Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio
at a Glance

Maker: Macromedia
Price: $1,199 for the full version (Studio includes Director 8.5, Fireworks 4, Shockwave Multiuser Server 3 and some freebie software); upgrades are also available
Platforms: Macintosh and Windows

Overall Impression: It's difficult to generalize about a suite as feature-rich as Director 8.5. This multimedia authoring suite offers incredible flexibility and robust scripting without being overly complicated. It allows you to build Web content or standalone applications with ease and with a great degree of sophistication. Whether you're developing the latest D&D adventure game or simply building a presentation to take on the road with you, it would be difficult to find something this powerful and easy to use.

Key Benefits: Director 8.5 is the first viable platform for total 3D and interactive authoring. The power is incredible, as is the simplicity for some of the more common functions. The ability to drag library behaviors over objects makes this an incredibly valuable tool for rapid multimedia development, while the Lingo scripting offers essentially unlimited expandability for more complex projects.

Disappointments: In terms of library support, the 3D offerings are plentiful, but you can't do as much with it. There are some playback problems with QuickTime elements, and there's also artifacting when you apply vector motions to 3D objects. (This last one could be a graphics card issue with the ATI Rage 128 AGP.)

Recommendation: Strong Buy as both an upgrade and a straight purchase.


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Macromedia Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio
[Page 4 of 5]

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.

3D triggers allow you to decide what will cause an object to do
something. For example, the right arrow key could rotate an
object right, while the left arrow would rotate it left.

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.

  • Various shading options, including toon, newsprint and engraver.
  • Scriptable animation of everything from cameras and lights to individual bones in individual objects.
  • The ability to build scenes from primitives with basically no download time for the user because planes, boxes and cylinders are already present on the client side (the player).
  • Similarly, 3D text is created on the client side for minimum download time.
  • Same with mesh deformations and particle systems, including smoke, fire, rain, etc.
  • You can create multiple versions of your 3D models, and the client need only download a single one. This is called object cloning and can be useful for crowd scenes, stampeding dinosaurs, etc.
  • Picking of 3D objects collisions can occur down at the polygon level, so you can work with small portions of 3D objects.
  • Sending geometry to the client can be done in two ways. To save time on downloading, the client can be sent a lower-resolution version of the 3D object, which scales up over time. Shockwave 3D also supports subdivision surfaces, which means that low-resolution characters or objects and be smoothed out on the client side.
  • Support for bones.
  • Support for motion blending (for smooth motions between keyframed positions).
  • Support for the Havok Rigid Body Dynamics Xtra, which is used for realistic motion effects. For example, if a ball bounces off a wall, Havok will squish the ball as it hits the wall and bring it back to normal as it bounces away.
  • Support for some OpenGL hardware acceleration, as well as rendering in software and DirectX 7.

More about Director and Shockwave 3D
Just so I don't confuse anybody, I should point out two things. First, you might be asking, well, what's the difference between 3D in Flash and 3D in Shockwave? I whole bunch of 3D developers have released Flash exporters, so I can just present my 3D in the Flash format without buying any additional software, right?

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.

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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.
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