This is the first of what will hopefully be a short series of posts looking at 3D computer graphics and how the technology can serve the photographer. I will be using Bryce 3D software which is considered a 3D landscape program. The principle behind Bryce and most 3D programs is a simple one – wire mesh objects are created and then textures are, in effect wrapped around them. This all happens in a 3D space that the user can move around in and, in effect, take a snapshot at any time. The 3D space can be given other characteristics such as light, fog etc. What I intend to do is to use the 3D space provided but to use photographs in place of the textures. One obvious purpose that the photographer could use this technology for is to create a virtual gallery showing their photographs. I will be attempting something different to this though. I want to use the 3D environment to create something that is an attempt at art in its own right not simply a representation of something that exists in the real world.
The posts will take the form of tutorials but I cannot emphasize enough that the best approach is an instinctive one. Play with the software and see what it can do. This first post is more dense than I would have liked and I promise that subsequent ones will be much lighter as first principles will already be covered. I was originally going to split this first one into two parts but decided on balance to get the whole thing out there so we can get onto the more fun stuff next week.
First things first, get the Bryce 3D software from here and install on your computer. Make sure that you download the correct version, i.e. Windows or Mac. Follow any instructions regarding getting a serial number and entering it. The software is free, is not time limited and fully functional. The only condition specific to this version is that it cannot be used commercially.
I would recommend watching this excellent video for orientation before moving on to the tutorial. Don’t worry about remembering the detail at this stage it is the overview that is important. If you come away with an idea about the workspace and the difference between moving around in the workspace and changing the size of objects that will be more than enough to make the tutorial straightforward. Saying this, The tutorial was written to be doable without any additional information.
A couple of quick notes:
If text is bold it means that that text appears somewhere on the screen in front of you.
There is more than one way to do most things in Bryce. I have described one method for each action – you may well know or be able to intuit the others.
Select two photographs that you want to work with. Resize these to around 1200px on the longest side and save as high quality jpegs. (This file size reduction stops Bryce from becoming sluggish). Save the optimized files to a new folder.
Open the Bryce software
Along the top you will see a lots of icons. Double click on the gold Leonardo figure roughly in the middle.
You should now see a box called Pictures with lots of small boxes beneath three big boxes. Click on the top left small box. Select one of your image files. Repeat this in the subsequent box for your other image file. Do not worry about the plus, equals loads copy and paste at this stage – we’ll be covering those in another tutorial. Click on the tick on the bottom right and you should be returned to the main screen.
On the main screen you should see a small rectangle with a red outline. Use one of the four corner dots (handles) to enlarge the rectangle.
Now this is where it starts to get interesting – click on the big green button on the left hand side of the screen below the trackball.
You should now have something that looks a bit like this but with your photo as opposed to a giant hand:
Now, click on the trackball to return the screen to the wire frame image.
Click on the cube (or sphere, torus, cylinder, pyramid or cone to the left of the Leonardo figure on the top row. A wireframe of the selected object should appear in the work area. Drag the cube to the left of the screen – note how Bryce shows you when the cube goes below ground level.
Now we are going to copy the image from the initial rectangle onto the object you chose. To do this just click on any line of the rectangle and once it is red click on Edit (between File and Objects) on the menu bar at the top of the screen.
Click on Copy Material on the drop down menu then click on the cube go back to the edit menu and click on Paste Material.
If the object is not outlined in red with handles click on it and then go back to the edit menu and click on duplicate. This will create an identical object in the same position as the original one. Just drag the new one upwards (one automatically stays behind).
You should now have something with two solids and a plane (rectangle) that looks something like this:
Now is probably as good a time as any to take a bit of a break and have a look at some housekeeping type stuff.
The Scene File
You will be creating two specific types of file, the scene file which tells the software the position, sizes and coverings of the cubes and other objects and image files such as Tiffs, Pngs, PSD etc. The scene files are saved in the same was as any other Windows based file. In other words if you do a ‘Save’ or “Save As’ it is the scene file and not an image file that you will be saving. It is advisable to do this often!
