As you know, I am a paranoid obsessed type of person, never ever ever happy with ANYTHING I’ve made.
But to your credit, at least you still show it even if you’re not happy with it, and that’s something I personally never bring myself to do which is why you never see renders from me.
Anyway, what I wanted to say was something about the water, why it looks wrong:
Out of the five you posted, the first two are laughable when I consider your skills with Bryce. You’re not an amateur but my dog can render better water than that. The last three, however, the water looks very good, but on the very last one, there is a perfectly clear indication of what’s wrong with the water.
Refraction looks wrong.
Over recent months I’ve seen hundreds, no, thousands of beach and coastline photos of Ibiza (Spanish island), and one thing that strikes me odd about your last render is the refraction, it’s picking-up far too much detail and that makes the water look odd. Number three and four don’t appear to suffer from it as much, but the fifth makes it obvious that refraction is at least one of the issues.
Comparing to render number five:
Look at how detail is refracted in this angle:
Compared to this angle:
You’ll notice it hardly looks any different, so what you need to be asking yourself is, why?
Lots of things to consider, but mainly, bear in mind the complexity of the ripples or waves because although that doesn’t change the refractive index of the water in real life, when we render water we need to make-up for deficiencies we have elsewhere (and unless we’re totally obsessed, we all render them). For example, we know if a face is fake because we pick-up on things, and it’s the same with water, because although it is visually endless, we still know when something doesn’t look right, and when a render of water doesn’t look right, it is because we failed in other areas.
The only way you will get accurate water is to know more about the water and model it, surface it, and render it as accurately as possible (remember, it’s a ray-tracer, has no mind of it’s own, and does exactly what you tell it to do. But we don’t have to be super accurate, so we need to make up for that deficiency. So, while you might have a refractive index that works at a certain angle, it is just a fluke because other setting that are wrong are allowing it to pass as acceptable, but that might not be the case when you move the camera to a different angle.
Shapes of the ripples themselves is going to be pretty much essential to make it believable, and this is why people find it easy to render calm water but fall flat on their faces when they attempt an ocean. Calm water can be anything from a glass like finish (easy) to a slight soft-edged ripple (still easy). Oceans are a totally different thing, and if you give your water the properties used for an ocean when you’re rendering calm water, we know it’s not right the moment we see it.
Not very technical I know, but it’s the same no matter what we render (I’ve pointed this out many times). Whenever can’t do that, forget about following simple things like, ah, I set my refraction to water so that must be correct. Nope, so as well as the refraction you need to consider the shapes of the ripples and waves as well.
Another aspect of making such a render believable is demonstrated here: