AUGUST 1, 2001
by David Nagel
So here we have the granddaddy of multimedia authoring. I can remember playing with early versions of Director and liking it all right, but not being in love with it and not really caring for what was being produced with it. Last year, I got a hold of Macromedia Director 8.0, and all of that changed. With version 8, Macromedia did a serious revision of this hulking suite of authoring tools, tightened it up, brought in some usability features that almost made me cry and overhauled the workflow to make it about as easy to use as a graphics program, but retaining and expanding the robustness that gives the program its real power. Director 8.5 expands upon this even further with support for 3D, including physics; support for streaming Real Video and Real Audio; and integration with Macromedia Flash 5, just to name a few.
Now, I say all of this by way of introduction to Director because there's no way I can give a complete overview of the program. This is probably the most complex tool I've ever reviewed. I don't mean "complex" as in difficult to use; I mean "complex" as in where do you even start with a program that includes a 566-page scripting dictionary and a 597-page book covering just the stuff that's new since the last release? The manuals total 1,642 pages2,056 if you count the manual for Fireworks 4, which is included with the suite.
I don't bring this up to make the program sound daunting; it's not. It's just that it was designed let you create literally anythinginteractive Web content, stand-alone applications, games for distribution on CD-ROM, Web chat rooms, Web-based multiplayer gamesreally anything you can think of. This is a total authoring solution. If there's an application you can think of, you can probably create it in Director 8.5.
Macromedia Fireworks is an image editing and Web graphics tool for doing everything from building graphics to compressing for the Web to creating interactive animations, such as button rollovers. (I've reviewed Macromedia Fireworks 4 separately, which you can read here.)
The Shockwave Multiuser Server 3 is an updated Shockwave server that allows up to 2,000 users to participate in multi-user Shockwave content simultaneously. This includes multi-user games, chat rooms, etc. This is actually twice the number of users allowed under the previous Shockwave Server. It supports server-side scripting and uses the UDP protocol for more efficient data delivery than was found in previous versions.
Both the Mac and Windows audio editing tools are "lite" versions of professional audio editors. They allow for limited functionalitybasically enough to put together some audio before bringing it into Director 8.5.
... and not so new
So what's the difference? Director creates Shockwave files (.dcr), and Flash creates Flash files (.swf). They require different browser plugins for viewing on the Web, but both viewers enjoy pretty widespread distribution. (Macromedia says 200 million people have the Shockwave plugin for viewing Director files; in addition, the Shockwave viewer automatically downloads new components to allow users to view content that might be newer than their current viewer allows.) Both create interactive presentations for the Web. Both are capable of being distributed as standalone applications. (I bet you didn't know that about Flash.) And, particularly with the release of Flash 5, both offer some pretty powerful interactive features.
True, true. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you can't do this or that in Flash. With enough programming, you probably can. But you can do it more easily in Director; you can do it for multiple users in Director; you can do it with more types of media in Director; and you can just do more in Director. And, with the release of Director 8.5, the gap widens much further.
Just as an example, let's say you want users to be able to grab an object and toss it, allowing it to bounce around the stage area, knock into other objects and then return to its original position with a mouse click or key stroke. You know how you do this in Director? You click and drag three library behaviors onto your object, just as if you were dragging a Layer Style onto a picture in Photoshop. That's it. You can control speed, restrictions, interactions with other objects and a whole host of other parameters just by adjusting sliders or filling in values in pop-up dialogs. Or you can just leave all of these values at default.
What could be more simple?
And yet, just because behaviors can be accessed from a preset library doesn't mean that you're compromising power and flexibility. Let's not forget the 566-page scripting dictionary for expanding Director's capabilities.
3D on the
Web ... that people can view
Of course, at the top of everybody's list of drool-inducing features is the ability to animate 3D for the Web, add interactivity to it and deliver it to an incredibly large base of users who have the capability to view it200 million, according to Macromedia. (This may or may not be accurate; but suffice to say that a whole lot of people have the Shockwave viewer plugin in their browsers.) See, a lot of companies have developed technologies to enable interactive 3D content on the Web. There are Cult 3D and Viewpoint Experience Technology, to name a couple. And I'm not trying to pick on the companies that put out these technologies, but, when it comes down to it, how many people have plugins to access content that you develop on these platforms? If you're developing content for a client, does this client care which one is better if few of their customers can view it?
