Headline Studio

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Creating animated GIF images for the Web–especially for banner advertisements–has always been a chore. Newer Web graphics tools such as Macromedia FireWorks and Adobe ImageReady can help, but only to a limited extent. MetaCreations' Headline Studio 1.0 offers more power and control than those programs, but a strange interface and some unfortunate feature omissions prevent it from living up to its potential.

First off, let's make it clear what Headline Studio is not–it's neither a cel-animation tool nor a utility for optimizing GIFs or JPEGs. Instead, Headline Studio is designed to create animations that involve text. Translation: it primarily targets people who create animated banner ads.

Although Headline Studio's features are geared toward manipulating text, they also work on imported images and shapes drawn within the program. Using Headline Studio's floating palettes, you can adjust the tracking and leading of text; stretch, skew, and color both text and objects; and alter any text or object's opacity. The result: Headline Studio makes it relatively easy to produce animated text that grows, skews, bounces, and even dances across the screen letter by letter.

But Headline Studio's animation effects really kick in when you manipulate the timeline in the program's Animation palette. For example, you can set an object to appear a certain way at the beginning of your animation, then reposition the timeline indicator and change the object's properties–say, turn black text a fiery red. Headline Studio automatically calculates the difference between your object's initial characteristics and the new ones you've given it, and animates the transformation.

Other Web graphics tools support tweening, but those programs are frame-based–you choose the number of frames you want in your animation and then specify an action to take place over the course of those frames. With Headline Studio, you don't have to specify the number of frames in your animation until you save it as a GIF image. That means you can view smooth transitions while you're building your animations, before you decide how many frames to export based on the target size of the final GIF file.

Although Headline Studio's lack of reliance on frame-by-frame animation gives you a degree of flexibility other products can't match, it still pays to plot every step of your animation in advance. Once you've created an object and animated it, it can be difficult to make changes without affecting the rest of the animation. Another drawback is that you can't add more time to an animation at the beginning or end.

In general, working in Headline Studio takes some getting used to. Like other MetaCreations products, it doesn't use the standard Mac interface. For example, each antialiased window casts a shadow on a textured background that fills the screen, and because there's no way to turn off the background, you can't see any other program's windows while you're working in Headline Studio.

Some of Headline Studio's text-manipulation tools are also frustrating. Rather than clicking on the Text tool and then on the text you want to edit, you select the Arrow tool, click on the text box you want to edit, and then select the Text tool. And you can't specify point sizes: you enter text at a large size and then use the Scale tool to shrink it down to a more appropriate size.

Nowhere is Headline Studio more clearly a version 1.0 product than when it comes to importing and exporting. Shockingly, you can't paste images into Headline Studio from the Clipboard; to use an Adobe Photoshop image, you need to save it as a GIF, JPEG, or TIFF file–the only formats Headline Studio accepts–and then import it.

Once you're ready to export your animation, you'll run into one of Headline Studio's most glaring weaknesses. Although you can choose the number of frames to include in the file, the program renders those frames by spacing them equally throughout the animation; it makes no attempt to figure out where to place the frames based on the action. To make complicated animations both attractive and relatively compact, we had to export enormous GIFs from Headline Studio, open them in another GIF editor, trim unnecessary frames, and adjust the pause between other frames. In addition, Headline Studio gives you only limited control over the color palettes it uses when exporting GIF files.

Headline Studio lets you create complicated, visually interesting animations quickly. If you spend most of your time creating animated ad banners, you'll find this program an impressive addition to your toolbox. By reducing an animator's reliance on frame-by-frame GIF animation, Headline Studio may revolutionize the way people design animated GIFs. But for now, its interface limitations and weak export features get in the way of its potential.


2.5 mice
PROS: Powerful, simple animation controls; lack of reliance on frame-by-frame animation techniques. CONS: Nonstandard interface; weak export features. COMPANY: MetaCreations (800/846-0111, http://www.metacreations.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $199.

July 1999 page: 42

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