Photoshop 3D is not about 3D

Or rather, it’s not just about 3D.  But let me back up a second.


Remember the Newton?  My first week at Adobe, I attended an outside "how to be a product manager" seminar at which the Newton was held up as a cautionary tale.  The speaker pointed out that the product’s one critical feature–the thing on which everything else depended–was a handwriting recognition system that sucked at recognizing handwriting.  Among many other things, the Newton also featured a thermometer.  Customers, according to the speaker, had a conniption: what the hell were the product designers thinking, getting distracted with stuff like a thermometer when they couldn’t get the foundation right?


The moral, obviously, is that if you’re going to branch into new territory, you’d better have made your core offering rock solid.  And even if it is solid, some customers may perceive any new work as coming at their expense.


I worry a bit about Photoshop users seeing the app branch into 3D and thinking we’ve taken our eye off the ball. Earlier this week reader Jon Padilla commented, "Some of my disgruntled co-workers grumbled ‘oh great! a bunch of cool features we’ll never learn to use…’"  No matter what Photoshop adds specifically for your needs, the presence of other features can make it easy to say, "That looks like a great product… for someone else."


Obviously we care about improving the way Photoshop gets used in 3D workflows, especially around compositing and texture painting.  If that’s all we had in mind, however, I think we would be overdoing our investment in 3D features relative to others.  As it happens, our roadmap is broad and ambitious, so let me try to give some perspective:


  • At root, Photoshop’s 3D engine is a mechanism that runs programs on a layer, non-destructively and in the context of the Photoshop layer stack.  At the moment it’s geared towards manipulating geometry, shading surfaces, etc., but shader code can perform a wide range of imaging operations.
  • Features that work on 3D data–being able to create & adjust lights, adjust textures and reflectivity, paint on transformed surfaces, etc.–work on 2D data as well.  (Wouldn’t it be nice to have Lighting Effects written in this century?)
  • As photographers finally tire of chasing Yet More Megapixels, cameras will differentiate themselves in new ways, such as by adding depth-sensing technology that records 3D data about a scene.  The same infrastructure needed for working with synthetic 3D objects (e.g. adjustable lighting, raytracing) can help composite together photographic data.
  • The field of photogrammetry–measuring objects using multiple 2D photos–is taking off, fueled by the ease with which we can now capture and analyze multiple images of a scene.  The more Photoshop can learn about the three-dimensional structure of a scene, the more effectively it can manipulate image data.


I know I’m not providing a lot of specifics, but the upshot is that we expect Photoshop’s 3D plumbing to be used for a whole lot more than spinning Coke cans and painting onto dinosaurs.  Rather than being a thermometer on a Newton, it’s a core investment that should open a lot of new doors over many years ahead, and for a very wide range of customers.

28 thoughts on “Photoshop 3D is not about 3D

  1. Do you want to add a feature that everyone (at least everyone working on the web) will use? Add FTP. I use a killer text editor that will edit and save files right off of my FTP site. Why do I have to ‘Save for Web’ to my drive, and then use another program to upload the files? Now THAT would actually save users some time.
    [I hear you, and I can see that being useful. Of course, as soon as we added it we’d get crucified for adding “bloat” to the app. (Trust me, it’s like clockwork.) We’d also be committing ourselves to staying up to speed with various protocols (e.g. “Why aren’t you guys keeping up with the new BogusFTP 9.1 spec? Lazy!!”). –J.]

  2. Well spoken! I’m glad to hear your reassurances–I always give PS the benefit of the doubt and assume that everything you guys do is for well-considered reasons (shiny logo, perhaps, aside :P), but it’s nice to hear that my blind loyalty isn’t wasted.
    And…did I sniff out a promise there, that we’ll be seeing a new Lighting Effects filter? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜€
    [Not per se, at least not this time. I did disclose as PS World that we’ve added some pretty capable light-editing features, and it’s possible to use these on 2D surfaces (by converting any 2D layer(s) to a 3D postcard). The guts will all be there; it’s just a photographer-friendly UI that’s missing.
    The point, though, is that we’re keeping quite busy behind the scenes, and it sometimes takes many cycles for the full picture to emerge. (All this 3D stuff springs from the Smart Objects work that first appeared in CS2, and I’d say that even with the next release we’ll only be 50% towards the whole vision I’ve had in mind.
    My wife recently asked me what’s the hardest part of my job. My immediate answer: “Waiting.” –J.]
    Take care, keep up the great blogging. Oh, and congrats on the Hall of Fame! Very much well-earned.

