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Adding complexity to terrains through layering

Author: krickerd

Tools Needed

  • Bryce 5


This tutorial will explain how to achieve more realistic looking landscapes in Bryce through multi-replicating terrains, tweaking their characteristics, and changing their materials. This tutorial assumes the reader is acquainted with the terrain editor and material editor (but is not necessarily a pro).




a) Create a terrain and enter the terrain editor by clicking “E”.

b) Click the down arrow to the right of the Fractal generator and choose a fractal type (in this case I used Slickrock).


c) Click the Fractal button until you get something you like.

d) Change the terrain resolution from 128 - normal to 1024 - massive (this will increase detail).

e) Click the down arrow to the right of the Fractal generator again and shift + click on Random Extent. This will turn it and Random Position and Random Character off.


f) Click the Fractal button again. What this does is give you the same terrain but generates it at the higher resolution. This step is saved until last as it takes the PC longer to think, so better to do it when you have a fractal pattern you like.

g) At this point you can either leave this terrain the way it is and place the camera where you want it in the scene, or you can use Gaussian edges to make a central mountain. This is up to you. For simplicity's sake I used Gaussian edges to make a central mountain. Increase the terrain size. I doubled it 3 times by using the * key. The next series of steps involve duplicating this terrain, so it's important to get the basic shape how you want it.

h) Make sure to name this terrain. Just add 'Main' before 'Terrain 1'. Texture the terrain in the material editor. In the main image I used “Whole Mountain” from the 'Plains and Terrains' category. This looks pretty good right? Well it's not too bad but lacks realism. Let's see if we can fix that.



a) Let's add some rocks which poke through the grass. Duplicate the terrain and re-name it Rocks. Lower it below the 1st terrain slightly. Change it's material to 'Shiny Red Plastic' from the 'Simple and Fast' category. This of course is temporary and will allow you to see exactly what is poking through the top terrain.

b) We are going to add some basic noise for the rocks. Enter the terrain editor. Turn on the Zoom Area so you can see the effect more easily. Now click and drag the Basic Noise button to the right - DO THIS SLOWLY as it is fairly powerful effect. Remember less is more - we're going for subtlety here. Even with the zoom window you should see very little change. If the noise is very visible the rocks will be abnormally spiky.

c) Once satisfied, accept the changes and exit the terrain editor. You should have something like this:


d) Now that the rocks can be seen let's make them LOOK like rocks. Change the material to something like 'Petrified Barnacles' from the 'Rocks and Stones' category. Great, now there's gravel covering the entire mountain! This can be controlled in two ways. Either clip the top and/ or bottom off using the clipping brackets in the terrain editor, or use the material editor (my preferred way). To do this simply select an unused hole in the material editor and use something like 'Basic Altitude' in the Transparency channel (MAKE SURE THE 'BLEND TRANSPARENCY' OPTION IS SELECTED UNDER MATERIAL OPTIONS!) In my example the rocks appear at the top and fade out toward the bottom. Feel free to experiment with any texture to control where the rocks appear. The thing to keep in mind is that the rocks appear only where the alpha of the transparent texture appear white and shades of gray.


e) Snow can be produced in a similar manner. Just repeat the steps above EXCEPT use Height noise instead of basic noise to put the snow on top. Or use basic noise but lower the terrain resolution while applying the noise, then change it back to 1024 when finished.

Step 3 - ADD TREES


This technique is similar to what we have already done. Duplicate the original terrain and rename it 'trees', lower the duplicate slightly, then edit it. Hold the spacebar down and click the 'spikes' button. Notice on the terrain canvas that the brush behavior changes from 'Elevation' to 'Paint Effect'. This means that when you paint on the canvas, the selected effect is applied. The 'spikes' option will look like distant trees. Use a soft brush and low flow. You can hold down the mouse button and paint in the trees where you want them, or use a series of clicks which will act as a 'dabbing' effect. I find that clicking and dragging can create taller spikes faster than I like, therefore I like to use multiple clicks. This will take some experimenting. You can always undo or delete the terrain and duplicate it again. Also experiment with terrain resolutions. The higher resolutions will create smaller trees when you paint, lending to a more 'distant' look. When you are done painting, switch to a higher resolution and hit the 'smoothing' button once, then switch back. You will need to lower the terrain more as smoothing makes the terrain larger. Texture this terrain using the 'Verdant Hills' material from the 'Planes and Terrains' library.


What I've attempted to demonstrate is that one way to more complex and realistic landscapes in Bryce is by terrain layering. Hopefully by now you can see how terrains and materials can interact and compliment one another. Feel free to experiment with other types of terrain effects such as 'Subplateaus' and 'Subcontours'. Layering terrains is one-half of the equation. The other half is in using good materials. One very good tutorial on material building by Mario Garza can be found here: “” I hope you found this tutorial useful. Here is a valley I made using these techniques:


Happy landscaping!