EFX Art and Design Magazine
(formally Mac Art and Design)
Issue: #27
Bryce Forum Gallery CD ROM Review
Inteview with Bruce MacLeod
Short Reviews

Bryce Forum Gallery CD-Rom

Bruce MacLeod of WatchfulEye and Eric Wenger, the creator of Bryce, have put together this impressive CD of a gallery website - The Bryce Forum, one of the largest and most popular 3D interactive art galleries on the Internet. The presentation is in HTML format with live links to the Web pages and galleries of participating artists.

This is a great idea, and expands the whole Web concept, allowing artists and designers to interactively communicate with each other. The CD contains more than 500 Bryce images from 95 artists fom around the world, including Bryce masters like Bill Ellsworth, Jac Grenfell, Jeff Richardson, lan Ternald, and Bruce MacLeod himself

Featured on the CD in its entirety is Eric Wenger's 14 minute Bryce movie 'Possible Places'. The electronic music soundtrack was cybernetically generated by components within the Bryce scenes, and the whole idea was made possible by Wenger's latest soffware creation MetaSynth. The movie is in QuickTime format and includes a full 16-bit digital stereo MetaSynth soundtrack. The fly-through of three fantasy worlds is interesting, but unfortunately in a too small format (160 x l2O) to reveal the impressive underlying technology. The CD also includes over 150Mb of Bryce textures, scene files and objects, which can be analyzed and dissected.

The inspirational value of the different gallery pieces could of course be discussed, and it is true that a lot of people don't have any higher thoughts of the 'push-button-artwork' generated in Bryce. And I agree that some of the typical Bryce landscapes are boring to watch. What is inspiring, though, is how a digital artist can find new ways to express himself using the Bryce tools to sculpt surrealistic images never seen befoge. Bill Ellsworth's organic forms with intricate textures, lightened by virtual glow, are just beautiful to watch.

Bryce Forum Gallery ........................ 4 / 5

Please see page 32 for a color presentation of the Bryce Forum Gallery. And visit:


The Bryce Forum Interview with Bruce MacLeod

Bruce MacLeod started the Bryce Forum Gallery on the web - one of the most popular sites for creative people using the spectacular program Bryce. Now he introduces the gallery on a CD-ROM.

Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you started the Bryce Forum Gallery.

Bruce MacLeod: "In 1995 I moved from California to Singapore with my family, and I had nearly three years of uninterrupted free time to pursue whatever I felt like doing. One of the things that I did while in Asia was create the Bryce Forum Gallery.

I’ve been creating digital fine art and commercial art on the Mac since 1986. I’m also a jazz musician, and multimedia web designer. I’ve used these skills in the context of running the small independent digital content label, Watchful Eye. I’ve been an avid Bryce user since version 1.

When Bryce hit the scene there was really nothing else on the Mac that you could compare it to, and it was an instant hit. Bryce is one of the most unique software programs ever created and has always had a loyal core group of users. This loyalty was cultivated early on by then KPT Software, and they ran a very active Bryce area on AOL. In the early days you could upload your Bryce images and get direct feedback from KPT employees and other Bryce users. This community ethic was built into the Bryce concept from the beginning and it still exists today. When MetaCreations made the decision to pull out of AOL in the spring of 1997 I knew this would create a vacuum. The AOL forum was very popular and had many regular members. I saw this as an opportunity to create a much larger web-based global Bryce network. I saw no reason to be limited to the United States when Bryce is distributed worldwide. Also, AOL was so paranoid about filtering content for "objectionable" material, that it became clear to me that they would never have a system nimble enough to handle a truly dynamic art gallery.

I learned from observing the AOL Bryce forum that loading up your server with hundreds of image files was a logistical nightmare and a dead-end, so I built my gallery with links to images. I do not keep any of the image files on my server. This was an immediate hit with the participating artists, as it allowed them to format their pages the way they liked and to draw in visitors directly to their web sites. This open-architecture concept is at the heart of the gallery design. Other online galleries are now routinely using this method but the Bryce Forum Gallery did it first. Another innovation was the decision to use a live judging panel to pick the winning images. I change the judging panel every month to keep things fresh. This system isn’t perfect but it lends an immediacy to the gallery experience that keeps people coming back."

How big is the Bryce Forum? How many 'registered' members? What about age and sex? It seems to me that a lot of young males are into Bryce... Any women except Susan Kitchens and Cecilia Ziemer? What do you think?

Bruce MacLeod: "There is no registration process so it is hard to say exactly how many people are regular visitors. At this time there has been about 370,000 unique user sessions in the main gallery, and the gallery hosts an average of 1,200 visitors a day. Although I do not have a breakdown of the demographics, I do know from the image submissions that the gallery is popular with people of all ages, and there are many women who are artist participants. But the majority of participating artists are male. Of the 300 permanent Select Gallery artists about10% are women. Some of the best gallery judges have been women and I feel that the gallery has benefited by avoiding a "boys club" atmosphere. I keep the gallery very tightly focused on art and everyone is welcome to participate. The competition gets quite fierce but the results are based on talent rather than gender. I believe that the built in anonymity afforded by the Internet is beneficial in a situation where you are judging art."

