Tired of cobbling together Web animations with Adobe Photoshop? Take a look at BeatWare’s new e-Picture, a vector-based application designed specifically for creating Web banner ads and small animations. Although it’s far from perfect, it offers a decent selection of drawing and animation tools well suited for the task.
If you use a traditional print program such as Photoshop or Macromedia FreeHand, you’ll find e-Picture’s context-sensitive Inspector palette and tabbed palettes familiar. But don’t let looks fool you: e-Picture is very much a Web-graphics utility. Its New Document dialog box, for example, provides a pop-up menu of standard Web-banner and -button sizes.
The Tool palette displays the usual suspectsan assortment of graphics primitives, along with the paintbrush, pencil, paint-bucket, and pen tools. Because e-Picture is vector-based, when you paint a stroke, the program actually creates a vector outline of it. As in Macromedia Flash, this approach gives you all the painterly effects of pixel-based programs, plus the editing power of vector-based illustration. For example, you can change the shape, color, or scale of an object at any time without creating jagged edges or resampled artifacts.
The Inspector palette lets you easily manipulate object properties such as color and line width. e-Picture also sports a nice selection of painterly filters and effectssuch as glows, bevels, and blursthat you can apply to an object. Although e-Picture doesn’t support standard Photoshop plug-ins, its own plug-ins are more than adequate for most Web-animation effects.
You get tools for standard text and text on a path, and you can control the font, size, fill, and stroke color. But there are no kerning controlsa major omission in a program that will be used predominantly for creating text elements.
e-Picture provides full layer-agent composting controls. In addition to standard luminance, hue, and logical blending modes, you can also use alpha channels. However, this feature is somewhat buggythe program often misinterpreted the mask information.
e-Picture can import bitmapped images in a variety of formats. You can’t edit the images, but you can place them on layers and animate them with the program’s animation tools. Be careful when you import bitmapped files: large, high-resolution files can quickly bring e-Picture to its knees.
e-Picture’s basic tools let you quickly create simple, keyframed Web animations.
While there’s a lot to like in e-Picture, its drawing interface can be frustrating, thanks to several nonintuitive or nonstandard components. For example, once you select the text tool and begin typing text, you can’t change any text attributes. Instead, you must finish typing and then change the object’s attributes in the Inspector palette. The color picker is also somewhat confusing, requiring double clicks where most programs require single clicks. Quibbles? Sure. But these factors are intrusive enough that you’ll find yourself focusing more on the program’s mechanics than on your design.
Because Web banners must be small and simple, the animations within them must be compact and composed of a small number of frames. For the most part, e-Picture’s tools are just right for this level of animation.
You can use the program’s basic animation tools to set keyframes for an object; e-Picture then generates all of the intervening frames to create a smooth animation. But the program’s biggest animation strength is its ability to animate every property of an objectits position, scale, line width, and color, as well as any filters and effects applied to the object. Thus, it’s easy to create drop shadows that change depths, glows that pulsate, and bevels that deepen and thicken.
e-Picture also lets you add 3-D animations to your banners. Although the program has no 3-D-modeling tools, it can quickly render small 3-D models created in NewTek LightWave 3D or any DXF-compatible modelers. You can animate the position, rotation, and skew of these models just as you can any other property.
As with the drawing interface, e-Picture’s animation interface causes its share of annoyances. For example, when you drag a graphic from one location to another to set a keyframe, e-Picture doesn’t display a motion path, making it extremely difficult to accurately place the graphic. Expect to do lots of undoing. Furthermore, the program doesn’t offer automatic controls for acceleration or deceleration, or for creating motion along a curve. We’d also like a simple motion-blur feature.
e-Picture supports the GIF, JPEG, and PNG file formats. e-Picture’s export windowlike those of Adobe ImageReady and Macromedia FireWorkscan be split to let you view the results of different compression algorithms side by side. And like ImageReady and FireWorks, e-Picture can also generate and export animated Java rollover buttons.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
There’s nothing revolutionary about e-Picture, but it gives designers a solid, mostly well conceived environment for creating simple Web animations. Despite its quirks, e-Picture is a decent, affordable tool for those who make their living producing banner ads.