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Animating Web Sites: Macromedia Flash

Guillaume Calop gives Macromedia's Flash a spin.

Macromedia recently acquired FutureWave Software company, and with it, added FutureSplash Animator to its Shockwave family of Web-based multimedia players. Now called Macromedia Flash, this animation authoring and viewing package is available to professional and amateur designers alike. AWN Webmaster Guillaume Calop gave the product a spin.

Macromedia Flash is a versatile multimedia authoring program for Windows 95/NT, Macintosh or Power Macintosh, which allows you to draw, animate, move objects, and create interactive buttons for Web pages. Flash documents are small, thereby enabling to speed through standard modem connections. The animation is streaming, meaning it plays as it loads, so there is virtually no download time. The Flash viewer plug-in is contained within the "Shockwave Essentials" download package currently available; but for those who don't have this package, the viewer plug-in is very light (80-150k), so downloading is a breeze.

As an authoring tool, Flash is somewhere between two sides of the spectrum; it offers a more powerful, high-quality alternative to simple GIF animations or QuickTime movies, yet it is much easier to work with then high-end and expensive programs like Macromedia Director. Integrated lessons make learning simple. To animate in Flash, you can either draw each frame and background, or import them from programs such as Illustrator, FreeHand, or any other vector-based graphic product. Because it is a vector-based program, you don't need to have great drawing skills, or a graphic palette. You can easily smooth curves, draw straight lines, rectangles, circles, and of course, add colors, solid or gradient. And, being vector-based, as there are no pixels, you can add plenty of details and zoom in indefinitely without sacrificing quality.

Placing the frames on different layers, you can still see all the images at once through its onion skin feature. With motion interpolation, one drawing can be animated by following a path. You can also rotate an image while following the path, in a scaled regulation (for example, from small to big).

The animated interactive buttons are a fun way to spice up web pages. They can be set to do several different functions, including changing shape when the mouse is dragged over it or when it is pushed, stopping or starting an animation, and of course, leading to another Web page.

Embedding Flash files on Web pages is easy, with different configurations available; however, you do need to set up your server to recognize the document, which can be a problem depending on your Internet service provider. At $249.00, the program is not cheap, but compared to Director, it's a steal.