Most game artists rely on Photoshop for their diverse texture pipeline. Whether mapping textures to 3D models, creating concept art or painting environment art, Photoshop is an essential tool. For 3D artists, the 3D features found in previous versions of Photoshop were not robust enough to have a significant impact on the texturing workflow. However, with Photoshop CS4 Extended, Adobe has finally got its 3D textures features to a point where they are really helpful. The new features allow you to load in a 3D object and paint directly on its surface using the common Photoshop tools. This is a huge leap for Photoshop users that work in 3D.
Other new improvements that have a radical affect on the time you’ll spend in Photoshop include the Adjustments and Masks panels, OpenGL support for much better performance, and the awesome new content-aware scaling feature. Overall, the new version is stronger than ever and the 3D texturing features make me just plain giddy.
The new Photoshop CS4 interface includes the application frame bar at the top of the interface. This bar includes quick access to commonly used tools like the Pan, Zoom and the new Rotate View Tool. It also holds single-click access to Adobe Bridge and a large assortment of visual ways to arrange the open documents.
Each open document is displayed as a tab at the top of the interface and each can be easily floated by pulling its tab away from where its docked. Photoshop also supports workspaces that you can define to show only those panels that you want to have open and when you get to another part of the project, you can easily switch workspaces to have access to the set of panels and commands required for this next phase of the project.
Perhaps the bigger benefit of these interface changes are that they are found in common across all the various CS4 applications this makes it easy to move between the different applications without having to learn a new interface.
Canvas Rotate Feature
The new canvas rotation feature lets you rotate the entire document to any desired angle using the Rotate View Tool (Figure 1). This makes is easy to align your painting space to match your graphics tablet like spinning about a coloring book page so you can draw left to right to color in a tricky area. The tool also remembers the original upwards orientation of the page with a compass point that appears. Holding down the Shift key lets you snap to 15 degree increments and makes it easy to return the document to its original position.
Adjustments and Masks Panel
The new Adjustments panel takes all the available image adjustments like brightness, contrast, levels, hue, saturation, color balance and more and places them in a single panel where they are easy to access with a single click. Each adjustment is placed on a layer where their settings can be revisited by selecting the layer.
The Adjustments panel, shown in Figure 2, also includes a number of presets for quickly applying common adjustments like a Sepia hue and saturation adjustment or increasing contrast by 1. You also have control over whether the adjustment is applied to a single layer or to all layers beneath.
The Masks panel is also new providing an easy way to configure and add a mask to the existing layer. The panel includes buttons for creating both pixel and vector masks. There are also settings for defining the mask’s density and feather.
Photoshop is seamless integrated with Adobe Bridge and the biggest improvement in Bridge is its performance. It works faster providing immediate access to saved images. Bridge also supports workspaces allowing you to quickly configure the interface for the type of work you want to do. The title bar also includes a new search field for quickly finding files.
Support for graphic card acceleration has also been added to Bridge, making it possible to view images in full screen mode. Video clips and 3D objects can also be viewed in Bridge now.
The ability to process camera raw images has also been improved with localized corrections, support for JPEG and TIFF images and post-crop vignetting.
Multiple images can easily be stitched into a seamless panorama image using the new PhotoMerge automation tool. This opens a dialog box where you can choose the layout to be Perspective, Cylindrical, Spherical, Collage or Reposition. There is also support for creating HDR images. Images can be transported to and from Adobe Lightroom with no problems.
The same layout options are also available for the Auto-Align Layers command. This works by combining or overlapping matching background content while maintaining the main content. Another new layer command is the Auto-Blend Layers command. This command will smoothly blend the colors and shading across multiple layers using a Panorama method or a Stack Images method. The later can be used to create a depth of field effect. This command can even blend images that have different lighting values.
You may have noticed when Photoshop CS4 first starts, that a info dialog box states that Photoshop CS4 now includes graphics card acceleration and offers you a chance to update your drivers. The most obvious place you’ll notice this acceleration is when panning and zooming. Large Photoshop images no longer do that annoying chunking when panning. This is a huge time-saver, but it also makes images easier to work with.
3D Tools and Direct Texture Painting
The new 3D and texture mapping features built into Photoshop CS4 take advantage of the graphic card’s memory and 3D acceleration features. It is these new features that set this version of Photoshop apart from all the others and that offers game artist the ability to speed their workflow many times over. These 3D features are only available within Photoshop CS4 Extended.
Photoshop CS4 can open and display 3D models using the U3D, 3DS, OBJ, DAE (Collada) and KMZ (Google Earth) formats. This isn’t the most extensive list of 3D formats, but it is a good start. The 3D object when loaded appears on a special 3D layer. The finished model or scene can then be exported to all of these formats except for the 3DS format.