Adobe Atmosphere
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 12 (December 2004)

Adobe Atmosphere

Interactivity. Real-time imaging. Immersive environments. These buzzwords have floated around the industry for years. Software developers continue to produce products that change these words into reality, even virtual reality. Adobe is no exception. The company launched Atmosphere, a software tool for creating interactive, immersive, 3D multimedia environments to be delivered via the Web or PDF.
Atmosphere's easy-to-use tools aid in the creation of impressive environments for publishing online.

Through 3D objects, directional sound, streaming audio and video, SWF animations, and physical behaviors, Atmosphere creates what Adobe calls "Stages," using a live-theater metaphor. Visitors to (or, more appropriately, viewers of) Stages can freely navigate and interact with the environments.

Atmosphere is an easy-to-use authoring tool for the creation and publishing of real-time environments. It is essentially a game engine in a box. I am impressed by the ability to create great-looking environments. This solution holds potential for visual effects specialists, film producers, multimedia designers, and architects. Yet, I am most excited about its application by authors.

Imagine reading Alice in Wonderland online or in a PDF document and coming to a beautiful image of the Mad Hatter's tea party. Clicking in the picture, you enter the illustration and move around as the action unfolds. Click on the teapot and find the dormouse sleeping inside. When finished with the scene, you return to the story where you left off and read on until the next immersive illustration. This is the beginning of interactive storytelling.

Atmosphere's interface is not the most intuitive, and will take some getting used to. The opening screen defaults to a rather cramped work environment; yet, thankfully, every floating palette can be resized and moved to provide more elbowroom. The one World View defaults to Top View, but I changed it with a few simple hot keys. Other palettes include Object Hierarchy, Scene Hierarchy, Light, and Inspector.

A Player window boasts a real-time preview of how a scene will look when published. Each change made in the work environment is updated instantly in the Player view, where I could easily navigate the scene using the mouse or arrow keys.

The package includes basic 3D modeling tools. Overall, the modeling in Atmosphere is rudimentary; it would take some time to build anything other than simple primitives fitted together. The best option is to import models or sets from a 3D program. Such imports must run through Viewpoint's media format, as only MTX and MTZ file formats are accepted. I hope future versions will offer a greater selection of file formats for import. Atmosphere supports a variety of image graphics and multimedia formats.

Placing textures on an object is simple. First, add Texture Presets in the Paint Presets palette and then simply drag and drop onto the object you wish textured. You instantly see the texture in the Player Window. Tools for adjusting a texture are found in the Inspector palette.

One of Atmosphere's best features is the Havok physics engine. And more than 20 scripts are included for dynamic lighting effects, physical effects, and interactive controls. Applying these to your scene could not be simpler. Add them to your Object Preset palette and click in the scene or on the object to which you want the script applied, and you're done. Fine-tuning can be completed in the Inspector palette.

When creating an environment, you set the entry point for the viewer and any portals that allow you to change Stages seamlessly when a viewer passes through. It offers the ability to create what appear to be vast, complex environments; in fact, they are many small files that launch automatically when a user passes through a portal.

When your environment is complete, publishing your work is simple. Selecting Publish from the File menu creates both an AER file, which is the environment itself, and an HTML file. You can upload the files to a Web server, or place the AER file into a PDF file with Adobe Acrobat Professional.

One of the first commercial uses of Atmosphere is by 20th Century Fox for I, Robot. At, you can navigate a robot manufacturing room and custom-build your own servant robot (see "Build a 'Bot," August 2004, pg. 12). The experience is a good example of what this exciting program can do.

Atmosphere is heralding an age when buzzwords used to excite us are realistic descriptions of what a program offers. Atmosphere helps non-programmers create and publish fantastic-looking environments for real-time, interactive experiences, and Version 1 is a fine platform from which to grow.

Doug King, a contributing editor based in Dallas, develops animated projects for his company, Day III Productions.

Adobe Systems
Price: $399
Minimum System Requirements: Pentium III or 4 processor, Microsoft Windows XP, 128mb of RAM, 50mb of hard-disk space, and a high-end graphics card