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The Best for Web Designers - Adding Multimedia Content

Finding the most useful software packages for adding Flash movies just got easier: David deBoer reviews Flash 5 and LiveMotion for Web designers.
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In this article, we will talk about what software packages are the most useful when adding multimedia content in the form of Flash movies. Flash is considered the best animation tool on the Web, allowing Web designers to create fluid animations, graphics, or even complete Web sites using Flash 5 or LiveMotion while keeping file size to a minimum.

Also see the first two articles in this series, "The Best for Web Designers: Designing Web Sites" and "The Best for Web Designers: Graphic Design."

Flash Movies: Macromedia Flash 5 or Adobe LiveMotion?

Flash movies are animation files that are created using Macromedia Flash or Adobe LiveMotion. Both these programs have pretty much the same functions. Let me explain some of their similarities and differences to you to help you choose which one will work best for you.

First of all, Flash 5 was designed as a Windows program, and LiveMotion was designed as a Mac program. Although both programs are available on both operating systems, you can just notice this fact when using them. If you are more familiar to Macintosh-like interfaces, you will become accustomed to the LiveMotion interface faster than you will to the Flash 5 interface.

As for LiveMotion, you can expect a Photoshop-like user interface. All the tools are there, the menus are organized logically, and palettes offer fast and easy access to the most used design features. As usual, integration with other Adobe products is excellent—for example, you can apply Photoshop filters while working on your LiveMotion projects.

Flash 5's interface is also very similar to other Macromedia products' interfaces, and all the toolbars and menus are easily customizable, also by the good management of keyboard shortcuts. In general, it's a clean interface that you can customize to your needs when you find out which features of the program you will use most.

One of the first things you notice is that LiveMotion seems to have been created for people who want to use Flash but who do not want to spend a whole lot of time learning how to use it. Some functions known from Flash, such as action scripting, are not available. In Flash 5, action scripting enables users to really customize their projects because the action script is similar to other Web-specific coding languages; LiveMotion users, on the other hand, will have to make do with simple JavaScript coding. This really restricts users to take their animations to the max. Code-related Flash files such as interactive games are not easy to create with LiveMotion.

Text is used in almost all Web projects and, therefore, should be easy to work with in these animation programs. LiveMotion handles text a bit better than Flash 5 does; in LiveMotion, you can use the Break Apart Text command to change the letters in the selected text into individual objects, which are then assigned a layer. You can then edit them as text or add animation to them individually. In Flash 5, however, the Break Apart command converts text into lines and fills. You can edit these, but once you do this, you can't edit them as text anymore. If you want to animate them, you will have to convert them into symbols first, which means a bigger file size.

Of course, animation is one of the most important factors for these programs. Animation in both is, in fact, very similar. LiveMotion uses a timeline. Every object that you use will have its own timeline; you edit its position, rotation, opacity, and so on at every point. A change in frame rate will cause a keyframe to be created automatically. In Flash, you use either standard (frame-by-frame) animation, in which an image must be created for every frame, or "tweening," in which you can use vector graphics at two or more keyframes and have Flash automatically create the frames between them. One timeline shows all objects, and editing is done per layer, which means that you have to create a new layer for every new animated symbol.

Also very important, in my opinion, are the drawing tools in the programs. Although both programs have very similar features, LiveMotion is missing the pencil tool. Drawing control is a bit better in Flash 5 as well, and more options are available. In addition, the many modifiers found in the submenus in Flash 5 are very useful. You can even optimize curves and use the Use Multiple Passes option to further smooth lines. Draggable grids and rules in Flash 5 help you with placement of your objects. Finally, palettes are easily modified and can be loaded from other programs such as Fireworks or Photoshop.

Another very nice feature in Flash 5 is the very well-organized and useful library window. All the symbols are stored in this library and can be dragged and dropped onto the current project to duplicate or apply them. Sounds and animation files can even be previewed within the library window. You can organize them in folders to make file management even easier.

LiveMotion is missing Macromedia Flash's Advanced Export options. For example, Flash can create HTML pages containing JavaScript that detects the presence of the Flash plug-in, while LiveMotion decides to simply embed the movie into an HTML document. Also, LiveMotion lacks custom HTML templates, and it doesn't easily let you see how fast your movie will load on a connection; this is absolutely important to know when working with Flash movies because the SWFs tend to get quite big because of all the sound and bitmap files that you can insert into them. A bigger file size means fewer people waiting for the movie to load and fewer people returning to see your site again.

Flash movies are exported in SWF format, which requires a plug-in. The Flash 5 plug-in comes standard with the latest versions of popular browsers such as Internet Explorer. Macromedia says that currently 92% of all Internet users have the plug-in installed, although I must say that I doubt this is actually the case. The rest of the users will have to download the latest plug-in from the Macromedia Web site.

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