Now, I'm not a big fan of this argument in and of itself. I am a Mac guy, after all, and Mac guys don't cotton to any ad populem arguments. If Shockwave 3D were garbage, I'd say forget about it, use what's best and promote it so that it becomes the dominant standard. But Shockwave 3D is incredibly easy to develop; it looks nice on the user end; it's flexible in terms of bandwidth; and it offers some extra goodies that you might just be interested in. So, in short, it's worthwhile in and of itself.
Here's what I think makes it nice.
First, as I mentioned, it's easy to develop for. Director 8.5 adds two new library categories for controlling 3D, as well as 300 new Lingo commands. (Lingo is Director's scripting language.) So let's say you have a 3D television. You want people to be able to rotate the television around, zoom in, pan, dolly, etc. How do you do it? Just as with the 2D library items, you simply drag the behavior onto the object, adjust your preferences and click OK. Save it; embed it in your Web page; and everybody can interact with your 3D television. The same goes with several other 3D library features. Plus, you can even use many of the 2D behaviors on 3D objects. Just drag them onto your 3D object as you would onto a 2D object.
I can't stress enough the importance of ease of development. Straight 3D animation can be tricky enough, with all the factors involved. Interactive 3D animation could conceivably be a nightmare. But with Director 8.5, you have a tool that makes it simple but doesn't compromise on power.
So that's my favorite feature of Director 8.5's 3D authoring. But what else is there? Well, there's a whole lot more. In fact, it would take a couple pages just to list them with brief descriptions. So here are some highlights.
Director and Shockwave 3D
Here's the thing: 3D in the Flash format is not actually 3D. It just looks like 3D because it was created in a 3D program. But with Flash 3D, you can't actually manipulate 3D objects on the user end. Sure, you can fudge it. And maybe it would be worth it for you to do that. But with Shockwave 3D, the user is actually downloading your 3D objects to his or her machine and is able to manipulate them that way through the Shockwave Player.
The other important thing to mention about is that Director is not a 3D modeling program. You can do some things associated with modeling and even manipulate models once you've imported them, but you will not get the kind of modeling tools that you'd find in a true modeler. What you need is a separate 3D program that supports the Shockwave 3D format so that you can export your 3D content to the Shockwave 3D format for use in Director. On the Mac side, the most recent releases of NewTek LightWave and Maxon Cinema 4D XL support the format, and Electric Image is working on an exporter for Universe 3.x. On the Windows side, the exporter is also supported by Discreet's 3ds max 4.
Director 8.5 is supposed to support the OBJ file format as well, but I haven't had any luck with it. Various programs do handle OBJ export differently though, which could be the problem. I'll bring you an update on this when I find out more.
So that about does it for 3D. There's really a lot more to it, so I suggest going to Macromedia's site to read all of the features.
support and Flash 5 integration
Now, in terms of new media types, in addition to Apple's QuickTime, Director now supports Real Audio and Real Video. This is an area I haven't been able to test owing to the fact Real content doesn't work very well on the Mac platform, and I don't have a service for streaming Real content. However, according to Macromedia, you can composite video sprites with other sprites; grab an individual frame from the video stream and manipulate it with special effects or use it as a 3D texture; and you can control sound in Real Audio with features like volume, pan, mixing and sound effects.
I have, however, been able to test QuickTime in both version 8 and version 8.5. In both cases, there are some issues with QuickTime that have yet to be resolved, whether the client's using QuickTime 4 or 5. Specifically, in Director 8, there were problems with artifacts appearing when an object moved over the QuickTime image. In Director 8.5, the problem seems a little more severe.
Now, in an earlier review, I said that I was having problems arranging QuickTime movies in the stage area (send to back, bring to front, etc.). However, thanks to one of our readers, Gary Ingle of the AllMedia Design Group (http://www.allmediadg.com), I have learned that there's a quick fix to this. Simply uncheck "Direct to Stage" in the QuickTime Property Inspector, as seen in the image to the right. All of a sudden, the QuickTime movie can be arranged as I see fit.
It's impossible for me to say whether Real content experiences the same problems, but I hope to bring you more on the topic when I'm able to test it and also to bring you a workaround for the QuickTime problem when I'm able to figure one out.
Any of you out there who have used Director in the past must realize that I've barely covered the program at all. There's just so much to do with it that I probably couldn't do it justice with a review five times as long as this one.
There were the negatives of the QuickTime playback problem and the inability to import OBJ files as advertised. I will modify these comments if I can figure out a way to get around them. At any rate, these problems can't overshadow Director 8.5's overall appeal. I give the Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio a strong buy recommendation.
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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.