  3. Jack,
    I know how to make all your photoshop troubles go away. Move the company to Kentucky.
    We don’t have email and phones rarely work here. We get electricity 3 days per week.
    Hooray for us.
    You guys can sell your building and land and use the profits to buy our whole state.
    Now that’s a deal
    Ken in KY

  4. Wow. I got mentioned. I feel like some kind of celebrity, now.
    Evolution is not always fun. I look back at the Newton, and think, besides that I wanted one, that it was the first step to the iPhone.
    Anyone remember Photoshop before layers? Or attempting to retouch something on an 8bit Mac IIci? No? Anybody…? Geez, I feel really old now.

  5. I think one of the reasons that people have such a back lash to the 3D stuff(like me), is that your demos show “hobbiest” uses for them. Show me how I can use this is my real production environment!
    I work for a game studio and when painting textures etc, we’ve got specific programs like Zbrush, Maya, Mudbox. When you introduce new 3d stuff that covers just a small part of what the big guys do, why should I start using it?
    If you’re going to draw people away, you need to have a competitive list of functionality, not a little of this and a little of that. Otherwise the only people you’ll get to use it is the hobbiests, and they definately won’t drive demand for more stuff. And that is what it seems like you have right now, just a taste of what the other programs at our disposal really offer.
    [Sometimes I feel like we’re building the Golden Gate Bridge, and people look at it under construction and say, “That thing sucks! I could never drive across it.” How can we finish things if we don’t start them? –J.]
    Don’t get me wrong, I love Lightroom and Photoshop, but it kinda seems like a “we’ve got that too” attitude, when it’s not really sufficient to get the job done. It’s like putting in a half baked word processor in Quicken so I can email my financial guy, but I can’t change font or alignment or size.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts, & I really appreciate this blog to learn what’s going on in your heads over there.
    [I do hear you, and we’re not planning to do any half-assed work in PS just for the sake of saying “me too.” We’ll only do things where we think we can add solid, often unique value. It just may not be possible to do everything all at once.
    One other thing: I’m sensitive to the danger of making PS into a “jack of all trades, master of none,” and yet I wouldn’t say that the app A) shouldn’t go into spaces where dedicated solutions exist, and B) it either has to exceed those apps in every way in order to be useful. Just because Painter exists doesn’t mean PS shouldn’t deliver better painting tools; same goes for Fireworks and the Web. We need to try to do the right thing, offering a critical mass of functionality in a given area (so that it’s not a bridge to nowhere). –J.]

  6. Going by the information that has been released to the public, either from the photoshop world keynote or other public blogs, it seems that the push in Photoshop CS4 is towards more integration with 3D. This isn’t a bad thing, but why should I, a photographer who doesn’t deal with any 3D now upgrade from CS3?
    [Don’t worry, there will be *plenty* of good stuff for photographers. We just haven’t talked about it yet. –J.]
    What has happened in the past is that I have had to upgrade because I started using a new camera, which then needed a new version of ACR, which in turn required me to upgrade to a new version of photoshop.

