth pants from scratch inside Vue.

This is where Bryce (I should rather say DAZ3D) leaves Vue choking on its dust. Bryce and its library of extras is cheap enough to be accessible  to the hobbyist, the freelancer, the kid with the computer, the cashstrapped pensioner. The extra libraries are not expensive. I see whole forests (25 different trees) selling for under $7.00. Of course everybody has turn a profit, but e-On is way too expensive for me!

The other niggle I have with Vue is its poor support of OpenGL 2.1-capable video cards. If you have an NVidia graphics card you will have no problem, but if you dare to use a ATI graphics card (anything under a Radeon 4000 series) you are up the creek without a paddle! You will have to deactivate most of the OpenGL hardware settings like “background draw” and “antialiasing”  to prevent the program crashing and fall back to software OpenGL rendering. When I checked on the various Vue forums I see that this issue has been around since Vue 4 Esprit! That is an awfully long time to cut out 25% of the world’s desktop graphic cards.

So my flirting with Vue hasn’t been without its caveats. Vue 8 might be pretty and fast and oh-so-friendly, but she is a high maintenance model and can break your wallet with a wave of her expensively manicured hand!

Speed up preview rendering…

Vue 8 – what Bryce 7 should have been…

I feel completely unashamed to say that I have been looking at another 3D package other than my beloved (perhaps that should be in the past tense) Bryce. I have been looking at Vue 8 (formerly Vue Esprit and now available in 11 different versions/packages) and I am impressed with what I see. In a nutshell the title of this posting says it all… “Vue 8 – what Bryce 7 *should* have been”.

Working in my “real” life I run the computer centre for the students of the medical faculty of a big university in South Africa. Medical students have a lot to do with anatomy and detailed data about human physiology. Running a computer centre means that I have access to wonderful programs used in the training of the medical students. Poser is one of them – as an example. The university provides a mechanism for me to look at and *play* with all sorts of toys and that is where I encountered Vue 8.

Vue 8 looks and acts a lot like Bryce. As an example the user interface:

Definitely some simarlarities! I admit, I disliked the Vue interface at first. I have been with Bryce now since Bryce 3D – too long! But now, after a couple of weeks of actually using the program, I have to confess that I enjoy it very, very much. The only way to describe Bryce’s interface is “a kid’s box of toys”. You always have fun with it and play with it, but Vue’s workflow is better and I can get the effect I want far more easily. The visual feedback is far better than the incessant guesswork you are subjected to, with Bryce. Have you ever tried to see what is really going on in the nano-preview and when you finally resign yourself to the “watching paint dry” render time, you are often disappointed by the disparity between the postage stamp preview and the final render…

But what about the plop render of Bryce, I hear you say? Sorry, Vue 8 has it too in the “Render Selected Area” option, and Bryce’s “Spray-can” rendering tool is just a useless gimmick that doesn’t deserve the space in the code it gets!!

What about Poser imports? (my favourite use combining Bryce and Poser.)

Bryce is royal pain when importing Poser .pz3 files, (even with DAZ Studio 3) and the old tried-and-tested .OBJ import is equally traumatic and is responsible for more crashes and “out of memory” errors than any other problem on my computer. Over the years I have developed tricks and tweaks to get me through the process but still, the whole process remains a drag…

I found that Vue imports Poser 4 files directly and doesn’t require any re-texturing. It even recognizes some of Poser’s older  .bum bump maps. Simple and painless! The imported figures appear almost exactly as they appeared in Poser, and you can send the file back and forth between Poser and Vue to tweak poses and setting! This is a real winner for me!

But now after singing Vue’s praises and making my good name in the Bryce community mud, I have to deal a hard knockout blow to Vue – it’s price!

At worst – Bryce 7 Pro  will cost you $99.95 – that is with no sale discount, Platinum Club discount and no upgrade discount, and DAZ3D are going out of their way to make Bryce 7 accessible to anyone, so I don’t know if I am being fair here regarding the price!

