Vue 8 – what Bryce 7 should have been…

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!

Vue 8 – what Bryce 7 should have been…

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.

Vue 8 – what Bryce 7 should have been…

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

Vue 8 – what Bryce 7 should have been…

Genetica Viewer – A useful tool for Bryce

Trawling the Internet for textures has never been my favorite pastime. Just too much time is spent on avoiding malware sites or commercial sites forcing you to pay exorbitant fees for access to their databases, or public domain sites filled with poor quality textures that have been used, reused and abused ad nauseum. Nothing yells "loser" more than an image that look like a showcase of Quake 2 textures!

If I hate looking for textures, then trying to get a workable texture using Bryce's Deep Texture Editor must rate up there with having root canal treatment without Novacaine – pure agony!

However I have discovered a remarkable tool called the Genetica Viewer product from Spiral Graphics. The blab on the Spiral Graphics website describes Genetica Viewer as "your doorway to a world of textures that have been created with Genetica.  Specifically, Genetica Viewer is a free application for rendering seamless textures that are saved in the Genetica texture format (GTX)"

Insofar as this claim, Genetica Viewer delivers on its promises. I downloaded this 8.5Mb installer (it needs the .NET framework installed to work) and it ran with no problem on my home machine. (running Windows XP SP2)

The Genetica Viewer can only use and display the predefined .GTX files and the  installer comes with a full set of over 1000 built in texture files so you have quite a bit of textures to play around with. The .GTX files are resolution independent and allow resolutions of up to 6000 x 6000 (however the free Genetica Viewer will only go as high as 2048 x 2048)

The .NET framework might be the bottleneck in the the program as I found the rendering to be very slow, even on my 3.4Ghz Core Duo 3Gb RAM machine, but even though a single 2048 X 2048 resolution texture took almost 9 minutes to render, the end results were very impressive. I made a point of rendering the effects maps as well as the bump maps and noise maps proved very useful for alpha-masking and getting the effects to jump out at you.

As a test I rendered a built-in .GTX texture file called Herculaneum.gtx and saved the files on my old work machine, a 1.97Ghz P4 with 512Mb of RAM. This old machine is running (would you believe it) the Debian Linux operating system and managing it very nicely. Then running the Windows "emulator" WINE, I ran Bryce 5.5 on it and pulled in the textures and wrapped them on a cube. I rendered the scene in Bryce 5.5 and I admit that I was impressed with the results. Here are some screen shots.

 I found the program very easy to use and barring the slow render times and the need for the .NET framework I found little else to criticize. I would recommend it to anybody looking for a basic texture creation tool.

A word of caution though. The full Genetica 3.0 Program is incredibly powerful and allow you to create textures from the ground up, but costs anything from $110 to $300! Not for the cash-strapped hobbyist like myself! Stick for now with the Genetica Viewer. It does enough for now!