Director MX 2004

Catching up with the rest of the Macromedia product line, Director MX 2004 is the tenth full release of the pioneering multimedia authoring tool from Macromedia. From its humble beginnings in 1985 as a Mac-only animation package (originally called Macromind VideoWorks before changing to Director), it’s come a long way, and is still the mostly widely used software for multimedia CD-ROM creation. But it’s also the end of an era: this release is OS X only. While young upstart Flash gets all the attention, old grandfather Director plods on in the background, steadily keeping up with current media technologies. But the ubiquity of Flash has forever changed the multimedia landscape, and the ongoing puzzle for Macromedia is trying to ensure compatibility between the two products while establishing a unique role and identity for each. With this release, the emphasis is definitely on increasing the crossover between Flash and Director, further blurring the boundaries. The most fundamental new feature in this regard is the introduction of a JavaScript option for scripting, which can be used as well as the traditional Lingo. The JavaScript language is very similar to Flash’s ActionScript language, and is used to add interactivity and control to Director movies. While Lingo supports a pseudo-JavaScript dot syntax, the new JavaScript scripting implementation is the real deal. But it isn’t clear from the documentation whether the JavaScript syntax can be used for all aspects of a Director application, such as controlling video files, or working with Shockwave 3D objects. Movies-in-a-Window
Movies-in-a-Window (MIAWs) are linked Director movies that run at the same time in separate windows. They are the only way that Director can support multiple scores, replicating some of Flash’s functionality with multiple timelines using Movie Clips. Macromedia has made big improvements in the performance and reliability of MIAWs in this release, which were previously rather flaky and with many undocumented and unsupported features, such as using a mask to create custom shapes. Elsewhere, the application has been altered to be more Flash-like. In the score (the Director equivalent of Flash’s timeline), you can now name sprites (instances from Flash) and channels (layers in Flash). Not only does this makes it easier for Flash users to get to grips with Director, it means you code the name of the sprite rather than the channel it’s on, giving the freedom to move it around without breaking the code. In this version, user-interface elements such as buttons, text-input boxes, and checkboxes are actually Flash Components, and you can also utilize more-sophisticated Flash Components such as the Date Chooser and Scroll Pane to provide powerful functionality to the Director movie. As you’d expect from the MX 2004 release, this version can import Flash 7 SWF files created with Flash MX 2004. There are a number of ways of communicating from one to the other. You can effectively call functions, access objects, and target movie-clips within the embedded Flash movie from the Director interface, and trigger functions and access behaviours within Director from the embedded Flash movie. Flash playback performance has also been improved by up to 70 per cent, Macromedia claims. This is especially relevant to Mac users as the Flash playback on previous versions has been sluggish. As part of the MX 2004 product family, Director integrates well with the rest of the line, and you can launch and edit into Fireworks (for bitmaps) or Flash for SWF assets. The Fireworks Import Xtra brings in Fireworks files and preserver layers, slices and so on, and converts any rollover behaviours to Lingo code. One of the biggest new features of DVD-Video, and something Director can do that Flash cannot, is the ability to work with linked DVD-Video files. DVDs can also be Web-enabled, letting content be updated from a Web connection. Controls are added using pre-built Flash components, but advanced controls and interactivity can be built using Lingo or JavaScript. Other video and audio formats including MPEG-4, Windows Media Video and Audio, MP3 and RealMedia files are also supported. Publishing standalone Director applications (Projectors) has been simplified with a new Projector Publishing panel. In this release, it can publish as both Mac and PC projectors. You can also publish as a Shockwave movie for delivery online. While being able to create PC projectors from the Mac version (and Mac projectors from a PC version) is a bonus, for serious development it’s essential that you test your application on all delivery platforms to ensure consistency of playback, font usage, and file compatibility. Having a one-click PC projector publishing button is, sadly, too good to be true.


There isn’t space here to fully compare strengths and weaknesses of Flash and Director, but what is clear from this release is that they complement each other well. As well as being a powerful multimedia development tool in its own right, Director can be seen as a tool to extend Flash’s functionality for high-performance playback on CD, DVD, and kiosk applications as well as the Internet.

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