Choosing the Vue product that is closest to Bryce 7 Pro is difficult but I would have to settle with Vue 8 Esprit, although this product is sadly lacking in some “essential modules” like Botanica (equivalent in some degree to Bryce 7’s TreeLab) LightVue (equivalent to Bryce’s Light Lab – but on steroids!) and HyperVue (Bryce’s answer is Bryce Lightning)

Vue 8 Esprit goes for $199.00, and if you want the next step up with the TreeLab/LightLab/Bryce Lightning functionality you are looking at a hefty $399.00! This puts this product out of the reach of most gifted amateurs like myself! Very, very expensive! Translate that into South African currency and you are looking at R2900.00, a third of my monthly salary!

So I will have to save and count my pennies very carefully before jumping ship to Vue 8, while at the same time rueing the fact that Bryce 7 Pro should have been what Vue has been since version 4 and earlier!

I just have to pluck up courage and return the Vue install CD to its rightful owner and return to Bryce somehow!

Speed up preview rendering…

Sculptris – intuitive 3d sculpting software?

[Update: Thanks to Rosemary Regan, for the heads-up on the latest news about Sculptris. It seems Sculptris has been taken under the ZBrush wing:  “…an Alpha version of Sculptris for Windows – a unique, very ‘cool’ artistic modeling application still in raw baby stage and now incubating at Pixologic HQ. The current version, formerly known as Sculptris 1.02, will be renamed under Pixologic banner as Sculptris Alpha 5.

Sculptris is the brainchild of the bright programmer Tomas Pettersson. Sculptris has captured the hearts of artists with its fun, intuitive and user-friendly interface – indeed a perfectly sweet companion to our big monster ZBrush! Tomas will be moving to California, from Sweden, to join the Pixologic team.”]

Many times I have been asked why I prefer to use the Bryce software in preference to something like Carrara for instance or even something open source and free like Blender.

My answer is rather uninspiring – I guess. It is certainly not the cheapness of the software. Bryce 6 is cheap compared to something like Vue 8, and not as cheap as Blender. (inside joke)

Nor is it the features of the software: Bryce 6  is somewhat sparse – these days – on some basic features like displacement mapping and ambient occlusion, making use of multiple CPUs or 64-bit support, and it is as slow as molasses when rendering, and cannot currently see more than 2Gb of RAM to work with – hugely frustrating!

It is its intuitiveness that makes the program shine for me. Ever since Bryce 3D (the first version of Bryce I ever used) I have been able to work easily with the software without fighting the interface, searching for obscure functions and getting the program to mimic the creative flow in my own brain! A program must work with me, I don’t want to read through a 500-page online help PDF to find out how the change the reflection value of an object. It must be there – easily found – and not buried 3 or 4 levels down in a requester with no visual feedback and lots of numbers to type in. (remember I never got past Grade 9 in math)

That is what Bryce does for me. It works with me! It doesn’t fight me! That is what software should work. Imagine for a moment using a computer mouse that didn’t mimic your hand’s motion on a flat surface. Clicking on a single button would be a taxing, tiring waste of time.

At this moment that is what Blender, Vue 8 (which I could never afford), and Carrara are to me. They are a heavyweight wrestler in my ring. They don’t belong there.

[Confession time: I bought Carrara when it was fresh in DAZ 3D’s growing arsenal of 3D tools. I even had a copy of its early predecessor Ray Dream Studio on my computer at one time. I bought Carrara 6, installed it went one round with it in the wrestling ring, trying to read the manual and gave up. When a free version 7 upgrade was offered to me by DAZ3D, I took it – why I don’t know – and it was stored on a DVD backup somewhere and forgotten – I simply didn’t have the time or the resources to learn this new and difficult bit of software.

