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A Path in Bryce

Author: - esha -

Tools Needed

  • Bryce 5 or 5.5
  • Photoshop or other 2D program


With Bryce you can create beautiful landscapes. And paths are important scenic elements. In this tutorial I'm going to show you how to create a well-trodden path which follows the slopes of a terrain. For this tutorial you should know the basic functions of Bryce, e.g. how to create a terrain and how to assign materials to it.


Step 1: Creating A Terrain

Open Bryce and create a terrain. Click on the 'E' to open the Editor.

If you are planning to use the terrain in the foreground of your picture, I'd recommend increasing the resolution. Click on the grid symbol and choose a higher resolution from the menu. In my example I'll use 1024.


Because I didn't like the default terrain I used the fractal option to create a nicer terrain. If you click on the small arrow next to 'Fractal' you can choose the type of terrain from the list. I used 'Rolling Hills'.

Click on the blue round button next to 'Fractal'; click repeatedly until Bryce creates a terrain you like.


Step 2: Importing The Terrain Into Photoshop

For editing the terrain I'm using Adobe Photoshop, but I think it will work with other 2D programs in a similar way.

Of course you could use the painting tool to create a path directly in the terrain editor, but an image editing software like Photoshop offers many other tools which I find useful. So I import the picture into Photoshop:

In Bryce's terrain editor press Ctrl+C. The terrain's grayscale image is copied into the clipboard.

Open Photoshop and create a new file. Usually the file Photoshop creates is already the size of the copied image, in my case 1024×1024.


Press Ctrl+V to paste the grayscale image.

Step 3: Painting the path

Create a new layer. On this layer use the pencil tool to paint a path in dark grey (77%). I wanted a wide path, so I used quite a large brush size.


The path should follow the slopes of the terrain. To achieve this I reduced the layer's opacity to 50% (short key: 5) and set the blending mode to 'multiply'.

If you used this grayscale image to generate a terrain in Bryce it would look like this:


But in reality paths usually don't have sharp edges like these. So I decided to tweak them a bit.

Step 4: Softening The Edges

By double-clicking the layer in Photoshop's layer palette you can open the Layer Style Menu. I assigned a wide stroke to the path. Take a look at the screenshot to adjust the other settings.


For the stroke I used a gradient. If you click on the gradient symbol, you can edit the gradient.


The darkest color is the same hue of grey as the path, the lightest color is white. In between there is a medium grey which is placed a bit to the right so that the lighter hues are applied towards the end of the gradient. This will make the edges of the path slope more naturally.

Save this file and switch back to Bryce.

Step 5: Using The Grayscale Image In Bryce

In the terrain editor click on 'Picture' to load the file. Click on 'Smoothing' two or three times to blend the different hues of grey.


Rotate your terrain or move the camera until you find a good angle. Do a test render. The rendered terrain now looks like this:


To make it look really natural the path needs a different material than the grass around it. But this path is a part of the grassy terrain, so how can we assign a different material to it? To do this, I used a transparency map.

Step 6: Preparing A Transparency Map

Back to Photoshop.

Switch off the layer with the grayscale terrain.

Set the path layer's opacity back to 100% (shortcut 0).

Duplicate it twice.

Now the path is pitch black, but the gradient at the edges is still visible.


(Alternatively, I could have changed the path's color from grey to black, but then I would have had to re-adjust the gradient to make it darker. Copying the layer is quicker.)

This will be our transparency map, also called alpha map. Save the file under a new name.

Step 7: Assigning Materials

Back to Bryce.

Choose a good material for the grassy terrain. Personally, I like to use J. Allen's 'Seriously Real' materials, but you choose whatever you like.

Duplicate the terrain (Ctrl+D) and click on the small 'M' to open the material editor. Select a material for the path.

In a free channel click to set the blue button for the transparency (Number 1 in the screenshot below). Set the mode to 'Blend Transparency' (No. 2). In the channel's component switch to Picture mode (click on the 'P', No. 3). Then click on the small pink button above (No. 4).


Now you are in the picture editor.

Click on one of the empty grey boxes to load a picture. Select the file with the black path you've just made a few minutes ago.

Then click 'Copy' under the left preview. Click 'Paste' under the middle preview.

Then click the black-and-white symbol above the middle preview to invert the picture.


In the right preview you can see the result, the black path. The rest of the terrain will be invisible.

Close the picture editor by clicking OK. Close the material editor, too, with OK.

Step 8: Raising The Terrain

The path is not yet visible because both terrains are sitting on exactly the same coordinates.

We will change that now:

With the terrain with the path material still selected, click on the small 'A' to open the attributes box.

Change the y value of the origin a little bit.

In my example I changed it from 26, 93 to 26, 95.


If you render now, you'll get a nice natural-looking path.



This works best for relatively flat terrains. If your terrain includes very steep slopes and high peaks, be careful where you paint your path. In reality, paths do not cross the high peaks, they wind around them and usually run along less steep parts of the mountain. If you want your path to look natural, you should keep this in mind. ;)

Note 2: If you want to create a narrow path, the stroke layer style you apply to the path in Photoshop should be narrower, too. Just try and experiment!

Happy rendering,