  7. It is a great time to say extremely important thing about any kind of software and it’s features: I don’t understand especially “creative people” talking about features that they don’t need… Most of the times when I hear someone saying “oh I don’t use this filter.. I don’t use Bridge… This is useless..” It simply means that they don’t understand how it works… Anyway some people can be creative with a hammer or piece of paper.
    I can see a need for AIR app to customise Ps but so far I think that is the only part I don’t need:-) I will try it before making my final decision:-)
    Anyway if you’re a car mechanic you don’t throw away your tools just because you don’t need them or don’t know how to use them.
    So when CS3 was announced I was exited about new features like 3d support – and I am not a 3d guy at all. But when my favourite tool has more use it makes me more useful if I get a chance to know them.. and those features makes Photoshop the most powerful software in it’s field- it is expandable beyond users abilities. So sky is not the limit – the way some people think is.
    A year ago I started to work in big production department and I’ve seen a number of people with years of experience asking me about what is that Br icon in my dock??? Just try to imagine the rest of creative conversations.
    Finally when I first got my hands on Ps Extended I was amazed about 3d functionality but when Strata plugin came in.. oh man that was something.. and your latest sneak peak on CS4… I felt like sugar rush for an next hour…

  8. Well yes but why was the 3D so slow in the demo? The interaction of orbiting, rotating or painting on a 3d model like that dinosour should be a lot more fluid nowadays.
    And what’s wrong with Photoshop being a great 3D texture painting program too with exporting laid out texture maps for the 3d programs.

  9. You say “the next release we’ll only be 50% towards the whole vision I’ve had in mind.” and The Golden Gate Bridge is still under construction — what are you talking about? Is your vision describable in a few sentences or is it a Corp. Secret? If you’re not going to build Maya into PS (see above by Zach), what is it for?
    I do Web and Print projects every day. What will this add that I can’t already do? You’re Painter analogy makes sense, but I guess I need an example.
    (It’s no big deal to use Swift for spinning objects in Flash… is that what this is? A built in UI so a small stuff like Swift can be done without using another (gasp) brand?)

  10. Maybe 3D it’s too much. It is nice, but like someone said here, there is better and dedicated professional tools than what Photoshop may are going to offer.
    Now, something very old that I don’t use too much, but I love to is the very old displace filter. That could be redone in the way you mention it about the lightning filter. Have a displacement layer and voilรก, instead of having a picture in PSD format only and apply it to the main image, trial and error.
    Maybe this is not the place to say this, but I was thinking on that while reading your post.
    And I remember using Photoshop 2.5 without layers. That was for pros only ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m feeling older too :-S

  11. John,
    I am constantly gratified that Adobe is reading my very mind at all the junctures it does and is delivering the PS future as well as it does. I only wish that the cost was not so high. I understand the need for profit as well as anyone, but there is nothing wrong with making a living and letting the rest of the world do likewise. Your work has made me all of my money but it is starting to stretch it a little too much at times. Maybe let’s back off a little on the upgrade prices if every two years there is a new one. Remember what happened to the 3 year loan, 3 year buy new car, 3 year parts life? The auto industry has paid dearly with that form of greed. The oil people will also soon enough. Love is the most important thing.

  12. Photoshop still doesn’t have a proper one-step Straighten Tool. I would say that is the kind of fundamentals that need to be addressed before all those fancy 3D options…

  13. If we were able to select more than one Channel at a time, as requested for many years, and would be able to edit animated gifs, like we were in older versions with IR, maybe we wouldn’t feel that you waste your time on useless features. Maybe if we could spacebar-drag when pathing, we just wouldn’t care. Maybe if we would’t be annoyed by useless GUI additions that cost us time and can’t be tuned off, we just wouldn’t notice new 3D and video features and those who really need them would be happy too.
    But since so many basic problems never get adressed and the app gets more clunky and expensive, we ask ourselves, is this really what they should spend their time on? How can you not agree?

  14. Regarding Maciej’s comment that people don’t use Bridge because they don’t “know how to use it”:
    1. Most people give it a chance but it’s just way too slow compared to the simple file browser, offers more than anyone needs, which might be why it’s so slow and often crashes or needs a reset of the preferences.
    2.It might get somewhere, it would be great if it worked (ie one setting Color Profiles for all apps) but at the moment I really ask myself “Should I open it or just use a different app?” Should Bridge still get a chance? Yes, as long as it doesn’t mean replacing something that works fine, faster and is actually used by people. Accusing the costumers who already paid for the app when they refuse to use it because it costs them too much time and nerves although they know every single shortcut doesn’t solve the weakness of the app. Should 3D get a chance? Why not, if it’s on top of the necessary updates, hell yes. As long as the Installers, Updaters and basic Tools need heavy improvement, no. Think about it, with simple improvements you can reduce worldwide cussing and heart attacks. Or you can add a feature that one day might be useful and make most people shrug. Is that worth it?

