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Flash MX versus LiveMotion 2

Web animation powerhouses square off in the ultimate grudge match By Kevin Schmitt
Dust off your tux, get in touch with your bookie, put in a call to the escort service, and have Jeeves gas up the limo, because it's fight night! And tonight, we have the matchup that many of us have literally been waiting days, or possibly even weeks, for. Let's turn it over to our ring announcer for the introductions:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please direct your attention to the challenger in the blue corner. Weighing in at an introductory price of $199 until May 7, after which time it'll balloon up to $399, from San Jose, California, The Assassin from Adobe, LIVE MOTION TWWWWOOOOOO!!!!!

And in the red corner, weighing in at an even $499, the reigning heavyweight champion of Web animation, from San Francisco, California, Macromedia's Master of Disaster, the Viceroy of Vectors, the Admiral of ActionScript, FLASH EMMMM EXXXXX!!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen...


Thank you, Michael Buffer. I'll tell you, Stu, LiveMotion has really bulked itself up since we last saw it in action, adding more complete scripting capabilities and Flash 5 support, and it looks to be in real fighting shape. But Flash hasn't exactly been an idle champion! It's been putting in some serious time at the gym, and appears to have given itself a complete interface overhaul and packed on some features that developers have been pleading for. And what's more, there is absolutely no love lost between the makers of these two stalwart programs. This has all the makings of an epic battle! The combatants are headed to the center of the square circle, where referee Mills Lane will explain the rules:

"All right, gentlemen. I want a good, clean fight. This bout is scheduled for three rounds. When the bell sounds for round one, you will only be allowed to use your animation features. In round two, I want you to come out swinging with your interactivity and scripting. In the third round, anything goes! Now touch gloves, go back to your corners, and wait for the bell. Let's get it on!"

All right, the fighters are set, and we're just waiting for the opening bell! The atmosphere is absolutely electric in here!


OK, enough with the boxing stuff. To be quite frank, I don't think I could have kept that up throughout the length of this piece without driving myself insane, and, honestly, it probably would have been quite painful to read. In fact, I congratulate you for making it even this far. So I'll stop pretending that I'm talking to Stu Nahan and just get on with it. From this point on, we're going to do a civilized feature comparison to see which Web animation tool is worth sinking your hard-earned dough into. Sound good? Thought so.

Programs like Flash and LiveMotion are strange animals because they have enough stuff packed in them to be equally useful to designers and programmers alike. With that in mind, we're going to pit them against each other in a few core areas. In the first round of our showdown, we'll see which program is better for all those right-brainers out there who just need a versatile animation tool. In the second round, the left-brainers get a go, and we'll find out which one delivers the goods in terms of interactivity and scripting. In the third and final round, we'll touch on the intangibles. Then, hopefully, we can declare a winner.

Round 1: Animation

Really, the concept of animation here is pretty simple. Take some shapes, change them over time and adjust as necessary to make way-cool, compact, Web-ready animations. So how did that seemingly simple concept get to be so thoroughly bastardized in Flash 5? And why was the same concept such a strength for the original version of LiveMotion? Three words: timeline, timeline, timeline. The timeline was LiveMotion 1's great strength and Flash 5's great weakness. Yet many of us muddled through with Flash 5 in spite of its horrid timeline because we needed full-fledged interactivity as well. But with Flash MX, I have to say that the Flash timeline is one of the most improved features from one version to the next that I've seen in any software program ... period. Frame selection is intuitive; sequence re-timing is greatly improved; and things just behave the way they should have all along, which makes Flash MX so much nicer to work with than Flash 5 (fig 1). While Flash remains a frame-based timeline, the fact that it's a heck of a lot easier to work with makes that fact much less of a liability.

Fig 1: Double-clicking a tweened frame selects the tweened frames in Flash MX, instead of popping up the Actions panel like in Flash 5.

However, LiveMotion's timeline is pretty strong as well. Based on the After Effects timeline, LiveMotion uses a familiar time-based rather than frame-based model (fig 2).

Fig 2: LiveMotion 2's time-based timeline.

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