LiveMotion aims to steal Flash’s thunder

Many e-commerce companies are jockeying for customers by creating increasingly sophisticated Web sites. If you’re looking for a way to make your site more consumer-friendly, consider purchasing Adobe Systems Inc.’s LiveMotion 1.0 for your Web designers.

This comprehensive Web graphics and animation tool, currently available as a beta download, lets your staff add JavaScript rollovers and animation to your e-commerce site without having to rely on a collection of disparate products or a large staff of designers.

I tested the beta version of LiveMotion, and it showed promise as an alternative to Macromedia Inc.’s Flash 4 for creating Shockwave animations. Not surprisingly, the final release could stand some improvements in certain key areas. It isn’t yet as strong as Flash 4 in the development of highly interactive animations that involve scripting. Moreover, the US$399 price tag is steep compared to Macromedia’s US$499 Flash 4 FreeHand 9 Studio product that offers much more for the price.

Nevertheless, LiveMotion can help your staff streamline the Web design workflow of your site and minimize design costs, because just one designer can use this product to create Web pages and sophisticated Shockwave-based animations.

impressive Timeline

LiveMotion generates animations using the Flash file format and supports output of Web content to HTML. In addition to the standard Adobe Toolbox and palettes, LiveMotion has a layout canvas that works with an impressive animation Timeline Interface.

For each graphic object created, LiveMotion generates an entry in the Timeline Interface. Although many time lines handle graphics as layers, LiveMotion’s Timeline Interface treats each as an object. This makes it easier to manipulate each object independently by expanding each, then creating keyframes at specific points within the time line for a variety of parameters.

The Timeline Interface displays each object as a top-level item that when expanded shows stopwatch icons that can create keyframes within the animations and include a long list of adjustable parameters. LiveMotion automatically generates frames between each keyframe, called tweening.

LiveMotion’s Auto Keyframing and Auto Tweening enable a developer to change individual elements as desired. Various parameters, including position, opacity, brightness, tint and scale, can be changed over time. Another helpful feature is the capability of creating Motion Paths. Each object can be made to move independently by creating a keyframe, moving the object, and creating another keyframe until finished. And this is only the tip of the iceberg: the Timeline Interface is very powerful.

LiveMotion’s object-oriented Timeline Interface lets you experiment with animation effects that are easily editable and undoable. In contrast, when designers create animations they don’t like with Flash, they need to use the “undo” feature.

In addition, LiveMotion includes tools for easily creating common vector objects, such as rectangles, ellipses, polygons and drawing paths, and a new Color Scheme palette that creates complementary colours and displays at the bottom of the toolbar. I only wished that the beta version had a few more tools, such as a paintbrush or pencil tool, to make it easier to edit shapes and draw straight lines. The Transform tool lets a developer skew and rotate objects, and segments can be adjusted easily. I also liked the inclusion of a Library palette, which is useful for storing shapes. In addition, LiveMotion can import graphics into the Shapes palette, instead of the developer drawing them within the tool.

A few beta bugs

Unfortunately, the version I tested had some beta-related bugs that caused operational problems, such as occasional crashing. Also, I couldn’t add new shapes to the Library palette or create new styles within the Styles palette, and I experienced difficulties while working with layers. But according to Adobe, these bugs will be fixed in the shipping version.

The palettes in LiveMotion were familiar and worked as expected. My only quibble with them was that, when selecting a tool from the Toolbox, many palettes were not context-sensitive.

Like Flash, LiveMotion supports behaviours that make events occur when the time line reaches a certain frame, a button is selected, or a user action is performed. Unfortunately, I found that the functions weren’t intuitive and documentation wasn’t finished when I tested this beta version.

I hope that by the time the product ships, Adobe will include samples and complete documentation, as well as present end-users with a better idea of how they’re supposed to make the behaviours function properly.

Still, this feature is important and once better documented, LiveMotion’s behaviours should help developers create complex, animated Web graphics that include support for sound, the capability of opening a Web page, launching another composition, and more.

Another problem is LiveMotion’s lack of programmability. It still needs to mature via support for variables and basic scripting. Despite the few glitches I found in the beta version, LiveMotion will appeal to graphics designers who are familiar with Adobe’s products and are ready to pull in more customers by jazzing up an e-commerce site.

Senior analyst Senna ([email protected]) evaluates multimedia topics.

Review Box: LiveMotion 1.0, beta

Supplier: Adobe Systems Inc.

Cost: US$399

Platforms: Windows 95/98/2000 and Windows NT 4.0; Mac OS 8.1 and higher

Pros: Excellent image creation tools

Precision control via well-implemented Palettes

Powerful animation features via Timeline Interface

Good object-oriented graphics development

Cons: Lacks programmability functions

Difficult to create Behaviours

Confusing Layers management

Comparatively expensive

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