During 2007-2009 I worked mostly as 3D artist modelling objects museum VR tours. For creating bas-reliefs my client would just slap texture with alpha on a flat plane but I suggested we improve quality by modeling reliefs in 3D with just slight price increase with additional benefit of not dealing with alpha channels.
I tried traditional 3d modeling tools in 3ds Max but it was too time comsuming. It did not make sense to model it in ZBrush because of the large poly-count and still too much time required.
I decided to create this small 3d modeling tool to simplify and speed-up this process and also optimize the model for the lowest poly-count possible.
With the left hand on a keyboard user can choose Z-Depth, and with a mouse in right hand places vertices. Z-Depth can be chosen with keys from 1 to 9, which correspond to different depth-levels. Additional levels are achieved using letters between the numbers. For example, the key “T” lies between numbers 5 and 6, so it has a depth of 5.5 units. LMB places vertex and RMB removes it. It is a simple and quick process as seen in the above video.
The user must have the sense for the space to use the software, but it was intended for 3D artists anyway. Triangulation is automatic and in real-time. The object can be exported as .OBJ with mapped UV coordinates and applied projected texture map. Additional refinement can be done afterwards in ZBrush if needed.
For the same time I would spend cutting the object out in Photoshop to make an alpha mask, I can model the outline of the 3D object; I just need to add several more depth levels and it already looks much better than diffuse+alpha on the flat plane.
Please note that the program is not available for download or sale at the moment. It is a basic tool I developed in 2008 to simplify my own work as 3D modeler I was back then. Follow me on Twitter and Google Plus and will announce when it becomes available for download (and you should let me know that you need it).