Brave new World
Issue: Volume: 30 Issue: 3 (March 2007)

Brave new World

It won’t come as news to hear that Adobe’s Photoshop is used in just about every application that makes use of the pixel. Photoshop is a constant across digital content creation disciplines—filmmaking, game development, DVD creation, print production, Web development, and, of course, photography and commercial art. And, don’t forget architectural rendering and video. In fact, any time there was a need to create a
2D image, Photoshop (or a Photoshop-like product) came into play. What is news, however, is the way Adobe started thinking about taking advantage of its ubiquity coupled with the new features in Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop CS3 Extended. Adobe reckoned that it needed to
improve workflow between its products and, thus, keep people happy within the warm embrace of Adobe products forever. And, the company needed to find more people to embrace.

On March 8, Adobe unveiled its plans for the new Photoshop CS3 Extended. As the name implies, with this version, Photoshop has extended the usefulness of Photoshop into new fields with features for professionals working in film and television, manufacturing, architecture and engineering, medicine, and science. Among the new features are support for 3D models, motion support with time-based cloning and healing on video layers, and support for scientific formats.

Adobe shocked a lot of people at Macworld this year when it demonstrated new 3D capabilities within Photoshop—not just importing 3D models, but also actually working with them. (It appeared that worlds were beginning to collide.) That capability was, in fact, an advance on Adobe’s Vanishing Point feature introduced in Photoshop CS2. Now, it’s possible to pull in 3D models in a variety of formats, including 3DS, OBJ, Collada, KMZ (Google Earth), and U3D (the format developed by Intel, Adobe, and others to enable 3D file exchange across platforms).

Once those models are in Photoshop, it’s possible to work with them and add a texture map. Professionals working with Autodesk’s 3ds Max or Maya, Softimage’s XSI, Luxology’s Modo, and more have been able to unwrap their texture maps and take them into Photoshop for additional painting and refinement. Now, they can work with the model directly in Photoshop. Models can be incorporated into 2D Photoshop files and placed by taking advantage of Vanishing Point. In CS3, Vanishing Point has been expanded to allow users to add multiple planes. As a result, says Adobe, it’s possible to create 3D models from 2D images by defining perspective planes with Vanishing Point and then exporting it to a 3D format.

To illustrate this capability, Adobe offers the example of a CD case. Adobe has been adding to its 3D literacy for a while, and the firm’s work in U3D enables 3D models to be output to Acrobat for the creation of interactive documents, including technical manuals. Now that ability extends to Photoshop. Models modified in Photoshop can also be output for use in other programs, including Flash and AJAX applications.

CAD Connection

The addition of another little dimension takes Adobe a giant step further into new application areas. Photoshop has all the information contained within the 3D model, so it’s possible to make cross sections. Add measuring tools, which Adobe has done, and you have a product that starts becoming useful to CAD users, many of whom may already use Photoshop to create renderings of their designs.

The measurement data can be output to CSV files as project information in other applications—for instance, BOM data for billing, excavation information for civil engineering—and PDFs may be created with dimensions. Given the capabilities of Acrobat 3D and now Photoshop with 3D, it’s pretty easy to wonder, at this point, what more Adobe might do in 3D. It seems a shame to stop here.

But Adobe’s exploration of new worlds doesn’t stop with a flirtation with CAD or a step into 3D. Photoshop’s ability to handle 32-bit color takes the company into the realm of high dynamic range. While all the early excitement around HDRI generally has been associated with games and movies, it has real immediate, practical use in science and medicine. Photoshop’s new measuring and alignment tools, coupled with its support of HDRI and animation, bring desktop visualization to the medical fields.

For instance, Photoshop can be used to work with DICOM files associated with tomography data gathered in a CAT scan. In the case of tomographic images, the ability to display 32-bit data means that no vital (literally “vital” in this case) information is lost. DICOM files may include multiple images. These can be animated thanks to Photoshop’s new abilities in video and animation. Also, Adobe has improved the ability to align images—for instance, images taken sequentially. Elements within the images can be isolated so that changes over time can be identified or extraneous elements can be removed. (To illustrate that capability, Adobe showed three shots of a fountain with people moving through it. Photoshop analyzed the shots and removed the elements that change—that is, the people moving through the photo.)

The field of medical visualization is vast, and the ability to bring it to the desktop represents a revolution on the scale of bringing CAD to the desktop or video transitioning to digital. Likewise, the addition of 3D awareness in Photoshop opens up new applications in Adobe’s traditional realms, such as art and filmmaking, as well as in product design and game development.

Architects make up one subsegment of the CAD world that’s already comfortable with Photoshop. By adding support for 3D and enabling cross sections, dimensioning, and database support for measurement data, Adobe hopes to attract more CAD users and scientists.

Will Users Come?

It doesn’t do any good to get faint over press releases and demonstrations. We’re not sure how many professionals working in film and video are going to use Adobe’s tools for things like wire removal or adding effects when they have swell tools already. Ditto for 3D work. For instance, the demonstration of using 3D was to add a texture to a cola can. What happens with more complex shapes?

The real proof of Adobe’s potential in new fields is in its actual use. For people already using Photoshop (or Premiere Pro or After Effects), Adobe is ensuring they do more in Photoshop. When more people outside the traditional Adobe world start putting Photoshop through its paces, it will become clear if Photoshop’s tools really can play in specialized fields.

All the miraculous technology in the world is of little use if it doesn’t meet the specific needs of the professionals using it. Adobe, of course, is confident that it has jumped that hurdle. But if the company hasn’t, you can bet it’ll keep at it. 

Photoshop CS3 Extended supports DICOM fi les, and that, along with the ability to measure, align, and animate, will enable scientists to select certain views, eliminate confusing aspects, and see changes over time.

Kathleen Maher is a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, California-based consultancy specializing in graphics and multimedia, and is also editor in chief of JPR’s “TechWatch.” She can be reached at