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Computer Generated Images Combining 3D models with photos, or crafting fully synthetic images using CGI or fractals

[Review] Strata Design 3D[in]

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Old 10-17-2007, 02:06 PM
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[Review] Strata Design 3D[in]

Some time back I reviewed Strata 3D CX, a comprehensive 3D design app. I was frankly underwhelmed with the app, but impressed with its output. Now Strata is the first company to come out with a rendering plugin for Photoshop CS3 Extended. I say the first, because more are sure to follow (Lightwave have already announced theirs is called Rendition, but it hasn't shipped and nothing is known about it).

What you have with Strata Design 3D[in] is basically, as far as I can tell anyway, the entire Strata 3D CX app as a Photoshop plugin, for 1/4 the cost of the full application. Please someone correct me here if I'm missing something.

Of course, to use Strata Design 3D[in] you must have Photoshop CS3 Extended, and you can only use it on a 3D layer. But even with that seeming restriction, what it allows is amazing. This is nothing less than the promise of full-on professional grade, photorealistic 3D in Photoshop. I say the promise, because there's nothing automated about it, you still have to know which knobs to twiddle, and that's certainly not easy.

You start with your 3D object layer in Photoshop, then select the Strata Design 3D[in] plugin just as you would any other plugin (actually, it will be the only one selectable with the 3D layer active, all the rest are grayed out). Three Strata plugins will actually be shown, one each for modeling/texturing, rendering, and one is specifically for working with Vanishing Point 2 and placing perspective-correct models into existing photos.

Each plugin technically takes you out of Photoshop and into Strata's comprehensive 3D application. You can do anything to your model you could do in any highend 3D app: edit it (or replace it completely), add or change a texture (Photoshop has very rough texture editing, but can't add textures to a model that doesn't already have them), light it, and fully render it (Photoshop relies on OpenGL for rendering, which looks like a videogame at best and a cartoon at worst). Once you've finished with your changes, you click a button to take you back to Photoshop with all your changes in place.

While the power of the modeling plugin is awesome (in the literal sense of the word) and the perspective placement with Vanishing Point is truly cool, the most dramatic plugin is the renderer. Once you've told Strata how you want your object rendered, you switch back to Photoshop and suddenly it's like demon possession. Regular (non-3D) layers and groups are automatically created as fast as your machine can crank them out, all carefully labelled and logically laid out. There are individual rendered layers for the object, shadows, different aspects of lighting, even a composite layer with everything on it (which defaults to visibility off). So you can continue to finetune and adjust every single aspect of your rendering using any and all of Photoshop's editing tools. They've even very thoughtfully included a strange-looking but very handy layer where each piece of your model is rendered in flat, contrasting colors, just for making easy selections with the Magic Wand.

There are some caveats. This is definitely version 1 software, so it can be a bit cranky at times. I've had occasional startup failures and some mysterious model disappearances. And the Strata website is still virtually unusable for anything but presales (however they are excellent at answering support emails). Both of these echo my complaints about Strata 3D CX, but can be forgiven here due to the fact that no one else has anything even vaguely resembling this. And you'll still need to climb the steep 3D learning curve, although simply running any model through the renderer with the default settings makes it look worlds better.

On the subject of learning curves, Strata Design 3D[in] is the first app I've seen that makes effective use of Photoshop's "How to" help system. Just navigate to Photoshop's Help menu and there's an extensive step-by-step tutorial on using the plugins. I'd have preferred movies, but it's well laid-out and illustrated.

Anyway, if you want to do photorealistic 3D in Photoshop, this is the only show in town right now. Here's their sales site, and here's a pretty nifty tutorial site they've put up just for these plugins.

They make two other Photoshop plugins, both of which have names that sound more appropriate for this. Strata Foto[in] helps you convert multiple photos into a 3D model (I'll be reviewing this one shortly) and Strata Live 3D[in] automates the placement of rotatable 3D models into websites and PDF files (don't hold your breath for that review).

All the plugins come in both Mac and Windows flavors, but you'll need a pretty powerful machine with a lot of RAM to work at reasonable speeds. I tested on Windows Vista with no OS-related problems.

Last edited by Doug Nelson; 10-18-2007 at 04:24 AM. Reason: update
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Old 12-29-2007, 05:34 AM
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Re: [Review] Strata Design 3D[in]

Doug, I've got Strata 3D CX 5.5 and Strata Foto 3D listed on my website (I did the examples for the latter myself), and I plan to do a feature on their current products in my upcoming ezine (issue #11).

Aside from doing terrains, I'm in a bit over my head when it comes to traditional 3D modeling, so I'm checking to see if you'd be interested in contributing some of your expertise and material to the article, with attribution and links as desired. I'll be including some training material from Chris Tyler as well.

The angles covered will be modeling with 3D CX as well as the Photoshop workflow.

Please let me know, thanks!
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Old 12-29-2007, 07:17 PM
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Re: [Review] Strata Design 3D[in]

I'm in the middle of moving house for the next few weeks, but Steve Caplin is who you really want for your article.
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Old 12-31-2007, 01:46 AM
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Re: [Review] Strata Design 3D[in]

Thanks Doug, I'll try and contact him! Enjoy your move as best you can...
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