Cheap Web-animation tools

Introduction

To avoid being overlooked in the unsubtle world of online advertising, a banner must spin, flash, or fly. Web animation tools make it easier to build eye-catching ad banners, but the leading tools – such as Adobe Photoshop 6.0 – cost upward of £139, and may be overkill for simple animations. Two less-expensive alternatives, Beatware’s e-Picture Pro 1.0 and RecoSoft’s WebShocker 2.0, prove you don’t have to spend your life savings to create effective Web banners. Although e-Picture Pro and WebShocker focus on the same goal – quick, attention-grabbing animations – they differ at the most fundamental level. Like nearly every other Web-oriented graphics program, e-Picture Pro is vector-based while WebShocker, in contrast, produces bitmapped images whose pixels are applied permanently to the canvas. Even worse, the program doesn’t separate its elements into layers, so selecting, editing, or deleting text, photographs, and drawn objects is difficult. This is a serious design-flaw in a program designed to create images that change over time. In an improvement over its predecessor, e-Picture 1.0, the current version adds a tool for creating 3D text. You can define the colour, lighting, depth, and rotation of text, which remains editable, and you can animate text along a path. The program’s animation tools are intuitive, if occasionally glitchy. Time-line and tweening tools let you specify an object’s initial and final attributes – e-Picture Pro interpolates the transitions between the two frames. The program also has a useful visual-tweening tool that displays the path an object will travel as you drag it into a new position. This makes fine-tuning the speed and direction of an animation’s movement easier. You can view the animation at any time, by clicking on the Play button in e-Picture’s Animation palette. But, the playback is jerky and – because the program must render each frame on-the-fly – it bears no relation to the speed of the final output. WebShocker adopts a different approach to animation. Instead of using a timeline, the program requires you to build animations one frame at a time. Since there’s no easy way to select objects and make minor adjustments from one frame to the next, this often requires starting from scratch each time. Fortunately, WebShocker’s onion-skinning feature helps you line-up elements in different frames. And, a library of transitions – the closest thing the program has to tweening – lets you add canned effects. You can now import native Photoshop and Illustrator files to e-Picture Pro, preserving objects’ layers and editability, and distribute the layers as an animated sequence or as separate bitmaps. WebShocker also imports native Photoshop files, but it does a decidedly clumsy job of handling layers – which it separates and places randomly on individual frames. Additionally, the program can’t interpret vector information – including text – from Photoshop 5.0 or 5.5. The most useful addition to e-Picture Pro comes into play when your exporting an animation. The Image Slicing tool lets you cut animations into pieces, which can then be optimized and exported separately for quicker downloads.
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