Flash with Substance

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - One problem with Macromedia Inc. Flash animations is that they're often all flash and little substance. With such power-animation, video, still images, and sound-under your control in one program, it's tempting to add so much to your Web design that you end up obscuring your message. Artist Hillman Curtis, former art director at Macromedia, does just the opposite. His goal is to communicate effectively using motion graphics.

He begins each piece by working with his clients to divine the project's emotional focus, which he then tries to present to his audience in a resonant way that reinforces his client's brand. Often, he employs simple themes represented by minimal design elements. Although he uses video and animation effects, Curtis is careful not to let meaningless eye candy intrude on his message.

"You have an emotional epicenter," he says of his work. "You can't convolute it. You can have things that add to it, but I want the audience to focus on one message."

He applied that idea when he created this navigation scheme for his own Web site (wwwÑ.hillmancurtisÑ.com). He chose images, such as film-leader effects (see Step 2), that convey the idea of motion. Because he was aiming at a global audience, he used the familiar symbol of an opening eye to encourage visitors to look inside.

He created this piece when, as he puts it, "it was still a 28.8-Kbps modem world." Even now, he keeps his files small so they'll download quickly over slow modem connections.

Curtis used Macromedia FreeHand for his preliminary layout. In Adobe Premiere, he edited his movie clips, which he then exported as a series of sequential bitmaps. After editing the bitmaps in Photoshop, he used Flash to create buttons with interactive rollover effects.

Curtis used three 350MHz Mac G3s with 256MB of RAM, along with two Dell Precision 610 workstations and a Sony GX9 laptop with FireWire. He captured images with a Sony TRV9 DV camera.

Assistant Editor FRITH BREITZER worked as a freelance Web designer. Now she covers imaging, displays, and systems for Macworld.

Sidebar: Flash with Substance Sidebar

1. Curtis began with a preliminary layout in FreeHand, which gave him precise control over text alignment. He imported the file, which had the same dimensions that he wanted in his final document, directly into Flash.

2. In Premiere, Curtis edited clips of old film-leader effects and his own video of a blinking eye. For projects such as this, which he's aiming at a wide audience, he sets the frame rate to 12 frames per second or slower and tests the results on a slow computer with a 28.8-Kbps modem.

3. Curtis exported the two resulting videos as series of sequential bitmaps, cleaned them up in Photoshop, and then imported them into Flash as movie clips.

He used Flash's Edit Multiple Frames feature to align the bitmaps and then created layers for labels and actions. To create a looping effect, he used the Go To And Play action (shown here) to tell Flash to return to the beginning of a movie clip once it reached the end. Because the movies are made up of short, repeating sections, they will load faster on users' machines.

4. Finally he defined the Up, Over, Down, and Hit states of the Flash buttons so that after the buttons load in a user's browser, the film-leader clips will play. When a user mouses over a button, Curtis's video of the blinking eye will appear. To make each button act as a link to a new page, Curtis added On Release mouse events.

Curtis placed the text in the button layer so that the name of each section would be visible at all times.

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