  15. I thought the newton’s thermometer helped with the screen, (google results imply contrast?) and wasn’t really to tell you how hot/cold you felt.
    [I think that was its reason for inclusion, and I’m guessing the temperature readout was added in order to offer a more customer-facing feature. –J.]

  16. I have no problems with what Adobe has been adding to Photoshop. Photoshop like all good programs is a creature in evolution.
    My big complaint is that Adobe very very seldom goes back and fixes or repairs older areas of the program.
    The extract command could still use some work. Being able to save history with your image, logic processing and user prompting and some sort of code protection for actions is still needed. Scripting that a normal person could figure out and use instead of a 5th degree programming black belt, the filter gallery was bad from day one and needs to be slimmed down and improved by adding transparency and layer blending modes, almost all of the filters need to be updated with a little larger previews, some need previews and most could use some new functionality. The list goes on and on. Adobe just ignores this.
    [No, we don’t. You’re just not seeing all of what we’re up to behind the scenes. –J.]
    New features are great, but when added on top of some of the weak parts of Photoshop’s foundation it makes one wonder how long this structure is going to be standing before people starting putting their foot through the old floor boards.
    You don’t have to do all of this overnight, but you should have been doing this all along.

  17. There must come a time where Photoshop must cleave based on usage.
    Lightroom and Elements are doing great work. As PS keeps adding just for specialized, forget the Extended crap and split it based on functions.
    A tad of research will show that folks using the App use about 15% of functionality.
    I have been using it every day since version 1.0. Go back. Look at it.
    Make things simple. Not every tool is a hammer. Make the PS Toolbox of Apps ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Just want to echo John’s sentiments about the new 3D features. There will be some unique effects achievable only with the 3D engine.
    We hope to provide a lot of samples and actions to make it easy to discover and enjoy.

  19. Regarding what goes into Photoshop upgrades, what doesn’t, what’s useful, and how many upgrades it takes for the “big picture” to materialize, a couple of comments about filters jump out at me.
    Mainly that the filter set is ancient, and has been in dire need of upgrading or total re-doing for much too long. Lighting Effects and Displacement are two good examples of useful tools that could be a LOT more useful.
    Smart filters was a great addition, but seeing as 90% of the filters are essentially the old unchanged Gallery Effects package, not as exciting as it could be.
    I’d enjoy seeing thee filter set reworked and expanded as much as possible.

  20. Regarding T’s comment on my previous opinion…
    1. I wouldn’t go so far to say that Bridge offers more that anyone needs, although it can be slow but it depends on cache settings. i don’t get that many crashes on both platforms but even if Bridge crashes (which again is very rarely) you don’t lose any changes.
    2. You can synchronize Color settings across whole Suite in Bridge.
    But most important thing is the one you said “they refuse to use it because it costs them too much time and nerves”, now to respond to this one I’ll quote Deke McLelland “it takes time to save time” sounds like “Wiseguy” but when you think about this seriously it is a solution for all frustration and giving out to Adobe team… and you know that Wiseguy is always right even when he’s wrong, he’s right:-).
    We can’t compare Bridge to file browser – that’s like comparing skateboard to comfortable car. I can’t imagine working without Bridge it is the only app that is permanently open on my machine. when i have to switch between Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign at work and additionally After Effects, Premiere… working in different workspaces depending on project ie. photography, advertising, motion graphics etc.
    I don’t want to talk about Bridge in here but more about users approach to exclude something they can’t understand only because it means changing their habits (good or bad, but habits) and that is a subject for a psychological debate.
    There is one trick I always show to designers who don’t use Bridge… I ask them a question… and them give them answer:
    How would you rename 100 images, change their exposure, brightness, contrast and saturation… and finally save them in 2 different formats with different resolution and color space…without even going to Photoshop?
    well you have to go to “The Bridge”Reaction is almost always identical… “%$*(&^%$?????!!!!)Regards,

