There are also numerous plug-ins available for most image editing programs that automate the shadow creation process. They can be used to create very complex shadows, including various types of drop, perspective and color shadows. It’s amazing how effective drop shadows, particularly very subtle drop shadows, are in creating the illusion of depth.
Besides simulated 3D, there’s true 3D. To understand how true 3D can be used in imaging, it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between 2D, which is generally considered imaging, and 3D, which is frequently referred to as modeling. In a 2D composition you can’t change perspective. When something is cut from a 2D composition, there isn’t any digital data behind it.
With 3D, you can actually move around within the dimensions of the composition. When working with 2D imaging being composited in a program that supports layering, you’re actually working in 3D. Cutting an object on one layer reveals whatever is on the layer behind it. But 3D goes well beyond that, to the ability to navigate within the composition without being confined to layers.
NAVIGATING IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD
Imagine controlling a small remote camera that can venture directly into the composition. That is, in effect, the fundamental concept behind any virtual world. You don’t actually step into it, but you can maneuver around in it, visually. In a virtual world, it’s possible look behind any object in a composition to see what’s blocked from view. As long as the virtual world is still in the computer, the viewing course, content, composition and lighting can be varied as desired. Virtual worlds for scientific exploration and entertainment are built with 3D modeling programs.
On the screen, a 2D and a 3D image may appear to be identical. That’s one of the things makes 3D effective for imaging. Another is that electronic photographic images, called bitmapped images, can be mapped or “glued” onto the various elements in the composition. A three-dimensional cyber-room could be created, with actual family photos on the wall. As you take a virtual walk through the room, the images would change perspective, just as they would if you walked through a real room.
Another example might be to take a beach ball and map a toddler’s face on it. The image would look like the photograph but have all the shape characteristics of the ball. It’s even possible to paint directly onto these objects, with special 3D paint programs. With 3D, it’s simple matter of building the scene and capturing it, including the various bitmapped images that might be part of it, from different angles. The result is a series of 2D images that look like they were taken from different perspectives. Once captured in 2D, these individual frames can no longer be explored in 3D, but all the 2D imaging capabilities would work on them.
On the high end, programs like 3D Studio Max can cost several thousand dollars. They can be used to create complete movies where all the sets are virtual and the actor’s faces are bitmapped in video onto mannequins. They can generate projects with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of individual frames. But they are difficult to master and require sophisticated Windows NT systems.
SIMPLE, AFFORDABLE 3D OPTIONS
But there’s another category of 3D programs that are considerably less expensive than the high-end programs yet are very effective for certain types of 3D imaging. Not only are they less expensive, but they are also easier to use and require considerably less processing power.
Live Picture recently introduced Reality Studio, a Windows-based software package designed to produce interactive 3D environments. It’s a comprehensive package that has been optimized for the World Wide Web. While it makes it easy to work in 3D, that’s not the main reason that it’s being mentioned. The real point here is that it’s targeted at traditional 2D graphic users, such as photographers and graphic artists, that are interested in transitioning to 3D.
Reality Studio has some of the characteristics of traditional 3D programs and some characteristics of imaging programs. It can build 3D elements and it can take electronic still images from different sources, including digital cameras and scanners, and combine them into virtual scenes. Reality Studio makes it simple to build impressive Websites that let visitors navigate in cyber-environments. It can be used to create home pages for such things as real estate walk-throughs, online catalogs, promotional pieces, entertainment, education and a variety of other business and personal applications. It has a lot of power for less than $400.
Reality Studio includes Live Picture’s PhotoVista, a panoramic scene builder which is also available as a stand-alone program. PhotoVista and another panoramic scene builder, Enroute’s QuickStitch 360, use imaging techniques to represent and manipulate 3D objects. They make it possible to take a series of individual photographs and create panoramic scenes. While these programs are relatively inexpensive, around $70, they are very sophisticated. They analyze each image in the series to determine common areas. They then adjust perspective variations, correct motion blur and create a single image of the various overlapping shots. The final image is one continuous scene that looks like it was taken with a 180 [degrees] or 360 [degrees] camera.
While they use images as their source, rather than 3D modeled elements, these stitch programs can also be used to create 3 objects. Rather than shooting a series of images that can be combined into 180 [degrees] 270 [degrees] or 360 [degrees] scenes, it’s possible to shoot around an object from all sides. Those images can them be “stitched” together to come up with 3D object. It’s possible for a viewer or Website visitor to rotate that object to see all around it. That makes it an ideal way to illustrate products or other objects on-line.
These are just some of the options available to add depth to an otherwise two-dimensional image. Whether using a comprehensive 3D modeling program or a simple stitch program, both figuratively and literally, 3D capabilities add a dimension to imaging that just wasn’t there before.