Adobe does 3D

3D in Photoshop

Adobe does 3D

For many years this capability was hidden away in the form of Photoshop’s 3D Transform filter, which enables users to project a bitmap onto a cubic, spherical or cylindrical surface. However, such 3D handling is now better left to the artwork mapping in Illustrator, so Adobe quietly dropped the 3D Transform filter from Photoshop CS and replaced it with another 3D-based effect that’s better suited to photo editing: the Vanishing Point filter. Calling this dialog a “filter” hardly does it justice, as in many ways it’s a standalone environment dedicated to 3D handling. You can even close down an image, re-open it and return to the filter with all its three-dimensional information retained.

Crucial to the Vanishing Point dialog is the ability to add perspective planes to an image simply by clicking on their four defining corners. Once Photoshop knows about the planes an image contains, it can take them into account when you come to edit it: copy and paste a flat window onto an angled wall, for example, and it applies the necessary perspective automatically. If you then slide the copy across the surface, Photoshop resizes it in real-time. Even more impressive is the ability to use the Vanishing Point dialog’s hands-on Brush and Stamp tools to paint directly on to the image, with the planar perspective information taken into account in the size and angle of the tool. This is handy, for example, when you need to “clone out” some unwanted object lying on a perspective floor, or to paint a pattern on a rug.

Again, we really shouldn’t be surprised at this extraordinary ability – after all, a photo is a 2D representation of the 3D world, so you’ll sometimes need 3D help to edit it successfully. What’s more, once the initial excitement wears off, the Vanishing Point filter’s limitations become apparent. In some ways, it’s actually less powerful than the previous 3D Transform filter, because it can’t render artwork onto curved surfaces such as spheres or cylinders. The Vanishing Point filter may recognise a 3D world, but it’s a very boxy one. In fact, in its first release it could see only flat surfaces that were perpendicular to one another, like the sides of a house. This flaw has been addressed in the latest CS3 release, so you can now add non-perpendicular planes (which Adobe demonstrates with a sample file that lets you copy and paste artwork on to a half-open CD case).

In Photoshop CS3 Extended, though, Adobe takes some truly extraordinary strides into the world of advanced 3D editing. The first sign of this is the ability to export planes that you’ve create in the Vanishing Point filter in the common 3DS format. I opened the resulting 3DS file into Cinema 4D and was amazed to discover that it wasn’t just the basic mesh that had been exported – the underlying image had been processed too, broken up into separate texture maps for each plane. This meant I could rotate the fully realised sample CD case in three dimensions, which in turn means you can use Photoshop CS3 Extended to create 3D models from photographs! This modelling capability is cramped by Vanishing Point’s restriction to flat planes, but this export feature is just the beginning of Photoshop CS3 Extended’s 3D capabilities – far more striking is the ability to import 3DS files directly into Photoshop.

I first tried this using the Place command, which pops up a dialog that asks what size you want to rasterise the incoming image. This shows that Photoshop CS3 Extended can now render the default view embedded in a 3DS file – not to the same photorealistic, ray-traced standard as the originating application, to be sure, but retaining all associated parameter-based materials, texture maps and lights. This is impressive enough, but it pales into insignificance compared with the other way of importing 3D artwork. If you use Layer | 3D Layer | New 3D Layer from the File menu instead, you can load a 3DS file (or several other 3D formats including Alias Wavefront’s OBJ and Intel’s universal 3D U3D) automatically as a smart object-based 3D layer. Double-click the layer’s thumbnail in the Layers palette and a range of new 3D tools and options appears in the context-sensitive Control bar, which you can use to position, scale and, crucially, rotate the object in 3D space and view it from any angle. And all in real-time.

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