Adobe LiveMotion 2.0

by Joe Gillespie — Aug 1, 2002

Although Macromedia Flash's vector graphic .SWF files have a lot to be said for them for creating Web-based animations, or even simple, static elements, designers often find the Flash application itself to be intimidating and confusing. When Macromedia acquired the program, originally called FutureSplash, they could have improved it immensely by bring the interface into line with their excellent FreeHand and Director products, but for some reason, it still retains its quirky drawing tools and hair-pulling timeline window. Adobe LiveMotion 1 provided all the benefits of the .SWF format giving designers a more familiar drawing environment and an object-based timeline system borrowed from After Effects. Although it made the production of simple animations quicker and easier, it missed out on one vital feature - proper scripting.

LiveMotion 1 had rudimentary behaviours but version 2 adds full JavaScript support on a par with Flash's ActionScript. They are very similar but if you jump between the two environments, be prepared to be confused by the differences. More about that later.

LiveMotion 2 provides fairly basic vector drawing tools but they work well. The shape tools don't insist on adding outlines by default as they do in Flash and overlapping objects of the same colour don't merge into one another annoyingly.

Applying gradient fills to objects is much easier than in Flash, it's just a matter of dragging a direction pointer on a dial. The ability to distort objects predictably, soften their edges and apply instant 3D effects makes it a joy to use.

On the downside, there isn't a decent colour palette. There's the usual colour sliders arrangement that works in several different colour models - RGB, HSB and CIE L and there is something called a 'Color Scheme' palette which I find hopelessly restrictive but there's no fixed or configurable palette like any other program provides. This is a major omission!

If you need more sophisticated drawing tools, LiveMotion's 'live-trip' drag and drop integration with Illustrator and Photoshop makes it an ideal companion. Version 2 also imports After Effects 5.5 files using the Adobe Motion eXchange (AMX) format.

I find the LiveMotion timeline much easier to control and manipulate than the one in Flash too. Okay, I have used After Effects quite extensively and they share the same concepts, but I think it is much more intuitive than Flash. Flash seems to do what it wants to whereas LiveMotion does what I want to - a vital difference.

The timeline is divided into horizontal lines, one for each object. A swivelling arrowhead opens up further hierarchical lines that allow precise control of each object's attributes - position, opacity, rotation, scale, colour etc. Transforming any of these attributes is just a matter of selecting what and when on the timeline and setting the values in the appropriate palette. There is no need to fight with keyframes, blank keyframes and such and the start and end points of transformations are easily identified and adjusted without resorting to handfuls of modifier keys.

Apart from the LiveMotion 1.0 behaviours, still supported for backwards compatibility, version 2.0 uses ECMA-standard JavaScript (with a few caveats for compatibility with Flash's ActionScript as noted in the Scripting Guide).

LiveMotion provides some pre-written scripts to get you started but the script editor makes it fairly simple to write your own - if you know, or are prepared to learn JavaScript. All the usual properties and methods can be auto-entered by double clicking on them from a hierarchical list which also gives notes about the usage and syntax of each item.

Scripts can be attached to keyframes, event handlers and state change handlers. Rollover events are created very simply by selecting an object and adding a new 'state' in the states palette - normal, over, down, out. Sound effects can be added to any state by clicking on the 'speaker' icon and selecting one of many supplied .AIF files or ones you provided yourself.

Two special tracks on the timeline allow you to add frame labels and frame scripts. Labels like 'start' or 'wait_here' are so that you can jump to specific points in the animation. Attaching a script to a frame causes that script to run when the playhead reaches the frame - a simple example 'this.stop();' would stop the playhead on that particular frame waiting for user intervention.

To make objects react to scripts, they have to be made into 'Movie Clips' - just a matter of selecting them and choosing 'Movie Clip' in the 'Object' menu. Now you can make them behave like buttons. By choosing 'onButtonPress' in the script editor and adding the line 'this._rotation += 15;' for instance, the object will rotate 15 degrees every time it is clicked.

With the full gamut of commands available, it is possible to produce quite complex interactive movies for data entry or games. LiveMotion will also let you embed QuickTime video files and .SWF files from Flash or other sources however, LiveMotion (.liv) and Flash (.fla) file formats are different and not interchangeable.

The addition of scripting now makes LiveMotion a serious alternative to Flash. There are a few Flash features missing from LiveMotion, such as auto-trace and break-apart and you will still need Flash Player if you want to produce stand-alone presentations but for the most part, LiveMotion is easier to use than Flash, about $100 cheaper and comes with a CD of free training videos to get you up to speed.

Adobe LiveMotion 2.0
Features Features bar 85%
Ease of Use Ease of use bar 90%
Value for Money value for money bar 85%
'Must Have' factor "Must have" factor bar 90%
Manufacturer Adobe
Price $399 Mac or Windows - Upgrades $99
Summary An easy-to-use alternative to Flash.
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