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Photoshop CS5 Review - 3D Made Simple

By Patricia Meisels

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Creating 3D content for still and motion graphic projects can be easy now with Photoshop CS5.  In the past the time required to master sculpting, rigging and rendering 3D images in Maya has always been a barrier.  Photoshop CS5 has changed all that.  Now you can create and texture 3D shapes and lettering in a flash with a robust and straightforward Photoshop CS5 addition called Repousser (French for the process of creating raised designs by hammering from the rear of a material like tin or brass).

The shapes that you extrude into 3D can either be taken from Photoshop’s extensive shapes library (which can be supplemented by free downloads on the web like, Smashing Magazine's ultimate collection of custom shapes) or created by drawing your own custom shapes with the pen tool.  Once your 3D shape is created you can then apply any number of materials including natural materials like wood. The wood material can be manipulated by rotating and coloring to conform to the 3D shape you create, much like a shader in Maya.  And this process can be repeated or altered for all the different sides and surfaces of your object.

You can even combine multiple shapes in one Photoshop document.  The shape or lettering can then taken into After Effects with Photoshop’s lights and be made to interact with After Effect’s 3D camera as you animate your 3D shape.  

In the steps below I will outline a simple workflow to give you a glimpse of the process in Photoshop CS5.

Start a new project in Photoshop CS5 by going to File>New.  Name your project if you like and set the image width, height and resolution then press OK. Please note here that the smaller the size of these parameters make for quicker rendering.

Select the Custom Shape tool and use the drop down to choose a shape.  I chose one of the snowflake shapes.  The color at this point does not matter because in the Photoshop 3D Window you will be adding a texture which will contain it's own color anyways.

Next, here's the magic, go to the upper toolbar and select 3D>Repousser>Selected Path.


A notice comes up that says the shape layer needs to be rasterized before proceeding.  You can click YES.  Magically, after a few seconds the Repousser window opens up and you see your shape is now 3D.  

At this point you will have to take your mouse and simply drag down and left diagonally so that you can see more of the shape at an angle while changing options.  

Now you have two main choices, to use one of their Repousser Shape Presets and alter it or leave it as is and skip down to the other adjustable elements.   For my snowflake I am going to leave it as is and skip down to the "Extrude" portion of the Repousser window and play with depth and scale a bit.  In the depth box I typed in .03 because I don't need a real thick depth here and in the scale box I typed in 1.2 so that the edges of my snowflake sort of flay outward at the edges.


Next I'll skip over to the top right portion of the Repousser Window called "Materials" and use the drop down button next to the first item in that area called "All" to view the preset textures that can be applied.  There are a variety of these preset textures to choose from and for my purposes I will choose the one titled "Fabric Cotton" because it resembles a snowy texture more so than the others.


Next go down to the "Bevel " area and first I choose "Front and Back" the I take the Height up to 5 and the Width up to 5.  And in the "Contour” drop down try selecting different contours and see what results you get in the open docs window immediately.  Pretty much any of the will do, see what suits your taste.


Lastly, in the "Scene Settings" area of the Repousser Window you can change the lights in the "Lights" drop down.  I chose "Hard Lights" for my snowflake.


Now press OK at the bottom of this Repousser Window to close it and apply all the settings.  This may take several seconds as the Photoshop program is saving and interpreting what you've just done.  Now you are ready to bring your 3D snowflake into After effects or another animation program to use it.  If you'd like to go a step further to refine your 3D shape you can then go up to the top toolbar and select Window>3D.  A new Window will open called "3D Scene".  Don't be alarmed, this is just another type of layer window which is showing all the 3D elements you've already applied.  All you really need to focus on here is the "Render Settings" area about halfway down this box and change the drop down menu for "Quality" to " Ray Traced Draft" and be a little patient while Photoshop does it's thing.  Small blue boxes will appear to be moving around the screen as the translation takes place.  


Now you'll see that it has softened all the edges out and has made our snowflake look a bit more ice-like.  This quality drop down menu is a nice way to refine your shape but as it may be time consuming is not absolutely necessary.  But more of a preference in your final output shape. Now we have completed the process and this snowflake can be brought into another program and animated.  To see a sample of animation in After Effects with the snowflake click here.

More textures including veined leaf textures, butterfly textures, crystal and glass can be loaded into the presets window from the Adobe Manager Exchange or simply while working in Photoshop going to the upper toolbar and choosing "3D>Browse 3D Content online" and click "Ok".

For another tutorial applying this process to lettering try Creative Cow 3D Text Tutorial or for a quick overview of the entire 3D workflow in CS5 go to Adobe TV 3D in CS5.

Published on Jul 14, 2010

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