Swish 1

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An easy, eye-catching and inexpensive way to add Flash to your Web site – but currently restricted to text-only banners.

Macromedia’s Flash format is currently taking the Web by storm. Thanks to its efficient vector nature and its interactivity and animation capabilities Flash is the perfect way of bringing a Web site to life. There’s no doubt that the end results can be impressive but the process of producing them with Macromedia’s own Flash authoring package has always been over-complex and intimidating. Swish 1 is designed for those users wanting to see what all the fuss is about without having to dedicate their lives to it - and without breaking the bank.

Of course you can’t expect miracles for $30 and Swish’s cut-price nature is immediately apparent from its rudimentary interface. The working environment consists of two separate floating windows: the View Window where you position your elements and preview the animation and the tabbed Main Window where you control everything else. Swish’s interface isn’t going to win any awards, but on the other hand it doesn’t get in your way and, working together with the tutorial-based Help and sample files, you’ll soon be up and running.

To begin producing your animation the first step is to set up the movie size and background colour in the General tab of the Main Window. You can then start adding animatable elements by selecting the Insert Text tool and clicking on the View Window. By moving to the Text tab you can then edit and format the text by selecting a point size, colour and alignment. And that’s pretty much it. Swish 1 only handles text so there are no shape tools for adding rectangles, circles, stars, buttons and so on, let alone pen and brush tools for freehand drawing and painting.

This restriction to text is clearly a huge limitation, but Swish makes up for it through its animation capabilities. In Flash, animation is a laborious and confusing chore involving setting up layers, symbols and tweens. In Swish all you need to do is go to the Timeline tab, select a frame where you want the animation to begin and then click on the Add Effect drop-down list. This presents you with a choice of 14 effects that you can instantly apply to your text. All you need to do is to set the number of frames and preview the result to make sure it’s what you want.

Text is easily brought to life by adding effects from the Timeline tab.

The first seven effects provided are straightforward. The Show and Hide effects toggle an object’s display on and off, while the Fade In and Fade Out do much the same by changing the object’s transparency over time. The Slide In and Slide Out move the object on or off the stage either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. For customised control the Transform effect allows you to control position, scale, rotation and alpha transparency precisely from the one dialog.

This effects-based approach offers more control and editability than Flash’s tweening-based system, but what really makes the difference are the seven advanced effects which act on the individual characters that make up the text object. The Squeeze effect plays with kerning to make words appear to stretch inwards or outwards. The Scale Characters effect introduces each letter of the text with the same combination of scaling, offset, rotation and fade. The Alternate Characters offers similar controls over every other letter. The Typewriter effect displays letters one after another as if they are being typed onscreen. The Wave effect applies a rolling wave through the text while the Explode effect seems to blow each word apart. Finally the Revert Characters Effect restores the text to make it readable again or to prepare for another effect.

What really makes these character-based special effects stand out is the level of control. With the Typewriter effect, for example, you can choose a cursor character that flashes below each letter as it is typed. With the Explode effect you can control how the letters spin, change size, fade out and fall to the ground as well as setting the strength and speed of the explosion as well as the position of the bomb. This attention to detail is crucial as it is the reason for the final impact of each effect – basically you are guaranteed eye-catching results.

Both the level of control and final impact of the special effects are impressive.

At this stage existing Flash users might well be getting interested too as to set up an effect of the same standard in Flash would take hours if not days and would be a nightmare to re-edit whereas it’s simplicity itself in Swish. The ideal would be to get the two programs to work together and this is possible if you import the SWF file that Swish produces into Flash. In some ways this provides the best of both worlds with Swish’s simplicity and impact and Flash’s greater control and power. Sadly the system has a serious flaw as using the SWF format as a middleman means that all effects are rendered frame by frame making them virtually uneditable from within Flash.

Maybe in future Macromedia will extend the SWF format or open up Flash’s native FLA format, but for the moment Swish is best seen as a standalone application. With its restriction to text-only animations that’s clearly a major drawback, but even so Swish has a lot going for it. It could be just what you need to give your site an easy and inexpensive lift.

Ease of Use
5
Features
3
Value for Money
6
Overall
5

Tom Arah

July 2000


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