Headline Studio

It’s not often that entirely new categories of software application arise, but the Internet and the Web have produced several, from the browser to the page-design app. Dedicated tools for creating dedicated Web graphics now join that list, with the biggest names in Macintosh imaging (Adobe, Macromedia and now MetaCreations) competing for your cash. Macromedia started this particular bandwagon rolling with the launch of Fireworks last year. Before Fireworks, Web designers used a grab-bag of tools that included Photoshop, DeBabilizer, GIF animation software and others, to create images for Web sites. Then Adobe hopped on board with ImageStyler and ImageReady (no – I can’t remember what the difference is, either). Now MetaCreations has released Headline Studio but, unlike the competition, the company has decided to slice the Web graphics market into still smaller segments and focus on just one niche, the creation of animated banners. Banners
There’s some justification for this approach since all graphical content on the Web can broken down into a number of categories: animated banners, and everything else. It’s virtually impossible to find a successful site that doesn’t use them, and the biggest sites house dozens of examples, often as many as a different banner on every page. And while most of them are the Web’s favoured form of advertising, many site designers employ animated banners for promotions, call-outs and other navigation and attention-getting devices. The use of the word ‘studio’ in the title carries more significance than the usual artistic overtones: MetaCreations claims ‘broadcast-quality’ for output and further boasts, ‘Designing banners is like producing a television commercial.’ Well, up to a point. What you get is a straightforward package for producing animated GIF files. A ‘stage’ is created at the size you specify, with oversize boundaries to handle objects that move in and out of view, and a timeline lets you set keyframes and transitions. The animation is handled by the software, which tweens from keyframe to keyframe, saving you the work of physically handling the motion and effects. A comparatively sparse tool palette provides the wherewithal to rotate, stretch, spin and otherwise set objects dancing, import graphic files from other sources, and to add text. Within the dialogue box for timeline control, you have access to a number of preset effects, such as opacity, bounces, and motion blurs. Elsewhere you can select different typefaces and colours, including a choice of palettes that are Web-safe and otherwise. While these tools may not sound comprehensive (and they’re not) you can do an amazing amount of creative work within Headline Studio with text that spins, bounces, changes colour, fades in and out, slides into and out of view, and so on. The software works in vector graphics mode until you export your work as an animated GIF, so everything remains fully editable. The results are very impressive, from software that’s remarkably simple to use. However, there are drawbacks, especially when you compare Headline Studio with a rival like Macromedia Fireworks. Essentially, there’s nothing you can do here that you can’t do in Fireworks while the latter does far more. For example, most of your work in creating graphical elements like backgrounds, icons and other items cannot be done in Headline Studio, so you’ll need another graphics package like Fireworks or ImageReady anyway. And when it comes to optimizing your animated GIFs, Headline Studio abandons you. Yes, it shows file sizes in preview mode, and you can then fiddle with frame rates, sizes and numbers of colours, but this is a time-consuming process of trial and error. In contrast, Fireworks lets you specify a file size for your finished animation and then optimizes your work automatically. And finally, MetaCreations cannot resist ‘improving’ on the Mac interface. Although Headline Studio is better than some of its stablemates it still commits a number of crimes, not least the fact that while you can switch to Finder view to see open folders, other items on the desktop (including your hard drives) are invisible and inaccessible.

OUR VERDICT

Headline Studio produces great-looking animated banners (and since you can customize the image size you’re not limited to banner formats) with classy effects, and with a minimum of effort on your part. But it’s a one-trick pony, and looks expensive as a result. If you already own a Web-graphics application like Fireworks or ImageReady, then Headline Studio is even less compelling. But if you spend a lot of time generating banner headlines for clients, Headline Studio will probably pay for itself in improved productivity within a matter of days.

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