Getting all animated

18th September 1998 at 01:00
You can do lots of clever things with Web graphics,writes Roger Frost.

The World Wide Web brings another dimension to publishing. Internet software is fast developing new gizmos that can add magic to a Web page and aid communication.

Whether it is to allow creativity, develop design skills or enjoy the challenge of something new, these are the tools of publishing today. For example, if you want to show the Internet world a panorama of the school grounds, a tool called Spin Panorama can assemble a set of overlapping photos into a rolling wrap-around scene in a QuickTime virtual reality movie. It allows you to pan around a scene with a drag of the mouse. That the result impresses and takes under an hour from start to finish makes it even more worthwhile.

The technique is to take pictures from a single point using a tripod and digital camera. You load the pictures into the computer, use the software to arrange them in order and then match the points where they overlap. The software assembles the shot and smoothes out the differences between pictures at the same time. As a small group project, involving thought and collaboration, this isguaranteed fun.

Animation is so eye-catching that it is not surprising to find it used in advertising on Web pages. Animated graphics are made from a series of pictures that cycle over and these are easy to construct. You will find software for this on the Web, while Micrografx Windows' Draw Print Studio does the job without adding complication. You create the first image in a sequence and, with a click, this is copied to a second where you move the object. You repeat this until the set is complete and you're ready to save the work as an "animated GIF" (a GIF is a digital picture format) to add to a Web page like any other graphic.

But professionals use other tools. Macromedia's Flash 3 is behind the best you'll see in animation - allowing graphics that "interact" as your mouse rolls over them, as well as all the animation you can imagine. Anyone can do this after a few hours with its easy tutorial.

Flash provides a time-line that you fill with as many still frames as you need. For a simple animated title, you might type some text on the first frame, and then add your message with a new word on each new frame. You could add a typewriter noise to each frame, press play to run the sequence and then save the result as a Flash Shockwave movie.

If you want to go further with moving graphics, you can add, say, a picture of a ball in one frame and another in a new position on a later frame. You then get the software to "tween" or generate all the stills in between. Flash 3 comes with clip art and push-down buttons to use as menu items on any page. Even first attempts show the potential here, while some new education prices help make it affordable. Another tool to look for is Microsoft's Liquid Motion.

Meanwhile, Macromedia's Fireworks defies categorisation, allowing you to mix graphic and photographic images, add text that seems to glow and use textures such as paper, wood and red "goo". It makes graphic menus, slices up large graphics so they load in smaller chunks and does much of what has become fashionable on the Web.

Suddenly we are dealing with not just how things look on a page, but with how people interact with them and what is in vogue. Maybe the best way to get the flair needed is to start experimenting.

www.chest.ac.uksoftwaremacromedia www.macromedia.com www.micrografx. com.

www.microsoft.comliquidmotion www.pictureworks.com (Spin Panorama) www.tucows.com.

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