Since you are a Bryce user yourself, how do you see the development of the product over the years? It took a long time before we had animation features, and now the import/export capabilities are better. What do you expect to see in future versions?

Bruce MacLeod: "For the most part Bryce has stayed true to its earliest ambitions. The focus has remained on keeping Bryce as a landscape generator with complex feature sets and functionality placed behind an inviting user interface. The interface has evolved significantly over time and is itself a work of art. The Bryce milestones are: Boolean rendering, Windows compatibility, animation, and "Bryce Talk". There have been many other significant enhancements such as the decision to build an interface for the deep texture editor. Prior to version 3 this area was undocumented and unsupported even though it existed within the program from the beginning. "Bryce Talk" is the latest innovation. When connected to the internet you can log on and chat real-time with other Bryce users while working within Bryce. This functionality is built directly into the Bryce interface and in my opinion represents a commitment to the community ethic that I mentioned earlier. It is also a very far-sighted concept. Apparently MetaCreations sees internet connectivity as a feature set and is building it directly into the Bryce interface. I like this kind of thinking.
Based on my observation of prior releases I expect to see Bryce continued to be positioned as a landscape generator first and foremost. This is the main quality that makes it unique. Personally I would like to see a dedicated modeler within Bryce but this may not be forthcoming. The improved import/export capabilities have increased the potential of Bryce enormously."

I know that many digital artists reluctantly speak about the creative power of Bryce, claiming that it is a typical cheap tricks application, demanding very little creative input. You and I, and many other users, know that there are so much more you can do in Bryce, than chrome spheres flying around in boring landscapes. Are you surprised that Bryce hasn't been fully accepted among professional 3D artist as a creative tool?

Bruce MacLeod: "This is a microcosm of the argument that is often used to dismiss digital art in general, that there are too many layers between the artist and the final product, and that it lacks the human touch of "real" art. Sometimes this gets coupled with the ignorant suspicion that somehow the software did all of the work. The irony really gets thick when a PhotoShop user starts pointing a finger at Bryce. Bickering about software is counterproductive in an environment where all of the participants should be collectively striving to legitimize their art form. Anyone creating art of any kind that can be endlessly duplicated runs the risk of being dismissed regardless of the tools used to create it. This duplication factor is a much more compelling threat to the credibility of digital art than a measurement of the creative input at the software front end. Many museums, art dealers, and collectors are reluctant to embrace digital art, believing that it lacks the unique aspects associated with traditional media. It has only been recently that photography has become widely recognized as a legitimate art form, having been kept out of the mainstream gallery scene for years by many of the same misconceptions that now plague digital art. Digital artists would do well to focus their attention on the larger issue of gaining credibility and acceptance of their art form by museums and art galleries if they are entertaining thoughts of having their work endure beyond their time.

In this context I have no trouble at all defending Bryce. I’ve always thought of Bryce like a camera. Anyone can pick it up and start snapping pictures, but the results will vary dramatically depending on the talent of the photographer. When evaluating a piece of software it is possible to confuse ease of use with a lack of power if you don’t take the time to dig beneath the surface. To get stunning results in Bryce you have to know what you're doing but the potential is definitely there. Bryce has a robust feature set that is not visible at the entry level. The interface pulls you in and rewards exploration without overwhelming you with clutter. The result is that the Bryce environment can be an extremely relaxing place to work, and this can have a positive impact on your creative output. This is not always the case with high-end 3D applications. As digital artists we are frequently faced with powerful tools with steep learning curves, and it’s possible to become conditioned to think that a software interface has to be incomprehensible to be powerful. The original Bryce designers implemented a different concept and the program has continued to progress along those lines."

Are you planning more CD-ROM projects, or are you taking the Bryce Forum Gallery to other media? DVD and film for example.

Bruce MacLeod: "The most immediate project that I am working on is what I call a digital masters gallery. This will be a small hand picked group of well known digital artists whose prints I’ll be publishing and distributing via the Internet. Iris printing technology has been fine-tuned to the point that museum quality printing is now within the reach of digital artists at a reasonable price. I intend to offer high quality fine art digital prints to collectors. This is an area that has not been fully explored and in my opinion represents a unique opportunity. I am also planning a second Bryce Forum Gallery CD-ROM that focuses on animation. This may end up as a DVD depending on where the technology is when I begin production. In the near future is the inevitable internet media convergence that will happen when wide bandwidth availability hits critical mass. Online galleries like The Bryce Forum Gallery will be much more interactive and animation will be the big attraction at first. I think that as the online gallery metaphor expands to accommodate multimedia it will become the standard medium for the exposure and distribution of digital art."