  21. Forced to repeat: It WOULD be nice if it worked but there are too many causes for it to not work properly which makes it not the first choice. It’s not about not understanding it, it’s about getting smacked in the face every other time you use it and you always have to wait for it. Nobody should be forced to use it, if it’s not what they need. You talk about your workflow of having it always opened, that’s fine. For me it’s not worth it and on every machine or network it has different issues. Time is money and if you like to spend your free time on 3D features that you said you don’t really need but find interesting, that’s cool. But don’t expect everyone to stay at home and try every Ps feature. This is a pro app. It’s supposed to just work fast and be stable and that’s all we’re asking for. Half finished additions that will never get a good update are acceptable but get the basics first such as a fast way to browse instead of a sepparate app.
    Regarding 2. Yes it is theoretically possible but often doesn’t work, that’s what I mean.
    Well you ask a question that is designed to make Bridge seem useful but what if I never have to do all these things at the same time? What if I only have to use Bridge’s unique features once a month, that still slows me down every other time I’m forced to use it.

  22. You could have also asked, “what if you want to load a crappy 3D Model of a dinosaur into your favourite wedding photograph and paint it? What would you use? The answer would always be “%$*(&^%$?????!!!!) (=wtf?).
    Oh and I’ve had Bridge crash WHILE renaming leaving the images out of order so even for such simple things I prefer Renamer4Mac. Bridge isn’t all bad but too dangerous and slow. At least at the moment.

  23. As a Flash developer, the inclusion of 3D in Photoshop CS3, I thought came at the perfect time for the Flash community, as 3D was really taking off in Flash Player 9 thanks to various ActionScript 3D engines done in ActionScript 3. Flash designers and developers who were familiar with Photoshop didn’t have to learn or buy new 3D software when they already had Photoshop Extended.
    I doubt Adobe had planned for this, as 3D in Flash wasn’t anywhere at the same level when planning for Photoshop CS3 started. It was just great timing for a niche of users that those features were added when they were.

  24. After watching the CS “Next” keynote podcast, it’s clear that image transformations and filters will have new hooks into graphics card processors providing huge performance boosts. Since it’s coming, how about a hint for hardware buyers – OpenGL or DirectX? Same for Mac and PC? Will new graphics drivers be needed? The biggest boost to Photoshop performance in some time is in the pipeline and it would be nice to have a hint on what hardware to buy.
    Bridge should be a core application that ties the suite together, but it’s the Creative Suite development stepchild with real stability problems and a clumsy interface that makes it easy to unintentially move folders and modify files. Even after a supposed fix, Bridge still crashes when trying to create thumbnails from a couple of pdf and Illustrator files that I have to store in a “don’t peek” folder.

  25. Before you go off adding thermometers, err, “depth sensing”, perhaps you could consider supporting white balance settings from cameras correctly? It’s *really* annoying trying to work with IR RAW images. Aperture is better, but still poor. And yet dcraw works flawlessly.
    [This may be of interest. –J.]

  26. Phew! Traveling for business and I’ve not had the chance to keep up with your blog. Look what I’ve missed.
    Reading the comments, I can see that you and Adobe are right on track. When you have half the people flogging you from one direction and the other half flogging you from the other direction, you know you’ve got the product centered. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I always thought you had it pretty easy. Just post a few blog entries and go on a NAPP Hall of fame junket every now and then. But I can see you really earn your keep at release time.
    Keep up the good work.

  27. When can we get a real tutorial developed for the 3D tool? Or if there is one, can I get a point in the right direction? I would love to learn how to texture an object and link it to other imported 3D objects, etc. But I cant find a good tutorial anywhere. Looking forward to this new tool.

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