LiveMotion 2.0 is Adobe’s second stab at creating an animation tool to challenge the dominance of Macromedia Flash, and this version finally presents a viable alternative. While direct comparisons are inevitable, there’s a difference of emphasis between the two products that makes each more suited to certain tasks. The degree of integration with related applications is also an important deciding factor.
Like Flash, LiveMotion produces highly optimized files for streaming playback over the Web – namely SWF files that can be played back within a Flash-enabled browser, a stand-alone Flash player, or an application such as QuickTime.
The essence of LiveMotion is a Composition window, on to which objects are placed, and a timeline window, in which objects are layered and animated. The user interface is very similar to other products in the Adobe line, and the timeline control is practically identical to that of After Effects. This is one of LiveMotion’s strongest assets, with the close, precise control over all parameters of an object – such as position, orientation, colour, opacity, and so on – all individually keyframeable.
Unlike Flash, an object doesn’t need to be turned into a symbol in order to be animated – but like Flash, you can create Movie Clip objects that have their own timelines. However, I couldn’t find an immediate way to create multiple instances of a movie clip – though this is possible through scripting.
Creating objects means either using the built-in drawing and text tools, or importing elements from another application. The drawing tools allow the creation of vector shapes, including a bézier-pen tool, like that found in Illustrator, for the precise creation of irregular forms. But one thing LiveMotion lacks is any form of freehand drawing tools, making it less suitable for the kind of cartoon animation for which Flash is ideal.
The excellent integration with Illustrator and Photoshop means that you can import native files, preserving information such as layers and groups. LiveMotion has the same text engine as Photoshop, giving an excellent degree of typographical control – and as it’s non-destructive, you can still animate text after applying animation effects or transformations. An external text-editing window would be helpful, though.
LiveMotion is perfectly happy working with bitmaps as well as vectors, and even has tools for raster effects such as drop-shadows and bevels, or lens effects such as blurs. It certainly gives a LiveMotion animation a different feel from the unique cartoon-style shading of Flash. It’s much closer to the video motion-effects produced with After Effects.
In fact, with the AMX export option of AfterEffects 5.5, you can import After Effects compositions into LiveMotion for export as Web-friendly SWFs. With animations containing lots of bitmaps you’d expect the resulting SWF files to be hefty, but the exporter squeezes every last byte – I was pleasantly surprised at their slimness. You can specify the level of compression for bitmap images, audio, and font embedding, or stipulate unique per-object compression.
Compositions can be previewed instantly, with no delay while they’re exported. You can also get an overview of file size. Previewing in a Web browser – which does require an export – also gives you a report showing an overview of the composition and streaming. This is useful in determining if any frames will hang the animation.
The script-editor window features a structured approach to scriptwriting that Flash 5 users have been crying-out for (and finally got, in Flash MX). Syntax colour-coding, line numbering, and a debugging utility in order to trap errors all feature. While it isn’t quite as easy to add interactivity as it is in Flash, an excellent scripting guide helps you master the basics.
As well as SWF, LiveMotion can also be used to create animated GIFs, QuickTime video, streaming MP3 audio, and a number of still-image formats. There’s no sign of an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics format) exporter, though – Adobe seems to have given up on this format.
LiveMotion 2 is an excellent product that provides a viable alternative to Flash as an interactive Web-authoring tool. And while Macromedia has moved the goalposts further with Flash MX, LiveMotion 2 already contains many of the features it took Macromedia six versions to provide.
Although there’s little to separate the two products, users will incline towards a tool they feel most comfortable with – and it’s unlikely that experienced Flash users will switch over.
The challenge and attraction for Adobe is to lure Photoshop and Illustrator users into the world of Web animation and interaction.
It might just work.