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Adobe seeks to heighten 3D on Web

The company's new Atmosphere program is aimed at allowing Web and graphics designers to easily create detailed 3D environments, but Mac users are out of the picture.

Adobe Systems released on Wednesday a new 3D graphics program intended to help Web designers create new types of environments.

The program, dubbed Atmosphere, consists of a set design tools for creating 3D Web images. In addition, the company released the free Atmosphere Player for viewing images, either as part of a Web page or in an offline document saved in Adobe's widespread portable document format (PDF).

The initial version of Atmosphere works only with Microsoft's Windows operating system and Internet Explorer browser. Bahman Dara, senior product manager for Adobe, said the company is considering support for Apple Computer's Mac operating system in future versions of Atmosphere Player, but "it doesn't look like the audience is big enough for version 1."

The program is designed to allow graphics professionals to create 3D environments that are more engaging and interactive than are typical 2D Web graphics--and that are much easier to put together than the complex visual schemes used by computer games and other common 3D applications.

Atmosphere includes elements such as a "physics engine," which determines how an object moves in and reacts with its environment. That would typically require painstaking, separate programming.

"One of the main reasons 3D hasn't taken off on the Web is because it's so hard to create this stuff," Dara said. "Our goal was to make this really accessible. If you're a competent Illustrator user, you should be able to be productive in Atmosphere in a few hours." Illustrator is Adobe's 2D graphics program.

A number of businesses have already produced Web content with a beta version of Atmosphere, creating tools such as an interactive seating chart for a concert venue and a virtual museum tour.

"We want to promote 3D for the average Web designer to give them tools to create something that looks really good but has a development cycle much shorter than a game," Dara said.

Atmosphere is available now for $399 for the full version, or $99 for the student/teacher version. Atmosphere Player is available for free download from Adobe.