Macromedia Director 8.5 Enters the Third Dimension
It's big, complex, and expensive, but Macromedia Director is unrivaled in its ability to create multimedia presentations both on and off the Internet. Previous versions of Director allowed developers to create complex two-dimensional movies, but version 8.5 (priced at $1,199, or $199 for registered users of version 8) adds major muscle in the form of terrific 3D support that lets you build multi-user streaming 3D Shockwave movies for interactive courseware, games, kiosk presentations, immersive worlds, and product demos. There's lots more in 8.5, too, such as the ability to include and manipulate streaming RealMedia audio and video and Flash 5 movies, plus a beefed-up Multiuser server that serves as a back-end for live chat rooms and multiplayer games.
Director's movie-creation metaphor relies on a stage window where you arrange objects (called cast members) and orchestrate their ongoing behaviors via a timeline score. Cast members can be any type of media, such as bitmaps, text, video, Flash movies, and audio. At the basic level, you set the first frame where you want the cast member to appear in the score, make any changes in the object's "Mproperties" (position, color, and so on), select the final frame, and play the animation. Director automatically generates the intermediate frames for you. You can use any of the included animation behaviors or design your own with the built-in scripting language called Lingo. Director's controls are both wide and deep, offering experienced developers vast potential for creating interactive animations of immense complexity.
Another Dimension in Multimedia
Director 8.5 contains only rudimentary solid-modeling capability, so you'll need an external editor such as trueSpace, Amapi, or Amorphium if you want to create your own 3D objects. Alternatively, you can download free 3D objects in W3D and OBJ format on the Internet. But what Director lacks in modeling capability, it more than makes up for with a very slick 3D rendering engine developed by Intel, and with a smooth integration path for adding solid objects and assigning appropriate behaviors from the new 3D Behaviors Library.
Integrated into the 3D engine are bones animation, cartoon-esqe rendering, and particle physics for generating effects such as fog and wind. Although you can create amazing animations with these pre-programmed behaviors, there are more than 300 new Lingo scripting commands that enable these attributes to be precisely controlled by those experienced in Lingo programming.
The rendering engine is quite good, but the fluidity of the motion will depend partly on what 3D hardware acceleration your system provides, if any. Director 8.5 supports OpenGL and Direct3D but also includes a software renderer in case no hardware rendering is available. The 3D engine and resultant Shockwave movies are smart enough to modify the degree of the detail depending on the resident hardware setup, but even our old Pentium 266 gave us a pleasant show with the basic software renderer.
Animations are nice, but Director's real strength still lies in its ability to add a wide variety of user interactivity. As with animations, you can drag and drop an interaction from the library to an object and add controls such as navigation, movie controls, and mouse triggers. And in 8.5, you'll see a host of new library additions for controlling 3D, RealMedia audio and video, and streaming media in general. With these functions, designers can let users pan and zoom in three dimensions, rewind a movie, and throw objects around the screen.
Better Back-End Service
The much-improved Shockwave Multiuser Server 3 lets developers add server-side Lingo scripts, which allows for simpler implementation. Without server-side Lingo, each client movie had to include complex commands to handle multi-user tracking of movies and broadcasting information. With version 3, movies only need to include simple commands for sending and receiving messages and reacting to the feedback. Implementing this feature requires considerable Lingo programming expertise, but fortunately the documentation is quite effusive on this topic.
Still Needs Improvement
On the down side, if you want to build cross-platform CD's, you'll have to have the cross-platform hardware, because Director only exports the format it's installed on. In other words, you'll need to run the program on both a Mac and a PC. Web-based Shockwave movies are, of course, platform-independent. Another quibble: The manuals, while huge, seem overly technical for most users, and they assume a good deal of prior knowledge of 3D on the part of the reader. The skimpy tutorials are good for a rudimentary intro, but they cover only the barest minimum of features necessary to successfully navigate Director's extraordinarily complex control set.
The breathtaking price tag of Director 8.5 put it out of reach of most casual users, but Director remains the best choice for those who are serious about Web animation. The multitude of new features in version 8.5 also make this a no-brainer upgrade for people already using Director.
Read more by Susan Glinert.
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