What a Simple Hobby Can Do

The Macintosh has always been known for its prominence in the graphics world. Ever since its first appearance in 1984, the Mac has been the computer of choice for desktop publishing and any graphics work. I’m not much of an artist, but I like to know that the Mac is what they would recommend if I wanted to get into that business.

A few years ago, a company named MetaTools released a program called Bryce. This program, made exclusively for the Mac, was a three-dimensional landscape (or worldscape, as the case may be) generator. Creating your world was simple. You simply put things where you wanted them and put a texture on them so they would look nice. The user interface was not the standard Mac interface everyone knows and loves, but it was made specifically for the purpose of this program. It was truly a great program.

For quite some time now, I have used this program. I know how to use it, and I am able to create beautiful photo-realistic images with it. Let it be known that this program requires a relatively fast computer. It can run on slower Macs, but the process of creating a three-dimensional image is a computational intensive task and can take hours to do. Therefore, the faster the computer you have, the happier you will be with this program.

A while ago I noticed that Bryce had been updated. The new version, called Bryce 3D, improved the program in many ways and also added animation to it. With animation, I could do so much more with this program, I thought. Even if the animation part turned out to be useless, the program still has other improvements, so I would not have wasted any money. Needless to say, I bought the upgrade.

Bryce is a limited program in that it can really only make landscapes and worlds. Granted, it does this with absolute perfection. If you want to create a three-dimensional car, for instance, you need another type of program called a 3D modeler. These allow you to create an object as if it were made of clay and shape it into a car. These, too, have animation controls. Generally speaking, these programs are high-end graphic programs made for the most professional of graphic artists.

I knew that I would eventually want a 3D modeling program so that I could have cars and other figures in a Bryce animation. So doing some research, I came upon Ray Dream Studio 5, a very good product that was a little above my head. It has seemingly endless features, but rationalizing it, eventually I might need one of those special features. As it turned out, I ordered Ray Dream Studio 5.

I never thought for a second that my computer was too slow, or had too little RAM. I thought that a 200 megahertz 603e was a fast chip and that 32 megabytes of RAM was a lot. My monitor was a little small, only a 15 inch. However, I have never needed anything more than what I already have, so I never thought anything bad about my system.

When the programs arrived, I installed Ray Dream Studio 5. When I ran it, I first saw that the splash screen was a very nice graphic created in this very program. At first I could not quite see what was wrong with it, but then I realized that I had seen this picture on the box. Normally, there would be nothing strange about that except that the screen image was not highlighted as well as the picture on the box.

Knowing that this was a professional program, I realized that the creators probably assumed this program would be run on a large monitor with millions of colors. My monitor only displays thousands of colors. I always thought that was a lot, but I now realize why graphic artists always have millions of colors. That was no real problem, I was not going to use it for professional purposes anyway.

As the program opened a new blank document, the tool bars appeared slowly, the window drew slowly, everything was slow. When I actually used the program, I noticed a delay whenever I did anything. In hopes of speeding it up, I played around with some settings and it did, indeed, get a little better, but not as fast I would have liked.

There are a lot of windows in this program. They all should be open at the same time, because each has a lot of options that all need to be used. Unfortunately, my monitor, at 640 by 480 pixels, is way too small to show all of them at the same time.

Taking a look at the RAM requirements for Ray Dream, I see that it uses about 28 megabytes. My system uses 8 megabytes and I only have 32 megabytes. I can now explain why it was running poorly. The program was running in virtual memory, which is notorious for slowing down a program. Virtual memory is designed to allow more applications to be open, as long as each of them will run in the available physical RAM. Ray Dream will not run on my real RAM, so it has to use the virtual memory as if it were true RAM, slowing down the program to a crawl.

In a matter of minutes, one program was able to show me how inadequate my computer was to do any good graphics work. I had thought from the beginning of time that the Mac was the premier graphics computer. I am still convinced that it is, but I need to add some simple items to my system.

I made a list of everything I would need to get for my computer to make this program run really well. The first thing was more RAM. A total of 64 megabytes would be fine. I would also need a larger monitor. A 17 inch would be ideal. To run this with millions of colors, I need more Video RAM, or VRAM. This is a special form of fast RAM that is used to display colors on the screen. The more VRAM you have, the more colors you can display. To get more VRAM, I need a video card with a lot of it. A new monitor is about $700. A video card is about $500. And the RAM would be $100. Together this is about $1300 for all the improvements to my system to make it worthy of Ray Dream Studio 5. One is forced to wonder if it would be better to buy a new G3 computer. I checked Apple’s online store and figured out that a really fast computer with everything I would need to run this program would be about $3500.

As of right now, I have not done one thing to my system. I simply cannot decide if a new computer is worth the money, or if it would be better to upgrade the computer I already have. For $2200 more than the upgrade cost, I could have a computer that is more than twice as fast as mine. I can still use this program on my current system, just not very well. Luckily, Bryce 3D runs fine on my current system. I find it quite interesting how my simple hobby lead to me actually pondering about buying a new computer. Any suggestions on what I should do would be quite welcome.


Brian Koponen (briankop@idt.net)

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