Bryce Tutorial: Making Custom Water Shapes on a Flat Surface

In this tutorial I'm going to play around with water in Bryce 3D and show you how you can make custom water shapes on a flat surface.

Don't get intimidated by the number of steps. Everything is explained in detail and sometimes you will do 5 steps in 2 minutes or less.

This tutorial is intended for 2 types of Bryce users:
1. the absolute beginners, everything is explained in text and shown with images.
2. the more advanced users who want to learn how to model water with Bryce.

Yes there are more advanced 3D programs out there but Bryce has got several advantages:
1. for beginners it is easy to use, the learning curve isn't to high. It might be a step for them to more advanced programs.
2. there is a free, 100% working version to download here: for Windows users, and for Apple users.
Besides that, there's free content.

This tutorial has been made with the free version and presets mentioned above, if you do not own this program yet download and install both. To create the basic shape of the water, you're gonna need a program like Photoshop or similar.

End result:
Making Custom Water Shapes on a Flat Surface Final Image

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Practice tutorial


Step 1

To create customshaped water in Bryce you'll have to use a program like Photoshop or Painstshop Pro to create the basic shape of the water. I'll use Photoshop for this tutorial.

First step is to create a new document of 5600 x 5600 pixels, make the background black and create a second layer.

Now turn your rulers on (if they are not by typing 'CTRL R') and set them to pixels (click on a ruler and select pixels).
Select the move tool and drag from the rulers a line up on the 700 pixles line (hold shift and selecting 700 will go easier). Do this every 700 pixels until you get a grid like this one.

Step 2

Here I drawn a letter as a customshape for the water.

Step 3

I want the water to be dripping down over a pattern (we'll make that pattern later on). For this we'll use the grid.

To make it easier to draw over the grid we put the option 'snape to guides' on, this why the brush will be somehow glued to the grid when you draw.

Do this by going to 'view' > 'snap to' > 'guides'.

Step 4

Now we select a brush to draw the dripping water. This shouldn't be to big or to small, a size 50px is nice. Set the hardness of the brush to 100%.

Step 5

Now we draw some dripping water over the grid lines, you'll notice the brush will stick to the grid.

Step 6

Because we want some round looking edges later on on the water we should make them a bit softer, do this by applying some 'Gaussian Blur'.

Step 7

Set the 'Gaussian Blur' to a radius of 25 pixels. And you'll get a nice soft edge around your drawing.

Step 8

Now save your drawing as a JPG (use the 'save' option NOT the 'save for web' because the image is large).

Next step is to make a background which matches the drawing we just made. We will need the grid for this again so the waterdrips we just made will fit perfectly.

I used 2 sources for the background to make a chessboard like image.
source 1:
source 2:

Make them to square images of 700 x 700 pixels. When done drag them to your tab where the grid is and place them inside the grid. Because the 'snap to grid' is still on it is easy to line them up.

Step 9

Keep on doing this (or copy the layers) untill the field is full.

Save this image (use the 'save' option NOT the 'save for web' because the image is large).

Step 10

Now open up Bryce and select the topview. If it doesn't open on the topview click either on 1 or 2 (as soon in the below image) untill you get this view.

Step 11

You'll see a grid in teh centre, we don't need this so you can click on it and drag it away.

Make sure you selected 'Create' on top and then click on the cubesymbol on top. Resize the cube which openes by selcting one of the corners and drag it, we'll set the accept size later on. Move the red square into the middle of your field.

Step 12

The first we do now is give this square a texture, in this case the chessboard like image we made before. To do so click on the Da Vinci man figure on top.

Step 13

This opens up a totally new screen in which you can import images.

"Click on '1' and then on 'A' > now you can upload the image of the chessboard, DO NOT upload anything in 'B' and upload the same image in 'C'.
Now click on '2' and upload your drawing on the dripping water.

When done click on the 'V' at the bottom.

Step 14

Now you are back in the topview and you'll see 2 small lines in the middle of the screen. Those are 2D representations of the images you just imported. We do not need them.
You can select them both by using a selectionfield. The best way to do this is click outside the square, hold your mousebutton and drag the field over the 2 images. Be carefull not to select the centre of the square too. Now press 'delete' on your keyboard and they are gone.

