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Adobe's Allen Partridge on Director's Past, Present, and Future

Director is back, it goes to 11, and it's ready for action By Kevin Schmitt

Naturally, questions are going to be raised when any software product takes a four-year hiatus, especially when the program in question happens to be a stalwart multimedia veteran like Director, the eleventh version of which was finally released several months back. Enter Adobe's Director Evangelist, Allen Partridge. Allen started out in design, but eventually dove headfirst into Director programming, giving him a unique perspective of the product from several different angles. Allen was kind enough to sit down recently for a candid discussion on where Director has been, is now, and where it may be going.

Kevin Schmitt: First off, can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to be in the position of Director Evangelist for Adobe?
Allen Partridge: I was working on my doctorate at Texas Tech University, and I was very fascinated by hypermedia and the concept of media and interactivity in general. These were the early days of the World Wide Web, and the whole phenomenon was pretty interesting to me, so I asked folks for advice, and at that time Director was absolutely the predominant way that a non-programmer could come into the programming space. I think that's really still true today, that [Director is] fulfilling Marc Canter's vision of a tool that allows the everyday person to approach making software in a practical way. So that's how I got involved [with Director]. I literally ate and consumed 1000-page Director manuals over the course of two or three weeks for a while. I didn't sleep; I sort of digested all that information and really had an incredibly good time. From that point, I started making games and little widgets and support materials for courses I was teaching. (In fact, I'm still a university professor today -- I teach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.) I was generally teaching things related to design and [specifically] theatrical design, and I came to the realization one day that I was spending more time programming games and applications than I was doing my actual design-related work! So I thought, "Hmmm... it's probably time for a career shift."

I found a really interesting shift [when I moved] to a place called the Dramatic Media Laboratory at the University of Georgia, and there I was able to focus much more heavily on programming and on creating interactive things, but still be in an artist-focused space. It was at that point that I really made sort of a full-fledged shift. I became very active in the Director community. I don't know if you remember Andrew Cherry-- great guy-- he ran the dirGames-L list for a long time, which is a really powerful and active community. Andrew came to a point where he was having a career shift or something and he needed to let go of the list, and so he asked for volunteers, and I saw it as an opportunity. I was at the University of Georgia, so I jumped right on it and said, "you know what, this looks like a great idea. I have the resources here, let's make that happen." So I started hosting the dirGames-L list, which was really my first love, and then as we hit the [Director 8.5] "Tron" beta I was in an environment that was completely 3D-saturated, and I already had been really excited about arts and about interactivity, so all of the things in Tron that has to do with 3D were just dead-on for me. So I really went crazy during the Tron era.

I was [also] the technical editor for Director's Third Dimension for Paul Catanese, and at that same point then Paul introduced me to the acquisitions editors there at Sams, and we went ahead with my own book about Director, Real-Time Interactive 3D Games. And so over the years I got more and more immersed and more and more interested, and [I] loved to write about [Director, and I] wrote a lot of tutorials and that sort of thing.

Adobe's Allen Partridge

As far as how I came to be the evangelist, it's funny... Adobe contacted me, and I said, "you know, I'm a university professor," so it took a lengthy courtship for me to be persuaded that it was worth pursuing. One of the things I think is wonderful about it is that they were great about letting me stick to my guns about still being able to teach some classes, because I really love that contact with the students.

KS: You [actually] started out in graphic design [about] 12-14 years [ago], which places you in the early 90's. I don't want to put you on the spot, but can you give a quick impression of how Director has evolved over that time? What a lot of people probably don't get today is a sense of the product's historical importance in the field of multimedia development, and I assume you [bring a sense] of that history with you when you [talk about] this current version, so can you give a little historical perspective on how Director was really one of the driving forces behind the adoption of multimedia in the 90s?
AP: Absolutely. I mean, it's an incredibly powerful tool, right? Essentially, what happened is Marc Canter and some guys. . .  in fact, Dan Sadowski, who was I think employee number 3 at Macromedia, still works on Director today! So Mark and Dan and some other guys got together, and Mark had this vision of a piece of software that would make other software. And [it] was really important that it be easy enough to use that an artist or a business guy or whomever could actually use it to make software, and that concept was just so incredibly ahead of its time. We're talking more than 20 years ago now, in fact, right about the time we released Director 11 was the the 20th anniversary of Director. So we're talking about the definitive multimedia engine; [it] really dates all the way back. So [Director] was used for kiosks, for CD-ROMs, everything you remember-- from your kids' various educational software and children's games and so forth and so on to even some significant titles. Some fun, historic trivia , Star Trek: The Next Generation, you know all those animated panels on the starships, those are all Director.

KS: Yeah! I remember reading that somewhere at the time, and of course, me being a Star Trek geek [and just getting started with Director], I said, "Hey, I use that too!" It kind of made it even more approachable.
AP: Exactly. It's so pervasive, and it makes sense when you think about it because even here, 20 years later, Director remains the only solution that's really readily extensible, and that has a huge library of options for extensibility. I always hesitate when I say extensible, because it's such a geek phrase, right? So what we're really saying is you can actually take new functionality that doesn't exist in the core engine, and write it in C++, and then stick it on, and extend what Director or Shockwave are capable of doing while they're running. I always say it's like if I'm doing software and somebody comes to me--one of my producers comes to me--and says, "Hey, I've got this great opportunity for a gig with this museum, and they need to have an interactive installation where as people reach out and touch a table, these videos have to start flying and that sort of thing," and I always say well, it's sort of "oh, shoot" software, that's the soft way to put it, right? "Oh, shoot" software, because you view that request from your producer and you know the revenue stream, and that it's an opportunity, but really, if you start thinking about it, how are you going to implement that, even today? You're going to implement it with Director, because you've got the ability to extend it, to set up some cameras to be able to see what's happening in the space, to communicate data in and out even if you're going do remote sensors--any of that kind of stuff actually becomes really plausible with Director and with virtually any other software solution or engine it's going to be really expensive and time-consuming, and you're going to write it from the ground up. So, those opportunities are really cool, and they've been in there for a long, long time.

So, historically, then, we saw this rise of multimedia, we saw a huge amount of emphasis on kiosks, etc., we saw a pretty substantial number of pieces that [were] education, e-learning, that kind of thing, and we saw all the CD-ROMs and the games, and all that kind of thing. And then in 1995 we did Shockwave. At that point, Shockwave was the definitive Web plugin. There really wasn't another major multimedia solution. You had an animated GIF, and then you had Shockwave. So a massively powerful solution [was] suddenly interjected into what was really a very young Web space, and so we saw just an explosion of content and lots of lots of online media then went into the Shockwave space.

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