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Picture this: Adobe’s new 3D tools help creatives generate virtual photos

With a package of new apps, Adobe is betting that virtual photography and 3D designs are here to stay.

Adobe virtual photography illustration

Big companies have for some time used 3D renderings to create virtual photos of their products. A new Adobe software suite aims to make this process easier.

Photo: Adobe

Add photography to the long list of things that may never be the same after the pandemic: When photo studios and agencies closed their doors last year, a number of companies turned to 3D graphics and virtual photography to create photorealistic assets and designs.

Adobe is betting that this trend will continue even as pandemic restrictions are lifted. The company released a new suite of 3D tools Wednesday that aims to help creatives in a wide variety of industries embrace virtual photography and 3D design.

Adobe VP of 3D and Immersive Sébastien Deguy told Protocol that the software could change how companies market and design products, and perhaps ultimately even lead to the creation of entirely new types of products. Big companies are "redefining the design process completely right now," he said.

  • Adobe Substance 3D consists of four applications. With these individual tools, designers can create 3D objects, apply textures and materials to these objects, create materials based on real-world images and stage objects in what amounts to virtual versions of real-world studio sets.
  • Substance 3D also taps into the company's online 3D asset library, and each tool is closely interconnected. Designers can, for instance, create an object in Substance 3D Painter, and then send it with one click to 3D Stager to incorporate it into a virtual environment.
  • There's a bunch of cool technology working under the hood. 3D Sampler, for instance, uses AI to create 3D objects based on 2D photos. That way, a flat photo of a brick wall can be transformed into a 3D-rendered asset with depth and shadows that respond to virtual lights, ready to be incorporated into a digital 3D scene.

Deguy joined Adobe in early 2019, when the company acquired his digital design tools startup Allegorithmic. He has been building out a dedicated 3D team within Adobe ever since, which included the hire of Pixar veteran Guido Quaroni as senior director of engineering earlier this year.

But while Adobe had long planned to launch its own 3D software, the pandemic definitely increased demand for these kinds of tools by forcing designers to change their process. "They work from home," Deguy said. "They have to work more collaboratively."

  • Even before the pandemic, virtual photography emerged as a way for companies to create photorealistic digital assets at scale. Ikea, for instance, began to use 3D modeling instead of traditional photography for a majority of the images in its catalog years ago.
  • Other companies that have embraced this trend include Ben & Jerry's as well as Lowe's, which recently digitized its entire catalog with Adobe's 3D tools.
  • And those product photos released each year by big tech companies for their new gadgets, with living rooms that seem to always magically match the latest fabric speaker cover colors? They're almost certainly created digitally as well. "It is indiscernible" from photos taken in studios, Deguy said about virtual photography.

Virtual photos of real products, created cheaper, faster and more safely: That's only a first step for digital 3D designs. Companies will also be able to use these tools during the product design process, Deguy explained, and they will be able to use the resulting imagery to market products differently. One example: 3D objects can more easily be turned into augmented reality assets, which consumers can then place into their own living rooms, and perhaps one day explore with dedicated AR glasses.

"The demand for 3D tools is only going to grow," Deguy said. "Life is in 3D, and now, creativity is in 3D, too."


Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But as always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

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J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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