QuickTime 3 Authoring Tools

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Most QuickTime movies are passive affairs, played from start to finish; they're really little more than digital versions of videotapes. Totally Hip Software's LiveStage 1.0.1 and Electrifier's Electrifier Pro 1.0 have the potential to change that. These authoring tools tap into QuickTime's ability to combine multiple media and enhance them with interactivity. But although Electrifier Pro and LiveStage show great promise, both programs feel like works in progress.

Mirroring the versatility of QuickTime itself, both Electrifier Pro and LiveStage have innumerable applications. On one level, they let you create QuickTime movies containing clickable hot spots (which link to Web pages) and navigation buttons, complete with rollovers. With either program, you can create the kind of visually engaging Web-navigation screens commonly associated with Macromedia Flash and Shockwave. If you're planning to add QuickTime content to your site anyway, now you can take the next step and build your navigation mechanisms around QuickTime, too; the same plug-in that handles your site's conventional movies can handle its navigation schemes as well. Indeed, given that its installed base is larger than Shockwave's, QuickTime may now be a better choice for some interactive Web projects.

On another level, both programs let you combine a multitude of QuickTime media formats. You can add soundtracks to QuickTime VR scenes, add bandwidth-friendly vector graphics to conventional movies, and create movies containing still images that slide across the frame while MIDI soundtracks play.

Both programs also support QuickTime's built-in special effects, including fire, clouds, scratched movie film, and color tinting, plus such transitions as dissolves and wipes. These goodies are built into QuickTime, so you can create exotic effects–such as a pond that ripples when a user clicks on it–with virtually no increase in file size.

Because these programs produce QuickTime movies, you can play your projects on a Mac or Windows computer using Apple's MoviePlayer utility. You can also embed them in any QuickTime-savvy document, from a Web page to a Microsoft Word file to an Adobe Acrobat document. Try that with Macromedia Flash or Shockwave.

Finally, both programs need better documentation; their manuals are supplied only in electronic form and, worse, are poorly organized and light on tutorials.

Each program arrives at these parcels of common ground in its own way. Electrifier Pro offers a drag-and-drop authoring environment and direct support for virtually every media type QuickTime supports. But it also has a steep learning curve, one that's made even steeper by the poor documentation and a sometimes confusing interface.

In contrast, LiveStage relies on a built-in scripting language for interactivity and supports only some of QuickTime's media types. LiveStage also isn't as versatile as Electrifier Pro, although its scripting language allows you to create projects that Electrifier Pro can't handle.

LiveStage comes with WebPainter 3.1, an animation program Totally Hip sells separately for $70. Version 3.1 builds on its predecessor's solid feature set by adding a vector text tool, an improved magic-wand tool (now with adjustable tolerance), and enhanced animation features.

In Electrifier Pro, you do most of your work in a single document window that sports three tabs: Layout, Preview, and Structure. The Structure tab is a timeline view denoting the duration of the imported media elements, which Electrifier Pro calls actors.

You can import items by using menu commands or simply by dragging and dropping them from the Finder. Electrifier Pro can import QuickTime movies and every QuickTime-supported media type as well as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files. You can also add QuickTime data tracks, each of which can hold media elements and can be selectively shown, hidden, and animated during playback.

In LiveStage, you must add elements to the Library palette before you can import them, a cumbersome process compared with Electrifier Pro's drag-and-drop approach. LiveStage supports all QuickTime still-image and audio formats, but it can't import QuickTime movies themselves. You read that correctly: LiveStage creates interactive QuickTime movies and gives you full control over QuickTime movie tracks, but it does not let you add existing QuickTime movies to a LiveStage project. To create a project that controls a QuickTime movie–for example, to add a panning soundtrack to a QuickTime VR panorama–you must use Apple's MoviePlayer. It's an awkward process that can make testing and debugging a project far more time-consuming than necessary.

Both programs offer layout views for designing a project. In Electrifier Pro's Layout mode, you can position elements, change their front-to-back stacking order, and add text and effects. The Inspector palette lets you specify precise positioning and change an element's ink characteristics (to make an element's background transparent, for example).

