During the past year, the titans of graphics software have staked their claims in the Web-graphics arena with such programs as Adobe ImageReady and Macromedia FireWorks. WebPainter 3.0, the latest version of Totally Hip’s Web animation software, makes its mark with layers, transition effects, vector tools, and strong support for QuickTime 3.0. The result is a simple but capable animation package that lacks some of its competitors’ fancier graphics capabilities.
A Soft Cel
At its heart, WebPainter is a cel-animation program. You create animations frame by frame, using simple painting tools or images imported from other programs. As you add new frames, you can quickly preview the animation with VCR-like playback controls. An onion-skinning feature lets you see faded versions of the adjacent frames.
With WebPainter 3.0, you can now create projects with up to 32 layers, a crucial addition that more closely simulates traditional cel-animation techniques. For example, you can have a still background on one layer, animated characters on a second, titles on a third, and so on. Although you can merge, hide, and rearrange layers, the layer-handling options are limited and somewhat inflexible. Each project, no matter how simple or complex, automatically gets 32 layers. Even if you plan to use only 4, there’s no easy way to hide the other 28 in the Layers window.
WebPainter 3.0 also adds a new vector-drawing mode, with simple path- and shape-editing tools. Each cel or layer in an animation can be in vector or bitmapped mode. However, if you switch from vector within a cel or layer, that converts the vector objects to bitmaps. The vector mode lacks a text functionthis is unfortunate, because the text tool in bitmapped mode offers only basic formatting options.
Painting tools include a brush, airbrush, eraser, eyedropper, and paint can; you can create custom brush shapes, but some of the fancier tools you might expect, such as a rubber stamp, are missing. You also get basic selection toolsa lasso, marquee, and magic wandbut nothing more. Unfortunately, the wand is limited to selecting areas with an identical solid color; you cannot set a range of tolerance, as in Adobe Photoshop and other programs.
Other new enhancements are transition effectsincluding Cross Fade, Explode, Radial, Wipe, Slide, and Implodethat you can insert between cels or after a single cel. You can also apply Photoshop filters to single frames or one of the new QuickTime 3.0 filters to multiple frames. Two QuickTime filters in the package, Ripple and Film Noise, work on existing cels. The former adds an animated rippling effect, while the latter adds moving scratches and hair. Two other QuickTime filters, Cloud and Fire, add new cels with the named effects.
Staying in QuickTime
WebPainter 3.0 offers full support for QuickTime 3.0; the package includes QuickTime Pro, an enhanced version of Apple’s commercial multimedia software. You can open QuickTime movies and save them using any codec on your system, including the Sorenson Video codec. But the program is not made to handle movies with hundreds of frames. You can apply only a few operations simultaneously to multiple cels, and opening a movie with even a few dozen frames requires extra RAM.
However, most designers will probably use WebPainter to create GIF animations, the program’s nicest option. When you’re ready to export your animation, simply pick from a variety of color palettes and quickly preview that palette’s effect on image quality. You also get the other GIF-animation options you’d expect, including size optimization, which masks redundant elements in each frame. All this results in a tightly compressed animated GIF file.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
WebPainter 3.0 is inexpensive and easy to use, combining entry-level painting and drawing tools with basic animation functions. It lacks the sophisticated image-editing and illustration features found in more-costly programs, but these would be overkill in a package designed primarily for creating Web animations. Less forgivable is the lack of a strong text tool, since ad banners are a big stock-in-trade for many Web artists. Still, WebPainter’s animation capabilities far surpass those in Adobe ImageReady and Macromedia FireWorks. Anyone who spends a healthy portion of time creating Web animations should consider it.