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 favorite, Three-D Luxe Filter 3.0, for creating textured 3-D 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 (see "Aesthetic Appeal"). The screens appear somewhat clutteredand bafflingat first, but once you get the hang of the interfaces, the plug-ins are easy to use.
Andromeda's original 3-D 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 3-D objects.
In Three-D Luxe's 3-D Geometry mode, you use slider controls to set lighting conditions, apply surface and background colors, rotate and scale the object, and determine how the image is mapped to the 3-D 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 3-D 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 3-D 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 colors, 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 transparent shadows. The plug-in can't add noise to a shadow, but you can do that easily enough in Photoshop.
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 gray-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 the 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.
Of the three plug-ins, Three-D Luxe Filter 3.0 probably has the broadest appeal. It offers a great way to add perspective effects and other 3-D imagery to pictures, though it's limited to a few standard geometric shapes and can't import models created in other programs. Shadow Filter 1.12 offers a wide range of shadow-generating functions but is probably overkill for most artists, especially if you already have the more modest shadow filter in PhotoTools or Eye Candy. VariFocus Filter 1.1 is probably the least useful of the three, since you can create many selective blur effects almost as easily using Photoshop's built-in tools.
RATING: PROS: Comprehensive shadow-generating functions. CONS: A bit expensive for a one-trick pony. COMPANY: Andromeda Software (805/379-4109, http://www.andromeda.com ). LIST PRICE: $99.
RATING: PROS: Easy creation of textured 3-D objects. CONS: Can't import models or modify geometry. COMPANY: Andromeda Software (805/379-4109, http://www.andromeda.com ). LISTPRICE: $99.
RATING: PROS: Can apply variable blur or sharpen effects. CONS: Built-in masks not very useful. COMPANY: Andromeda Software (805/379-4109, http://www.andromeda.com ). LIST PRICE: $44 (in bundle with Shadow Filter, $119).
April 1999 page: 42