Electrifier Pro's layout aids are of only fair quality. You can have objects snap to a grid, whose dimensions you can specify, but you can't display the grid. Worse, you can't use the keyboard's arrow keys to nudge an item's positioning in single-pixel increments. LiveStage's layout features are similarly lean; although the program does support arrow-key nudging, it lacks a snap-to grid.

Once you've imported media elements, you can specify interactivity and animation–making images glide across the screen, creating buttons that link to Web pages, and so on.

In Electrifier Pro, you add interactivity in either the Layout or Structure mode, generally by dragging an action icon from the Modifiers palette onto the element you want to modify and then specifying the action's parameters in the Inspector palette. To have an element invert when the mouse rolls over it, for example, you drag the Set Ink action to the element and then specify the Reverse Ink and Mouse Over Begun events in the Inspector palette. If you've used the now defunct mTropolis, you'll find Electrifier Pro's approach similar although not as elegantly implemented.

Electrifier Pro's 18 actions run the gamut from changing ink modes to opening URLs to changing the pan settings of a QuickTime VR movie; the program's 21 effects range from volume adjustment to path animation to spinning, slanting, and zooming. Building a project in Electrifier Pro is a process of adding tracks, importing media into them, combining modifiers and actions, and then arranging the elements in the Structure view. But although the overall concept is fine, the execution is lacking. For example, to change some effects' parameters, you have to choose a different effect and then choose the original effect again just to access its options.

In LiveStage, you add interactivity by writing scripts in its built-in programming language, QScript. Working in LiveStage's Objects window, you specify actions (such as Mouse Enter and Mouse Click) and then attach scripts to those actions. You can peck out scripts by hand or assemble them by dragging and dropping keywords from the QScript Reference palette.

QScript is a rich language, complete with control structures (such as if...then and while); local and global variables; arrays; and actions that control the playback of various types of QuickTime tracks, including VR, music, sound, and video tracks. It gives you far more control over interactivity than do Electrifier Pro and Macromedia Flash. Indeed, one of the demonstration files that accompany LiveStage is a simple Space Invaders-style video game. When you realize that this game is a QuickTime movie that can be embedded in virtually any application, the power of QuickTime as an interactive platform really hits home.

But QScript is a programming language, and you'll need time to master it. Unfortunately, its syntax bears little resemblance to that of other popular languages, such as Macromedia Director's Lingo. And Director 7 comes with a large library of canned scripts that handle common tasks; LiveStage doesn't.

Both programs let you preview your efforts before creating the final movie. In Electrifier Pro, clicking on the document window's Preview tab causes the project to run. It's fast and convenient.

In LiveStage, you have to compile your project. While the project is compiling, LiveStage checks the scripts for errors and prepares a preview. The process doesn't take long–five seconds or so, depending on the project–but it makes troubleshooting and debugging more cumbersome.

When you've finished a project in either Electrifier Pro or LiveStage, you can output it as a stand-alone QuickTime movie. Electrifier Pro also lets you export a project's animation as an animated GIF file and its audio as a WAV or AIFF file.

Even though both Electrifier Pro and LiveStage are naturals for Web-destined projects, neither can create an HTML file containing the

Electrifier Pro is the better program for projects that involve enhancing existing QuickTime content and for anyone averse to scripting. (Version 2.0, due out by the time you read this, will support the streaming features of Apple's QuickTime 4.) LiveStage is the better choice for applications involving animation and requiring the sophisticated branching capabilities of QScript. Both prove that creating a powerful authoring environment involves more than simply combining interactivity features with a layout screen; it also takes a user interface that makes authoring approachable and even enjoyable. You'll find this attention to detail in the latest versions of Macromedia Director and Flash. When Electrifier and Totally Hip start sweating those interface details, QuickTime's potential as a platform for interactivity will finally be realized.


3.5 mice
PROS: Drag-and-drop authoring; versatile media support. CONS: Interface has rough edges; poor documentation. COMPANY: Electrifier (919/968-0701, http://www.electrifier.com ). LIST PRICE: $595.


3.0 mice
PROS: Powerful scripting language. CONS: Interface flaws; poor documentation; can't import QuickTime movies; heavy reliance on scripting. COMPANY: Totally Hip Software (604/685-6525, http://www.totallyhip.com ). LIST PRICE: $200.

May 1999 page: 38

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