Adobe announced the release of Creative Suite 4, which includes Photoshop CS4. The web is abuzz with many new features in Photoshop CS4, but I'll talk about one new feature in the Extended version, the ray tracer. The ray tracer in Photoshop CS4 Extended is used to do both interactive rendering (can be used as a software fallback if OpenGL doesn't work on your system) or final quality rendering (to render images like the one above). :)
The above scene is the Sibenik cathedral model (modeled by Marko Dabrovic). I loaded the scene which came with textures. I placed two light sources to get the look I wanted. The above image highlights a couple of features in the ray tracer including: 32-bit HDR rendering; soft shadows; and diffuse inter-reflection.
So why should anyone care about 3D in Photoshop? Obviously one could easily render the above scene in a plethora of 3D rendering packages. However there are other use-cases where this ability can really shine. One example is painting on 3D models. Photoshop's core strength is in image painting and editing tools. Now those same tools can be used directly on a 3D model. This should really help the workflows of texture artists.
Another use of this feature is in digital insertion. Imagine working on a composition in PS and you want to insert a simple 3D object. Now you could grab the model, fire up your external 3D package, flip back and forth with the image in PS to get the lighting correct, render the image out, import it as a layer and finally composite your image. Or you could import the model directly into PS, set up your lighting with the 3D in place in the composition and then just render.
In the coming days I'll try to get some tutorials up detailing how to use some of the features in the ray tracer as well as some other non-3D Photoshop CS4 features that I've found very useful.