Adobe LiveMotion 2

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LiveMotion 2 tries to match Flash for scriptability but offers little new for the non-programmer.

With Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobe is the giant of print-oriented graphics but Macromedia stole the Web graphics crown with its bitmap-oriented Fireworks and especially its dynamic, interactive vector-based Flash. Adobe's response is to try and offer the best of both packages in a single application, LiveMotion.

Not surprisingly there was plenty for users to get to grips with in version one especially as LiveMotion also took a radical approach to object creation and formatting built on multi-layered objects and non-destructive styles. Perhaps it's as well to let everything bed in - but there's little new creative power in version 2. In fact the most obvious difference is that the previous range of Photoshop filters has been removed!

Generally, for advanced creative work like this, you're instead expected to create and then edit your bitmap and vector objects in Photoshop and Illustrator with the Edit Original command (assuming you own the apps of course). You can also simply drag Photoshop PSD and Illustrator AI files (including effects and transparency) into your LiveMotion composition. Multi-layered files can then be converted to individual objects, groups or sequences and manipulated in LiveMotion with any changes to the original automatically updated.

LiveMotion's own integration with GoLive has also been improved. Using the Web palette you can mark objects as variables and GoLive will detect these replacement tags enabling automated graphics production, animation building and file updates. The idea is that you can change both text and styles directly from within GoLive which will then launch LiveMotion and generate the new SWF file. As each LiveMotion template file can produce multiple outputs this means that you can automatically update all the SWF files on a site. This is impressive but it comes at a cost - version 1's Batch Replace command for turning HTML tags into formatted graphics has been dropped.

LiveMotion 2 boasts an enhanced Timeline and integration with Photoshop and Illustrator.

What gives LiveMotion its name is its ability to bring its compositions to life as animations which are then output as QuickTime movies, animated GIFs and, most importantly, as Flash SWFs. LiveMotion 2 copies Flash by renaming its timeline-independent animations "movie clips" and making these more central to the Timeline but otherwise the two are very different. In particular, unlike Flash's frame-based approach, LiveMotion takes a property-based approach modeled on AfterEffects. In fact the similarity is such that you can now cut and paste AfterEffects keyframes into LiveMotion and even open files saved in AMX format.

Other welcome imports from AfterEffects are the ability to time-stretch an effect or the entire animation by Alt+dragging its duration bar which proportionally adjusts all keyframes, while Alt+dragging one end of the duration bar past the other automatically reverses the effect. You can also take more control of the animation process by temporarily locking and/or hiding objects in either the Composition Window or the Timeline and, my personal favourite, call up the most common animatable properties such as position, opacity and scale with single key shortcuts.

The improvements to LiveMotion's animation capabilities are welcome but much the biggest change in this release is the introduction of scripting. Using the new Javascript-based Script Editor you can create automation scripts to take care of repetitive or complex tasks complete with loops, mathematical functions and conditional logic. The Script Editor offers colour coding, syntax checking, auto indent, find and replace, a DOM browser and an advanced debugging environment.

It's serious power but that makes it seriously intimidating. Thankfully the average user can still benefit to some extent through the use of pre-supplied scripts such as those for setting up spiral animations and breaking up text. Scripts can also be given their own floating palette interface. These so-called "Live Tabs" can be surprisingly advanced - the sample Transform Live Tab is actually more powerful than the in-built Transform palette.

Control over LiveMotion through Automation Scripting is only half the story; Player Scripting lets you control the Flash player during animation runtime. Using the DOM browser in the Script Editor you can access all of the power of Macromedia's ActionScript language to give your compositions real intelligent interactivity. In other words you can now use LiveMotion to create anything from an online game to a chat room to an XML-based e-commerce site!

LiveMotion 2 offers both Automation and Player Scripting.

Well that's the theory. I'm less convinced. To begin with the new power comes at the cost of complexity as the most commonly used actions are no longer available as simple-to-add Behaviours. I'm also not convinced that advanced users will actually use LiveMotion to create the Web applications that Adobe claims as LiveMotion's programming environment is less friendly and powerful than Flash's. And if you're building mission-critical Web applications why would you use an emulation rather than the real thing? Especially as Macromedia owns ActionScript and can take it off in new directions at any time as we'll presumably see shortly with Flash 6.

Rather than trying to target Macromedia's Flash SWF technology, many users were expecting LiveMotion to introduce SVG support. After all Adobe claims that SVG is the Web graphics technology of the future and its stylable and scriptable property-based architecture should be tailor-made for the whole LiveMotion approach. For the moment though while SVG support is available in Illustrator and even InDesign it is missing from Adobe's main Web graphics application!

That's disappointing in its own right, but it has other consequences. It means that Adobe has spent the vast majority of its LiveMotion effort in a largely vain attempt to compete with Flash in the high-end field of Web application development rather than concentrating on the program's real strength: producing the creative graphical elements for high-impact Web and multimedia design.

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System Requirements: Pentium III or higher, 128MB of RAM, 50MB of disk space, Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP (not NT), CD-ROM, SVGA display.

Tom Arah

March 2002

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