New Adobe technologies aimed at improving workflow

At the Adobe Max 2008 developer conference it was a morning of show-and-tell – with an emphasis on the “show,” as Adobe Systems Inc. lined up designers on stage to demo new features of its recently released CS4 suite of products.

Adobe dubs them “tools that defeat the status quo” and the first such tool demoed was an electrical system with a built-in automation controller from Universal Devices Inc., an Encino, Calif.-based maker of Internet-accessible home automation controllers.

The system is controlled by a PC equipped with Adobe AIR – a cross-platform runtime environment for building rich Internet applications.

The controller can be used to remotely turn home lights on and off, as well as operate other devices, such as the fan, thermostat and more.

Doug Winnie, group product managerfor workflow at Adobe, demonstrated how complex animations can be created quickly in Flash CS4. Winnie, whose focus is maximizing workflow collaboration between Adobe products and technologies, imported art work from Adobe InDesign into Flash CS4. He showed how Flash designers can quickly create animations with content imported from InDesign, Adobe’s desktop publishing application, and also how more complex animations can be created quickly using the Motion Editor tool in Flash CS4.

By right-clicking on a graphic imported from InDesign to Flash CS4, and selecting Create Motion Twain, Winnie was able to animate a graphic so it moved smoothly to different spots on a map of Australia. Clicking and dragging the graphic, and adding a curve to it generated a curved animation very quickly.

Accomplishing that very task prior to Flash CS4 would have been very cumbersome and taken much longer, the Adobe manager said.

“I would have had to go into the code and as a designer it’s not something I enjoy. [In CS4] I can do it in minutes. It’s a huge productivity gain.”

Winnie also showed how designers could create more complex animations using the Bones tool – special to Flash CS4 and used for animations in which mobility and animation parameters need to be limited.He added the Bones tool – also known as inverse kinematics — to a surf board to animate it. Once created in Flash CS4, he said, animated graphics can be uploaded directly to Adobe AIR as a desktop application.

Adobe execs say the new technologies announced at the conference have one feature in common: they improve the designer-developer workflow. This capability, they say, is common to Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4), a collection of graphic design, video editing, and Web development apps; Flex Builder, Adobe’s integrated development environment for creating rich Internet apps; and Flash Catalyst, a tool for quick design and development workflows, known to developers until now by the code name Project Thermo.

“Catalyst addresses the designer-developer gap,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen during a Q&A session with journalists at Max. At least one senior developer while agreeing this is indeed the case, believes there’s still a great deal that can be done in Catalyst to enhance designer-developer interaction.

Marc Van Norden, senior manager of interactive development at Sapient Corp. (which had a booth at Max) says he’d particularly like to see two key features in Catalyst.

“The first is SVN (subversion) or the ability to record multiple copies of source code,” Van Norden said. (SVN is common in projects with multiple developers). “Let’s say the wireframes (basic visual layouts used in Web design) are complete and there are a few design directions you’re starting on. For the developer to be able to pick up on that while the iterations are still in progress would definitely be helpful.”

He said a second nice-to-have feature would be “integration of the entire wireframing process itself.”

The Sapient executive says the fact that Gumbo (the next version of Adobe’s Flex Builder) integrates with Flash Catalyst is also welcome news.

“It makes it that much easier to create, compile, and execute an AIR app for the desktop. With minimal effort you can create something that lives on the desktop and that’s deployed on the Web server at the same time. That saves a huge amount of time and headache.”

Van Norden said the ability, within an Adobe Photoshop CS4 document, to import other Photoshop files and do updates that are then reflected in the master file can be a big time saver in his company, where design teams work to tight timelines.

Other Photoshop CS4 productivity features, such as content-aware scaling, were demoed by Nicole Williams, senior graphics specialist at Adobe. She said through content-aware scaling, Photoshop intelligently resizes images preserving important pieces, while updating the background as needed.

Williams first used the Free Transform, a Photoshop tool, to reduce the size of an image of surfers on the beach, and the result was the entire image – the people as well as the background – looked squished.

She then showed how content-aware scaling is markedly different.

When she used this feature and dragged on the image to make it smaller, the size of the surfers remained intact, while only the background dimensions changed. In previous versions of Photoshop “this would have taken me forever to do,” said Williams.

Depth-of-field enhancement is another Photoshop CS4 productivity-boosting feature Williams demoed.

She displayed a picture of antique books that was composite of several images, each taken at a different depth of field. “I want to create one crisp image that looks great from every angle from this.”

By selecting all the layers and using the Auto Blend feature in Photoshop, she could mask out all the soft areas of this image.

“Previously, this would have taken me around eight hours to accomplish. But now it can be done in just a few minutes,” she said.

Williams also demonstrated how a 3-D object could be imported into Photoshop CS4 and painted on all sides without the background being affected, and a 2-D object could then be placed on the 3-D surface.

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