If you accidently removed the square too press CTRL Z to undo the previous step. You better then move the square to the side, remove the 2 images and then move the square back. (click on the square and drag it).

Step 15

Now we apply the material to the square.

To do so select the square and click on the small 'M' beside it.

Step 16

This opens up a new window, the Materials Lab.

Here you can control the materials, set for instance the colour, transparency and so on. We'll leave the settings as they are right now.

We'll need to import the chessboard, to do so we need a small detour. The way it is now we can't import our chessboard. So we need to import a readymade texture from Bryce itself.

Click on the small arrow beside the image with the ball.

Step 17

Another window opens and select here the first image '1', when done click '2', the 'V' at the bottom of the NEW screen.

Step 18

Now you are back to the Materials lab screen.

Now we are going to import the chessboard, to do so we need the 2 buttons marked as '1' and '2'. Here we encounter something weird in Bryce, if you click on the button marked '1' it imports a random image you've uploaded (in our case either the chessboard or the image with the drawing).

Just click '1'. If you see the chessboard appear: clcik on the 'V' at the bottom and go to the next step.

So you do not see the chessboard...
Next try: click on the button marked '2' and then on '1' again, this changes the uploaded images, repeat this untill you have the chessboard.
Now click on the 'V' at the bottom.

Step 19

Back into the topview, in the small image on top you'll see a quick preview of how it looks when rendered.

Step 20

If you want to render this intermediate step just click on the biggest ball on the left side.

Step 21

Now let's start working on adding the water.

To do this we use the terrain tool in Bryce. Click on the icon with the mountain on top.

Step 22

By clicking this icon a new square appears on your screen, in the middle of that screen you'll see some thicker red lines. This is the terrain layer with a standard terrain in it, the thicker red lines show the height of that terrain.

Step 23

First we need to make the chessboard and the terrain the same size and overlap them. To do so we drag the terrain a bit to the side.

Now click on the chessboard so it becomes red. On the top right side of the chessboard you'll see an 'A'. If you select this the 'Objects Attributes' panel opens, inhere you find the chessboards settings. We need to make the chessboard and the terrain the same size, to do this we need the bottom part of the 'Object Attributes' screen.

Get a piece of paper and write down the settings below 'Absolute Coordinates', we need those in teh next step.

Step 24

If you writen down the coordinates of the chessboard click on the terrain and Open the 'objects Attributes' panel by clicking on the top 'A'.

Here you change the 'Absolute Coordinates' into the once you wrote down from the chessboard. When done click on the 'V' of that panel.

Step 25

If you copied everything in teh right way you'll now see the chessboard and the terrain are overlapping eachother and they are the same size.

If this is not the case please recheck the last steps again, because we want the water follow the chessboard pattern it is important they are at the same position and are the same size.

Step 26

Now we need to adjust the height of the terrain. The way it is now the terrain is inside the block on which we have the chessboard pattern.

First we make the terrain a bit smaller in height. To do so we need a side view, On the right side you see 2 squares, the 2nd controls your view. Click once beside that 2nd square (on the spot marked '1') and you'll get the side view.

You'll notice the terrain is below the horizon, just the top part is visible. Below the horizon are 6 little squares though, with those you can resize the terrain. Now click on the litte square which is at the bottom in the middle and hold your mousebutton, drag your mouse to the left and you'll see the terrain getting less high.
Drag it untill the terrain is about 1/3 of the visible part above the horizon.

Step 27

This was just to show you can do this by hand but we are going to do this more precise.
The top of the terrain is still below the top of teh chessboard, it needs to be a little bit above it though.

Step 28

Now click on the 'A' on the right side again and change the 2nd value behind 'Origin'. Add a couple more numbers (so if your value is 18 make it 21 or so). This will make the terrain rise a bit above the top of the chessboard. The layer of the water doesn't have to be to heigh so a bit should be enough and you can adjust this later on by repeating this step.

Step 29

Now click on the left side of the 2nd square on the right, this way you get the topview again. You'll see both layers are still matching.

Now we start by adding the water image we made before, to do so click on the 'E' at the right side. This opens up the 'Terrain Editor'.

