Getting Interactive with Electrifier Pro
Click and drag tools help you quickly add complex interactivity to QuickTime movies
By Jerry Monti

Way back when, approximately 600 years BW (Before Web), interactivity was something that you added into CD-ROMs. Click here and bring up a movie, or play back a belch - ah, this was the heady life of "Multimedia." Thankfully, the Web has helped us move past that dark time, with interactivity that isn't limited by the bounds of a CD-ROM. Yet there are times that it would be nice to add a bit more control over your digital video clips that just can't be worked within standard HTML tools - that's where Electrifier Inc.'s Electrifier Pro comes in.

Electrifier Pro is a $395 program that builds interactivity into QuickTime Movies and QuickTime VR Panoramas using simple click and drag commands. While Electrifier Pro works primarily with QuickTime, you can also output animated GIFs - however there are other less expensive programs that are better suited to that task. If you want to use interactivity to make your QuickTime content more compelling, then Electrifier Pro is a solid tool for you.

How it works
Once of Electrifier Pro greatest strengths is that you can use it to add sprites and interactivity to QuickTime movies without scripting or programming. The QuickTime architecture supports interactive sprites, which remain separate from the video information in the QuickTime movie (whether video or QuickTimeVR panoramas). By attaching events and commands to these sprites, your QuickTime movies become interactive, which gives the end user greater control over the rich media experience.

For example, if your video shows tennis star Michael Chang's power serve, you can easily add a sprite that - with a click - opens a URL to a special offer for a Michael Chang signature tennis racquet from Prince. You could build links that play a specific set of frames in this same movie, or play frames from an entirely different movie.Because sprites can be vector graphics, you can add interactivity to QuickTime files without significantly increasing file size. The other good news: the QuickTime Player directly supports sprites, so no additional plug-in (other than QuickTime) is required.

You add interactivity by dragging Actions from the Action palette to either the Layout or Structure views. Here the Pause and Play graphic files with Play/Stop Movie actions attached.
Click image for view
Electrifier Pro includes a number of powerful Actions. Note the Action palette includes tools required for building interactive panoramas.
Click image to view
Here the graphic elements are the background image of the iMac, the play button, the pause button and the compressed QuickTime Movie (the black rectangle). While you can use a grid to build your layout, it was disappointing that the arrow keys did not move the elements.

Getting Started
Installing Electrifier Pro is simple and flawless, a positive sign for a 1.0 version of the software. Once you understand the interface is well within the skill range of intermediate users. If you can handle PageMaker, Xpress, or PhotoShop you can master Electrifier Pro. I was able to build and save interactive movies within an hour after installing the program. For the first version of the software, the program is relatively solid. I did experience a couple of crashes while running several different Extensions and Control Panels. However, with just Electrifier Pro open I had no problems.

The first negative point in the program is in the documentation, which in general is weak and needs to be improved. I found the tutorials sloppy- - there isn't a single tutorial that focuses on actually controlling a QuickTime movie. In addition, there is no sample code on the CD-ROM, and the sample code that you can download from the Web site does not provide much help for advanced interactivity. The documentation also needs to be updated to support QuickTime 4 and to discuss new CODECS.The good news is that once you understand the basic operation of the program you'll have little use for the manual.

Working with the Program

Electrifier Pro's interface has three main sections for building the components of the movie: Layout, Preview and Structure. There are also four palettes, one for selecting Effects and Actions, a separate Inspector palette, a separate tool palette and a palette for tools to modify vector graphics and paths.

You build interactivity into your QuickTime Movies using Electrifier Pro's built-in tools and standard Macintosh drag-and-drop. Building Electrifier Pro interactive movies is easy. First, drag the media from the Finder onto the Layout view and position the elements on the screen. This simple drag-and-drop interface is quick, easy and familiar to every Mac user.

All compressed files that you use retain their native compression. If you compress an image so that you can read the type it stays that way when you bring it into Electrifier Pro, which will import virtually every type of graphic supported by QuickTime. Another nice feature is the "no bandwidth effect" filters built into the QuickTime architecture. You can directly apply Fire, Ripple and Cloud effect filters to the movie using Electrifiers Tool palette. Using image masks you can build some eye-catching effects with very low bandwidth. You can add text directly to your movie using the Toolbar text tool. However, editing text created in Electrifier Pro is not intuitive-you need to go to select Content>Modify to make changes rather than just selecting the text.

Electrifier Pro includes a number of powerful Actions. Note the Action palette includes tools required for building interactive panoramas. The Effects palette controls the presentation and animation of graphic elements. All of these effects have multiple options controlled through the inspector palette. You apply each of these Effects by dragging the icon from the effect palette to the Layout or Structure views, and then using the Inspector palette to select the Effect-specific options.

One thing you will like in Electrifier Pro is there is no delay to preview your work. This makes for quick and easy experimentation. You select "Play" or "Stop" for the movie action by first selecting the Play/Stop Movie icon in the Structure view and then making the appropriate choice in the Inspector palette - Simple and neat. All of Electrifier Pro's Effects and Actions are controlled in the same way. Once you have the process down for one action, all of the Actions are easily mastered. I was surprised that Electrifier Pro lacks support for standard time code. The program is accurate to thousandths of a second, but many "Pro" users think in terms of frames and standard time code. This should clearly be an option.

The Best (Only) Game in Town
If you are working with QuickTime and need to build interactivity into you media, Electrifier Pro does the job and is easy to use. The documentation makes the learning curve unnecessarily steep, but with some experimentation you should be able to learn the basics of the program within an hour or so. The big question you need to ask yourself is how much interactivity do you need - or want - to add to your QuickTime movies. With basic programs such as the QuickTime Movie Player or more powerful tools like Media Cleaner Pro, you can add simple interactivity like the ability to embed a URL at the end of the movie. However, if you want to go beyond this to even more complexity, the you should definitely check out Electrifier. You can download a 30-day trial version of the program from www.electrifier.com. The product retails for $395 includes a license for QuickTime Pro. The bottom line: this is a solid product that should be part of every QuickTime author's toolkit.


Jerry Monti is an interactive producer and long time mac user. His romance with the Mac started when he developed the first Desktop Publishing Service Bureau in Seattle, Washington and over the years the Mac has lead him into everything from creating award-winning CD-ROM's for Better Homes and Gardens to creating new learning communities on-line. You can reach him at [email protected].


Electrifier Pro
Price: $395

Electrifier, Inc.
2605 Meridian Parkway, Suite 205
Durham, NC 27713 U.S.A.
E-mail: [email protected]
Telephone: 919-806-4000
FAX: 919-806-4014
www.electrifierpro.com

System Requirements:
Minimum System Requirements for Electrifier Pro

  • Power Macintosh with a 604, G3 or G4 processor
  • 32 MB of RAM
  • Mac OS 8.5, 8.6.
  • QuickTime 3.0 or later.

 


Click the image above to see a 1.9MB QuickTime file
that was created using Electrifier Pro