Photoshop filter trio offers special effects

Introduction

Some vendors of Adobe Photoshop plug-ins use the smorgasbord approach, bundling a variety of special-effects filters and other add-ons into one, low-cost package. Andromeda Software takes a different tack, offering individually priced plug-ins that specialize in certain tasks. The latest are Shadow Filter 1.12, for applying elaborate shadow effects; VariFocus Filter 1.1, for performing selective sharpen and blur operations; and my personal favourite, Three-D Luxe Filter 3.0, for creating textured 3D models in Photoshop. All three plug-ins sport interfaces inspired by MetaCreations’ Kai’s Power Tools, with controls that resemble what you might find on an alien spaceship. The screens appear somewhat cluttered – and baffling – at first, but once you get the hang of the interfaces, the plug-ins are easy to use. Andromeda’s original 3D plug-in, Three-D Filter, let you map Photoshop images to the surface of a cylinder, sphere, box, or plane. The new Three-D Luxe Filter goes beyond its predecessor by letting you add a wide range of photo-realistic textures to 3D objects. In Three-D Luxe’s 3D Geometry mode, you use slider controls to set lighting conditions, apply surface and background colours, rotate and scale the object, and determine how the image is mapped to the 3D shape. You can scale the image, change its position on the object’s surface, and create tiled copies. Aside from scaling, however, you can’t modify an object’s geometry, nor can you import models created in other 3D programs. Three-D Luxe displays a wire-frame view of the object in a large window, but you can quickly generate a rendered preview that shows lights and shadows. When you’re finished, the plug-in produces an image of the 3D object with the photo mapped to it. The new Texture mode lets you apply a wide range of photo-realistic textures to objects. The plug-in ships with about 75MB of canned textures, organized by type (biological, mechanical, and so on). The textures are beautifully rendered and lend themselves to some eye-popping surface effects. All of them can be bump-mapped, giving the impression that the object’s surface is deformed. You can create your own bump-mapped textures or convert the active Photoshop image into a bump map. Alien Skin’s Eye Candy and Extensis PhotoTools both include plug-ins for creating drop shadows, but neither comes close to offering the range of features in Andromeda Shadow Filter. This plug-in lets you generate multiple drop or cast shadows in different colours, at different sizes, with various levels of sharpness. It also offers unlimited undo’s. You can use as many as four light sources and set the angle of the casting plane, the surface on which the shadow appears. For objects (such as fishbowls) that are partially transparent, you can also create translucent shadows. The plug-in can’t add noise to a shadow, but you can do that easily enough in Photoshop. Out of focus
VariFocus adds a few wrinkles to Photoshop’s Gaussian Blur and Unsharp Mask filters by letting you apply these effects through a mask. You can use the filter to create depth-of-field effects in which selected parts of an image are focused more sharply than others. The masks in VariFocus Filter are grey-scale images that determine how strongly the blur or unsharp-masking effect is applied; the effect is stronger in light areas and weaker in dark areas. You can scale masks, or rotate them in increments of 90 degrees. The plug-in ships with 15 prebuilt masks, but many photographs will require custom-built masks, and creating them can be cumbersome.
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