September 12, 2008
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.