When Adobe first launched LiveMotion,
it broke new ground by offering itself as
a more user-friendly alternative to Flash. These days, it’s hard to find a graphics package that can’t export to Flash’s SWF format. And it isn’t even a two-horse race since Corel launched its own equivalent – RAVE – last year. Adobe managed to hurdle the lot of them with an upgrade that brings LiveMotion a good deal closer to that which many designers would like to see.
Flash itself isn’t an open standard, but it has become the dominant medium for vector-based animation, custom interfaces, and multimedia interactivity – especially on the Web. The first version of LiveMotion didn’t try to attack the Macromedia Flash package head-on. Instead, it focused on the task that most designers wanted to get on with quickly: animation. Splash-screen movies, tumbling logos, cartoons and animated Web elements were easier to throw together in LiveMotion. Useful though it was, this left LiveMotion open to derision as a Toytown alternative to a tried-&-tested original.
Image is everything
Scripts can be prepared in a couple of special ways. The most direct is an Automation Script, which is rather like a macro or Photoshop Action, in that it records a sequence of commands and lets you apply them to any other object on the canvas or in other files. Additionally, LiveMotion lets you script interface front-ends for the application itself, in a feature called LiveTabs. Typically, you create LiveTabs to float in a palette window to use alongside the program’s existing tools. A LiveTab could gather together simply a set of often-used features in one place, or it could hook deep into the program for special functions. The clever aspect is that LiveTabs can be shared with other LiveMotion users, making it a great way of streamlining the interface for a network of designers working on the same project.
There’s nothing new in LiveTabs, though – it’s
just Adobe’s take on a similar feature introduced in Flash 4. But what Flash hasn’t offered in the field of scripting so far is a self-launching debugger. Since you can preview full movies within LiveMotion, it’s good to have a debugger that opens automatically when it encounters an error, highlighting the point in the script at which things went awry.
Graphics-creation tools have been improved in the new version, not least the type engine, which has apparently been lifted from Photoshop. Working with text is now more intuitive and responsive, and a good deal less fussy. Text can be given special layer effects from the Styles palette, just like anything else.
Several other subtle but important interface improvements have found their way in to the upgrade. Zooming in and out is no problem, and you can work with objects sitting in a pasteboard area. The Timeline window has a few more tricks from After Effects (such as time stretching), and you can now set objects as ‘shy’ as well as ‘hidden’. Also handy is the Preview Export Optimization command, which calculates an idea of the movie’s overall file size, along with that of the currently selected object. Our only complaint is that once your sequence gets more than a little complex, this feature slows the program down considerably – to a crawl in some cases.
Adobe has also beefed-up the program’s support for media export formats. You can now bring MP3 audio into LiveMotion and export it as an MP3 track for streaming alongside video playback. Additionally, you can quickly export sequences as QuickTime movies instead of standard GIF and SWF animations. This feature opens up opportunities for producing cartoon animations in LiveMotion for subsequent treatment in Premiere, After Effects, and so on.
Alternatively, you can take this workflow and reverse it. You might, for example, prepare an animation in After Effects, add scripted interactive elements in LiveMotion 2.0, then output to SWF. The program also supports Illustrator 10 and Photoshop 7 files in their native format; you can even drag-&-drop images and graphics between the programs while retaining layer and style attributes. The Smart Object feature lets you prepare SWF files to contain variable data for handling from in GoLive, producing an interactivity potential similar to Flash/Generator.
Despite all this, LiveMotion 2.0 isn’t going to
take over from Flash – any more than a new version of Fireworks would kill off Photoshop. It still can’t open SWF files for re-editing, and it can’t promise a quick learning curve for die-hard Flash users. But LiveMotion 2.0 is less challenging to learn from scratch, and sits exceptionally well within Adobe-based workflows.