Step 30

To change the default loaded terrain into the waterimage we made before we do the next steps:

- Click on 'Pictures' (marked 1), here you can change the picture needed for our terrain.
- Click on the 1st 'Load' (marked 2), now you can search your computer and select your image with the waterstructure..
- Click on the 2nd 'Load' (marked 3), here again you select the image with the waterimage.

Step 31

Now you'll see 3 times the same picture beside eachother. If not repeat the previous step.

If all 3 are the same click on 'Apply'.

Step 32

You'll see your uploaded image in the big screen.

In the right bottom you see two circles, one with a 'X' and one with a 'V', click on the 'V'.

Step 33

Again you see a topview. If you look close enough you already can see the structure of the water appearing.

Curious how it looks so far? Click on the big ball on the right to render a new image.

Step 34

If everything went good so far you'll your waterimage laying on top of the chessboard and the drips follow the pattern of the chessboard.

If not go back in this tutorial and check your settings.
When you do not see the waterlayer above the chessboard then check step 28 again.
If the drips don't match up with the chessboard steps 23 and 24 might be worth to check again.

When your image looks like mine below click twice on the box icon at the bottom right to change back to the topview.

Step 35

As you've seen in the previous step the material of the water isn't right yet, for now it looks like someone dumped some concrete on our chessboard.

Click on the 'M' at the right of the terrain layer and the 'Materials Lab' will open, here we change the concrete into water.

Step 36

The 'Materials Lab' is open and you'll see the ball, which is a preview of the selected material, is still grey.

First we need to select the watertexture, click on the small arrow next to the ball.

Step 37

Here you find all teh materials installed. If you installed all the basic materials you'll see the same overview like mine.

Below you see 'Architectual' with a small arrow beside it, click on that arrow.

Step 38

A dropdown menu opens and at the bottom you see 'Waters', select that.

Step 39

In the new window that opens you see all the water materials which are installed. I want to go for a clear water so I select the material which is marked below. Then click on the 'V' in that window.

Step 40

You are back in the 'Materials Lab'. Here are a lot of settings you can adjust.

Step 41

We are going to change some settings here.

The water is too blue so we click on the blue oval behind 'DIFFUSE' and select a very light blue colour.
We also adjust the 'AMBIENT' colur. Click on the blue oval behind it and with the colourpicker click in the blue oval behind 'DIFFUSE' and then OK. This way both 'DIFFUSE' and 'AMBIENT' get the same colour.

I'd like the water to sparkle a bit more so we rise the number in front of 'SPECULARITY' to 77,9.
The transparency I raised to 100 because I like a nice clear water.
Last thing we adjust is the 'REFRACTION', raise that to 173.

Again, when done, click on the 'V' at the bottom.

Step 42

We are done! Congrats!

To make the final render look a bit better we add a lightsource above the chessboard. On top you see 5 yellow objects, click on the round one and a round lightsource is added to your scene. Click on the right of the 2nd square on the left to change to a sideview and move the lightsource a bit up.

Now return to the topview by clicking on the leftside of the 2nd square on the left and position the lightsource where ever you want it.

All is left is to render the final image, click on the big ball on the left.

I hope you learned something from this tutorial, for beginners in Bryce it must have given an insight into the possibilties of this program and probably we used some options you haven't used before. The more advanced users might have learned how to line up textures and how to use it for instance to add customshaped water in Bryce.

If you've done this tutorial please share your final result with us, the water should look different for all of us so it will be nice to see what you made.

Step 43

A personal note:

I used this to create a part of an entry at in this contest:

It took me a long time to figure out how to make my water flow the way I wanted it to flow, Bryce isn't really designed to do this so I needed to find a new way to do it. To make it easier on others is the reason why I created this tutorial. Hope you have fun with it.

Below you'll see my entry in this contest.


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Guest says:


(5 years and 531 days ago)
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Guest says:

wow amazing superb

(5 years and 531 days ago)
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nlc11 says:

thanks for the tutorial
the photo shop steps weren't that important though, i just went into the terrian part but thanks because i was trying to work out a way to do this. 5*

(5 years and 431 days ago)

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