DATELINE: November 2000 Issue
Web-Banner-Design Programs Pit Price against FunctionBy Kelly Lunsford
To avoid being overlooked in the unsubtle world of online advertising, a banner must spin, flash, or fly. Web animation tools make it easier to build eye-catching ad banners, but the leading tools–such as Adobe Photoshop 5.5–cost upward of $600 and may be overkill for simple animations. Two less-expensive alternatives, Beatware’s e-Picture Pro 1.0 and RecoSoft’s WebShocker 2.0, prove you don’t have to spend your life savings to create effective Web banners–but you do get what you pay for.
Under the Hood
Although e-Picture Pro and WebShocker focus on the same goal–quick, attention-grabbing animations–they differ at the most fundamental level. Like nearly every other Web-oriented graphics program, e-Picture Pro is vector-based; you can alter and resize paint strokes, lines, and snippets of text repeatedly without producing jagged edges. And e-Picture stores each object in an image separately, so you can manipulate one without affecting the rest of the image.
WebShocker, in contrast, produces bitmapped images whose pixels are applied permanently to the canvas. Even worse, the program doesn’t separate its elements into layers, so selecting, editing, or deleting text, photographs, and drawn objects is difficult. This is a serious design flaw in a program designed to create images that shift and change over time.
Putting Graphics into Motion
In an improvement over its predecessor, e-Picture 1.0 (Reviews, February 2000), the current version adds a tool for creating 3-D text. You can define the color, lighting, depth, and rotation of text, which remains editable, and you can animate text along a path.
The program’s animation tools are intuitive, if occasionally glitchy. Time-line and tweening tools let you simply specify an object’s initial and final attributes; e-Picture Pro interpolates the transitions between the two frames. The program also has a useful visual tweening tool that displays the path an object will travel as you drag it into a new position. This makes fine-tuning the speed and direction of an animation’s movement easier.
With e-Picture Pro’s new 3-D text tool, you can quickly create and animate 3-D logos.
You can view the animation at any time by clicking on the Play button in e-Picture’s Animation palette, but the playback is jerky and–because the program must render each frame on-the-fly–bears no relation to the speed of your final output. To get a realistic look at your animation, you have to open the program’s Export wizard, wait for the program to load all the frames, and then click on Play.
WebShocker takes a different approach to animation. Instead of using a timeline, the program requires you to build animations one frame at a time. Since there’s no easy way to select objects and make minor adjustments from one frame to the next, this often requires starting from scratch each time. Fortunately, WebShocker’s onion-skinning feature helps you line up elements in different frames. And a library of transitions–the closest thing the program has to tweening–lets you add canned effects.
Importing and Exporting
You can now import native Photoshop and Illustrator files to e-Picture Pro, preserving objects’ layers and editability, and distribute the layers as an animated sequence or as separate bitmaps. WebShocker also imports native Photoshop files, but it does a decidedly clumsy job of handling layers–which it separates and places randomly on individual frames. Addi-tionally, the program can’t interpret vector information (including text) from Photoshop 5.0 or 5.5.
For Web banners, minimal file size can be as important as image quality. Both e-Picture Pro and WebShocker offer Export wizards that let you preview and compare your final output and file size under a variety of compression options. Both programs ex-port files as animated GIFs, JPEGs, and QuickTime movies; e-Picture Pro also exports in SWF and RealVideo (although you can’t preview the final output in these formats from the Export wizard). WebShocker’s Export wizard has its own problem: you can’t zoom in on the tiny previews, making it all but impossible to tell what effect your changes are having on the image.