This was in contrast to Bryce – I could still get the aged software to go in the direction I wanted it to go, and although I might not have all the wonderful tools and “bells & whistles” offered by other programs, I could spend an hour or so a week and make progress with my art projects. Often an hour was all I could manage – remembering that art is my hobby – something to do in my spare time when the demands of being an IT Manager, the father of a child with a relatively severe learning disability, and a devoted husband.]

I like modelling in 3D, and Bryce doesn’t model, so I have to resort to other software. Hexagon works OK, but it is crash prone and more unstable than Amy Winehouse on crystal meth, and it doesn’t do what zBrush does at $600 a hit!

Now I am looking at a new product I strayed across in one of the Blender forums – Sculptris – its main feature is dynamic mesh tesselation that will provide additional detail where necessary, without the you needing to worry about it. (one way to kill your PC with Hexagon to to subdivide or smooth your mesh one step to far)  and that fact alone makes it definitely worth a look. One comment from a user on the Blender forum was: “This is what the sculpt tool in blender should have been like…” (Hmm, didn’t even know Blender had a sculpt tool!)

Sculptris is an early Alpha version, and weighs in as a 1.7Mb installer (yes, you read correctly – not even 2 Mb!) It works only on Windows at the moment, but has been reported as being able to run in Linus via WINE.

Give it a try. I am impressed so far and am getting to grips with its somewhat different interface.

Speed up preview rendering…

Using Collada models from Sketchup Warehouse

Here's some tips for using the DAZ Studio Beta to convert Google's SketchUp Warehouse models into OBJ files to use in Bryce. 


Not all of the models could be converted (only about 1 in 5 or so..) and many of those were either poorly made or poorly textured, and thus un-usable. 

*But*, even with that, there are some really neat models there which I could bring over to Bryce and render. Many of the world's most famous buildings have been made into 3d. and the best thing is that they are free! There are a few problems to be dealt with, but I'll mention those later.

If you are interested in the process:

1.) Download from SketchUp Warehouse the model you are interested in: choose either the zipped Collada file (.dae), or the Google Earth (.kmz) file. In my run-through any of the actual 'SketchUp' (.skp) files are useless, as you need SketchUp Pro (ie. money!) to convert them.
1a.) If you choose the Google Earth (.kmz) file, **rename the file extension to .zip***…. (KMZ is a form of zip, and you should be able to open it with no problem once the extension is changed.)
2.) Open the zip file as you normally would.
3.) Using the latest D/S beta (not sure if the latest regular version can handle it, so I used the beta, which definitely does…) import the .dae file from the opened zip file.
4.) If all is well and good, you should see the model. If you don't, follow these steps:
4a.) On the list of the scene content (usually in the left-hand tab column), find and select the item called "Model".
4b.) On the list to the right-hand side of the screen, look under the "Surfaces" tab for the "Shaders" drop-down. Click on that, then click on the first listed 'mesh'. Then when you are exited from there, click on the "Shaders" drop-down again, scroll down to the last listed mesh, and shift-click on that mesh name. This will highlight all of the included meshes for the next step.
4c.) Just below the "Shaders" box, will be a slider for "Opacity". Slide that all the way to the right (100%) to have the model become visible.

Once it's visible, it is ready for export for Bryce. Choose the File_Export option from the menu, and In the OBJ Export box, make sure that the Convert Maps (for Bryce) is checked. Name your model, and you're good to go.

Now for the caveats:

While most of the models are low-poly, and don't take a lot of memory, there are a few that are HUGE! (Pity, because some look *beautiful* There is a reproduction of the Baths of Caracalla which is superb in it's preview, but I couldn't convert it.). Some of the models should only be used as background filler, as the lack of close-up detail may be noticeable.

To make up for the lack of modeled detail, the system relies heavily on photographic detail on the texturing. As a result, there are sometimes baked-in shadows, and things like people and cars that are captured when the person took the photo of the building. Again, you may have to choose which side of the building to render.

