3D Workflow In Adobe Photoshop CS4

May 31, 2009 2:12 am

Tags: 3D, Adobe, After Effects, BodyPaint, CINEMA 4D, COLLADA, Flash CS4, Maya, Photoshop, Photoshop CS4, Renderosity

Using 3D assets in Adobe Photoshop CS4 has evolved since the previous version, in a way thanks to the implementation of the GPU power to speed up the application. In Photoshop CS3 you could already import and manipulate 3D objects, but the workflow was rather slow due to the poor 3D performance.

This has changed now, and manipulating 3D objects in Photoshop CS4 is not any slower than manipulating them in your 3D application of choice. You can also use the Adobe Dynamic Link to take them into other applications, although the results can vary from application to application.

3D car in Photoshop CS4

3D objects in Photoshop are treated as standard layers. You can adjust them, apply filters, combine them and also paint on them. However, that doesn’t affect the way you manipulate them in 3D space.


The 3D object layer displays all the different materials of the imported object. This is extremely useful as you can “paint textures” on top of your object, as you can now use Photoshop as your 3D texture paint tool. Each material is listed under your 3D layer, so you can turn them on/off as you wish. You can also double-click one of those materials and it will open the texture as a new document that you can modify.


This is similar to using MAXON's BodyPaint, although I believe BP has a very good set of features that still make it the obvious choice for 3D texture painting over Photoshop (or any other 3D painting software). This doesn’t mean Photoshop CS4 doesn’t pose as a very good adversary.

As I said before, you can also apply filters and color adjustments to your 3D layers. You can also layer two (or more) copies of your 3D layer and combine them using any of the blending modes. Maybe you have a 3D object and you want to accentuate your highlights more. You can simply duplicate that layer, color correct it and blend it with the original, just like you’d do with a rendered image.

Note that the filters are applied to the materials, not to the objects themselves. This means you can’t apply a blur filter and expect your 3D model to be “defocused.” The only way to apply your filters to your 3D model is to “rasterize” it first, although that means you lose all of that 3D data since your model is flattened onto a layer.

Photoshop blur filter on 3D object

The Adobe CS4 improves performance in various areas, like video encoding, filtering and 3D performance in Photoshop CS4. Just like before, you can move, rotate, and scale your model in your canvas, but in Photoshop CS4 those transformations are blazing fast, and any computer with a decent GPU should be able to take advantage of that (my system has a Quadro FX 1700 card, but I’ve also tried this feature on someone else’s computer, running on a Radeon entry-to-mid class gaming card with similar results).

Unfortunately, the show stopper comes when you try to use 3D models inside other CS4 applications. The logical choice was to use 3D models in After Effects, as it has 3D layer manipulation capabilities.

Importing a PSD file with a 3D layer worked flawlessly thanks to the Adobe Dynamic Link. The problem was, however, trying to work with the 3D layer.

After Effects allows you to transform your model in any way you want. You can also animate those transformations and make a movie. Manipulating a 3D object in a composition is very slow, though. Obviously, the lower the resolution of your model, the faster interactions will be. However, the models must be extremely lightweight if you want to be able to work with them at decent speeds (and I really mean it).

In my tests I used the same car model (142,526 faces). I can manipulate the model in both Maya and Photoshop CS4 very fast. However, every time I tried to transform the model in After Effects CS4, I had to wait for at least 10 seconds to see the result. You can utilize 3D models inside After Effects CS4 just like any other layer. This means you can add filters to them, change blending modes and also animate any of its parameters.

It’s a shame this still doesn’t work to its full potential, as it would really be helpful for users working on 3D compositing (note that After Effects has a Maya .ma file importer, but that’s only used to import camera animation data, as it will not import 3D models).

As you may know, Flach CS4 also imports PSD files, which is extremely helpful if you’re working on an interactive CD or a website, as you can create your entire layout in Photoshop and then put it together in Flash. You can also import PSD files containing 3D objects. Unfortunately, those 3D objects are flattened during import, so you can’t manipulate them in Flash.

3D in Flash CS4

That is not entirely a problem, though, since there’s already a Flash module that will allow you to use 3D models in COLLADA format.

This article was meant to describe how the 3D layer workflow works in the Adobe CS4, on both the Photoshop side and the Dynamic Link side. I also wanted to share some ideas on how these features are used, as well as what to expect in some scenarios.

For more information:

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out all the valuable resources available right here on Renderosity, for all your artistic endeavors, starting with the following related links:

Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.

June 1, 2009

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Article Comments

deemarie ( posted at 8:12AM Tue, 02 June 2009

Hey Sergio, Thanks for you expert look into the 3D aspects of Adobe Photoshop CS4 :]