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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."

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