SketchUp/Google Earth for some reason uses white as it's transparency color, so some items (for example, a propeller blade) which is modeled as a simple square with a picture attached) will render out the whole image; prop blades on a white square. You may have to do a bit of trans-map work.

Lastly, because of the system, most of the model makers call their model "Model.dae" and all of their textures something like "Image1.jpg" and Image2.jpg"…. Thus, trying to use more than one of the models in a scene becomes a nightmare, with cross-references getting all messy.

But, if you can maneuver around these pitfalls, there are some gems to use. I have gotten about 100 building models converted to a fairly acceptable stage. Some will need tweaking, but most render quite well as middle to long distance elements.

And the reason I started rummaging around in SketchUp Warehouse: Bryce 7 beta 'lists' the Collada .dae file format in the import menu… not yet working, but once it is, you won't have to do the DAZ Studio conversion run-around.
 Alcazar Castle
Alcazar Castle

Boston's Trinity Church

Boston's Trinity Church

 Brabant Castle

Brabant Castle

Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel

 Schloss Schwetzingen

Schloss Schwetzingen

Speed up preview rendering…

Bryce 7 Beta – Early days still…

Bryce 7 Beta Splash ScreenI have been a user of Bryce since version 2 (when it was ported to Windows), and have seen the program passed from corporation to corporation like a bad case of herpes, no one wanting to do anything with the program, consigning it to the dusty top shelf of software development.

In 2004 when DAZ3D bought it from the software behemoth, Corel, we Bryce-disciples rejoiced, that at last the program was being returned to the hands of people who would develop and take ownership of the little unwanted orphan.

Since then the Bryce has been fixed and tweaked to some extent by DAZ3D, but in my opinion these have been largely "bug fixes" and minor enhancements. (Changing the color of the Camera controls and the "widgets" is only window-dressing, not an improvement or upgrade!) For me the only real enhancement was the DAZ|Studio Poser Importer that allowed me to import Poser figure with considerably less trouble than before, and even that still continues to frustrate me with its failure to import Poser morphs and customizations!

So in the last few days of 2009, DAZ3D release Version 6.3 and that was supposed to address some stability issues, and in a quick one-two combination the owners of Bryce 6 were allowed to join in the open development of Bryce 7.

This new initiative was announced on the DAZ3D forums on January 13, 2010, and caught us all by surprise! DAZ 3D were "looking for feedback" as they worked on Bryce 7 to try and take the software into the 21st century and make it something other than a hobbyist's toy! I was and still am excited!

Already there are a number of new features added and there are bound to be many more additions to the software before final release. However, keep in mind that this is just the first Beta version and DAZ has promised more before the final release. The current Beta I have will expire on February 10th, but DAZ have assured us that the next build will be available for download – and testing – shortly before then.

This is definitely a Beta release, it crashes more than Tiger Wood's SUV at a sorority pajama party! There are some issues and bugs in the program, and if you are considering giving it a go, do not remove your previous installation but install it in its own directory!

I have run Bryce 7 Beta alongside 6.3 and I can see how far DAZ3D have come with this new release. The program does indeed run faster and renders faster, and the new Lightning Network Rendering Client also has increased performance. There are some rumors that the rendering engine is now the Carrara engine, as this 3D program (also owned by DAZ3D is considerably faster than Bryce.) I wonder if there is any truth in this? If DAZ can build Bryce to render faster, and do nothing else I would be happy, as I have had to contend with hours and hours of computer time rendering images or animations!

Also new to this release is support for the Windows Vista and Windows 7 file structure. Now as a user of Windows 7 at work, and a fan of the first decent OS that Microsoft has released since Windows 3.1, I thought that I could now see Bryce 7 perform! I was disappointed, but it was largely my own fault – I run Windows 7 64-bit and Bryce is still a 32-bit application, so there is no advantage in having 4Gb+ of RAM and dual multi-core processors!

Please DAZ! develop a true 64-bit version! It is a long overdue feature!

