• Price: Around £140

  • Company: Beatware

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

With the recent arrival of LiveMotion from Adobe, there is currently much interest in the sphere of vector-based animation tools, and the inevitable comparisons between LiveMotion and the current champion, Macromedia's Flash. Among all this hullabaloo, another contender has snuck silently into the ring. Enter Beatware's e-Picture Pro. e-Picture Pro is not entirely a new product; e-Picture was previously available but more focussed on producing animated GIFs, say for advertising banner ads. The new version adds support for the standard SWF format, and promises the new SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) format "when the SVG format is finalized by the W3 Consortium", as well as QuickTime. This range of output options certainly places e-Picture Pro ahead of LiveMotion in the flexibility stakes. The application's heritage as a bitmap-animation tool seems hard to shake off for Beatware, and there's a lot in this release to let you create image slices, apply filters, and apply JavaScript rollover effects. In this regard, it's much more like Fireworks than Flash - at times uncannily so. Yet, it has nowhere near Fireworks' ease of use, and even creating a basic rollover is about as easy as summoning a demon from one of the lower planes of hell. I found e-Picture much more appealing as a vector-animation tool, where its timeline function is similar to that of LiveMotion, with the ability to control each property of an object independently allowing a much greater degree of control than Flash. But the timeline feature is let down by a unresponsive interface, and with operations such as layering and locking found in separate floating palettes. There are no keyboard shortcuts for adding frames or adding keyframes, something Flash developers may find frustrating. One of the most unusual and original features of e-Picture Pro is the 3D text feature. With it, you can produce extruded text, with lighting effects, and then animate the text with regards to position, 3D rotation, and also adjust the lighting over time. However, it's slow to render, especially when tackling a complex font. Also, when exported, the animated 3D text is converted to bitmaps, which is a major disappointment. It's on the issue of interactivity where e-Picture Pro also falls far beyond the programming capabilities of Flash. Other than simple rollover effects, and a jump to URL behaviours, there's little that you can do to control your animations. There's also nothing like Flash's lexicon of symbols, instances and movie clips, allowing you to build up complex vector-based presentations from simple building blocks. e-Picture Pro is a capable and creatively flexible animation tool, but it's still too oriented to the world of bitmap animation at a time when vector animation is where it's at for Web delivery.