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Totally Hip LiveStage Professional 4

Interactive QuickTime authoring package By Kevin Schmitt
Who knew QuickTime could do all this? It's not a rhetorical question, because Apple hasn't exactly been real busy spreading the word about all the cool stuff lurking in QuickTime that LiveStage Professional gives you unfettered access to. Perhaps if this product was made by Apple itself and branded "QuickTime Studio Pro," QuickTime might be widely known by now as much, much more than a video format. Alas, we have to rely on Totally Hip for assistance in tapping into the large helping of interactive goodness that's been a largely hidden part of QuickTime for many moons now.

Now, I can probably count on one hand the number of readers who actually remember the Interactive QuickTime Authoring series penned by yours truly a while back. If you do happen to be one of the few rabid fans who eagerly waited on each new installment, you'll recall the feature on LiveStage Professional 4 (hereafter, LSP), in which I offered an overview of LSP in the larger context of interactive QuickTime, as well as a discussion of the various tracks available to you and what they could be used for. You might want to at least gloss over that previous piece, as I'll be attempting to not duplicate too much in this full review of LSP.

Think differently about QuickTime
Perhaps the most difficult thing about understanding how LSP works is trying to wrap your brain around what role QuickTime plays. QuickTime isn't just a format you can use in LSP to create interactive projects, as is likely the case with other authoring packages. In LSP, QuickTime is the actual platform your interactive project is built on. Your projects become, in the end, "nothing" more than QuickTime movies that get played back in either the QuickTime Player or with the QuickTime browser plugin. In other words, LSP creates QuickTime movies, and that's "it." If you've been following QuickTime for a while, this may not be such a tall order in terms of grasping the interactive potential of QuickTime; after all, Apple has positioned QuickTime as a media layer rather than just a video format for a while now (even if details about how one were to tap into QuickTime's functionality as such are somewhat scarce). But even if your QuickTime experience doesn't go any farther than using it only as a video format, you've likely noticed that QuickTime can open, play or display an unholy number of file types, from simple plain text to oodles of (sometimes obscure) image formats to various flavors of video, and is even extensible through third-party plugins. QuickTime's surface flexibility also extends to the not-so-obvious as well in the form of some not-too-widely-known track types, which is where LSP steps up to the plate.

Integration only
If you've worked with an interactive authoring program before, such as Director or Flash, you may be used to some level of in-app asset creation. Flash has a decent drawing environment, for example, so you can actually generate artwork from scratch in Flash, add interactivity and publish. LSP is a little different in that it's a dedicated integration environment, meaning that every asset you plan on using in your project has to exist already before you fire up LSP to add interactivity. Ultimately, this means that you'll need to have other programs at your disposal, such as Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Cleaner, or whatever else (even Flash) that exports QuickTime-compatible content to assist you in preparing the media you plan to integrate in LSP.

Once you get all your assets together, you'll find that LSP works extensively through the Library panel (Fig. 1), which allows you to stash current project assets, global assets, and scripts all in one place. The global assets and scripts tabs are customizable, of course, making it quite flexible as far as being able to mix and match project-specific and persistent assets.

Fig. 1

The other two main interface elements of LSP are:

  • The Movie Inspector (Fig. 2), which is a context-sensitive panel that allows you to change the properties of the host project or individual assets on the fly, and

  • The Project window (Fig. 3), which combines the project's stage and timeline along with various track, layout, and trimming tools all within a single window.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

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