DAZ are developing a "Serial Number management" system for licensing which will supposedly enable different features to be unlocked within the same program.

To the uninitiated, this means that a single install can be a time- limited demo, or a budget version with some features, and finally a full-priced heavyweight with all the bells and whistles, all from the same download. I suppose this makes marketing sense, enticing potential new users (who bring in the cash) to upgrade to get more features. Us old stalwarts, with several versions under our belts might find the upgrade path restrictive and pandering to the whims of the bankers rather than the needs of the digital artist.

So let's look briefly at the Bryce 7 Beta:

The new Instance Lab does not use true instancing (yet)and it bombs beautifully with no error message or hint of trouble – so beware and save often!

It is very easy to run out of memory when placing large amounts of objects – a 3Gb XP 32-bit computer is not enough!

In the Instance Lab, (Hidden in the tiny [I] button next to a selected object) you can paint a mix of tree species with brush. Apparently you can paint species, change proportions and spacing, which because of the "out of memory issues" I have had only a modicum of success.

It is quite easy to replicate Objects and paint any object using the Instance Brush tool, like rocks, grass, and shells on a surface, and already the various Bryce Forums are filled to the brim with trees or grass on hills, but I am sure that with imagination and creative thought, this instance painting lends itself to greebles and nurnies

One feature that stands out for me is that Bryce 7 can now use the current sky as HDRI scene lighting. I love this feature!

The Import and Export of OBJ, image formats, FBX and COLLADA, have been improved, although the DAZ Studio Bridge does not work and continues to trash Poser-created OBJ files.

Rendering speeds have improved although the so-called "major improvements" of the DAZ Press release are deceptive and misleading. Faster, yes, but not that faster!

Only a few of the major 6.x Bug fixes have been addressed:

  • Importing 3D objects – maybe but big OBJ files still give me the infamous "Out of memory" crash.
  • Slow render times – Yes fixed.
  • Nano previews different from main window – But there is STILL no way of enlarging that sh*tty little postage stamp nano-preview and it is still only landscape format!
  • Keep loosing HDRI probe – Yes fixed.
  • Tree Lab "file not found" error – Hallelujah!
  • Default Ground Texture – One of the dumbest things ever done by DAZ – the default ground texture that slowed the default scene render down to a crawl!
  • User Interface Improvements – None visible that I can see, or perhaps these are hidden "easter eggs" like most Bryce features?
  • Native Bryce UI elements (DAZ Studio Version dialog) – Duh?
  • Animated Splash Screen – So what if the splash screen animates – anyway nothing animates on my version! It does nothing to enhance the program's functionality!

I have been hard on DAZ, and I sound pretty sceptical, but overall I think Bryce 7 has a great future ahead of it, even though it is early days!


Speed up preview rendering…

Quick Tip: Exact Colour Sampling

Quick Tip 2If you are using the colour picker tool (the pipette) in the Material Editor to copy or duplicate colours, then you should be aware that the colour picker  samples the program interface NOT the colour field that you might be trying to copy.The colour fields only have a very small area in which the exact colour can be sampled (in the image this area is marked in white) The light blue area samples the colour one less than exact colour. Try it now, and click on a white colour field. It will sample as 254,254,254 and not 255,255,255.

If colour accuracy is important to you use the colour picker on the right edge of the colour field to get the exact colour.

(Discovered on a printout from an old Usenet Bryce Group for Bryce 3 and 4! Even in Bryce 6.1.3 this “bug” still is around)

Speed up preview rendering…

Quick Tip: Changing the preview pictures of Material presets

Quick Tip 1Discovered on a printout from a now defunct Bryce newsgroup…

To change the preview picture of a material, adjust the preview to the object and orientation (using the Alt, Ctrl, Shift and Space Bar) you would like to have as the material's preview, then Ctrl-Shift-Click (Cmd-Shift-Click for Apple users) on the material's thumbnail and it gets replaced by the current preview!