You can see a larger version here. There is another one in the gallery that illustrates a more simple approach. The first attempt was done using a single Repoussé model and opacity masking. The one above uses multiple models, but all still within Photoshop.
The different approaches yield very different results, but it goes to show you can tackle virtually any problem in Photoshop in multiple ways. The single model only took about 45 minutes to figure out and fine tune. The result is not great (you can see the boundary region where the opacity mask reveals that it’s a surface, not a solid), but it was very quick and remains editable.
I like the look of the 2nd one quite a bit, but it was a real bear trying to line everything up. It began life as a Repoussé object of the ‘spheres’, which were duplicated and rotated, then merged. From there, I used Repoussé again to create the sides, then lined everything up and merged again. The new Material Drop tool was a real life-saver here, because when you merge 3D layers, you are not combining objects. So everything has to be textured separately.
You’ll notice that the spheres have seams. Well, I got a little lazy and didn’t feel like trying to make them blend. I also had to interrupt the render because the shadows weren’t getting any better, and I ran out of patience. Plus, this model started to cause some instability in PS, but it didn’t crash.
Overall, I think I am just about at Photoshop’s limits for ad hoc modeling. Anything more complex than this and I’d fire up a dedicated package. In fact, I may rebuild this in Strata and compare the process.