Saving Image Files
Image files can be saved at anytime during the process – I usually grab at least a dozen ‘snapshots’ while I am working. The image can be rendered on the screen at any time while you are working. To do this just click on the big green button below the trackball. To actually save it though click on File > Export Image on the main file menu. One thing that is worth mentioning is render quality. Before saving the image click on the downward pointing arrow to the right of the five green buttons below the trackball on the left of the screen. on the dropdown that appears click hover on Quality and click on Super(fine art AA). For renders just to check work in progress I would set the quality to normal AA. Normal AA renders much faster than superfine. Use the Document Setup menu item under File to set the resolution of the required image.
Saving Imported Photographs for Reuse
To make the photograph that you are currently using available everytime you use the software without the hassle of having to reload it just do this:
Make sure that the wireframe of the object is highlighted red.
At the top where it says Create Edit Sky & Fog click on the arrowhead after Edit.
A window called Materials should now be open
Click on the downward arrow on the bottom left
Click on User
Where it says Add Delete Import Export click on Add
Add name description and click on the tick.
Altering Imported Photographs In-Situ
Select the object that is to have its appearance changed. (red wireframe with handles)
Click on the M that appears in the row of icons to the side
This should open the materials lab.
The important changes that can be made from here are: Ambience – changes the brightness Transparency Reflection
To change these just drag the appropriate sliders.
Much more can be done from here but those alone will give a good start.
One other thing worth mentioning though is the bottom right downward arrow on the panel with three windows. Ignore everything else including the windows for the moment.
Click on this downward arrows and you will see options like Object Space, World Space, parametric etc. this determines how the photograph is mapped onto the wireframe. The best way to learn about these options is trial and error but if something is say, tiling when you want just a single image this is the place to come.
Before we move on it is worth highlighting one of your objects, clicking on the M and playing with the materials. Try adjusting the reflection transparency and ambience for starters. If you want a guaranteed way to return to the current conditions save the material by following the Saving Imported Photos for Reuse instructions listed above. It is worth mentioning that a single photo can be saved any number of times with different settings.
Next we are going to assign the photograph that hasn’t been used yet to the ground plane. This is the squared grid that makes up the floor. Assigning a material is done in exactly the same was as to the earlier object.
Doubleclick on the Leonardo figure on the top row of icons
Select the photograph not used as yet
Click on the tick
A small red rectangle has appeared
Copy the material as before Edit from the top menu then Copy Material
Then click on the ground plane to highlight it
Click on Paste Material from the top Edit menu.
Now click on the big render button below the trackball to see what has occurred.
Something like this is possible.
Next select the ground plane click on M and increase both the metallicity (100%) and reflection (50%) using the sliders in the material lab.
Now select the upright rectangle and give it around 50% reflection and around 20% transparency.
This is how my image now looks:
Now we are going to set the atmospheric properties. Click on the Sky and Fog button at the top of the window.
Now click on the arrow to the right of the Sky and Fog Button
This box contains lots of presets. It really is worth spending some time trying some of these out. They make excellent starting points which can then be refined.
Now Click on DLD Skies on the list on the left and select Daylight 2 by clicking on the picture.
This may have made your cubes go dark to rectify this click on M and increase Ambience.
Next click on the small Cloud Icon next to the line of dots. This opens up the Sky Lab.
The Sky Lab has four tabs and we should be in Sun and Moon
Bottom left you will see two boxes Ambient and Sky Dome. Click the boxes to change the color of the square. This will influence overall lighting. Experiment a bit until you find a combination you like. I set ambient to light pink and Sky Dome to light blue.
Click on the arrow below the rectangle on the right and select Render in Scene from the dropdown menu. This will enable you to see what changes your actions are causing to the main picture. The arrow to the right opens up the Sky and Fog presets. This can save a lot of time.
Go back into Sky Lab by clicking on the cloud icon and open Atmosphere tab. Reset the fog color to pale green and click on the bars to set density to around a fifth, thickness a tenth and base height a tenth.
Turn haze off and click on the tick to return to themain screen.
Next I highlighted the two dimensional rectangle and stretched it by clicking on a corner and dragging.
Then I changed the point of view, This is done using the trackball and the controls just above it. Trial and error is really the only way here. The tiny image at the top of that column will help to keep you oriented.
Here is the final image:
The next installment where I’ll be looking at more creative uses of transparency and reflection will appear next weekend
Until then experiment, experiment and experiment some more. Time spent exploring the software really is key here.