Macromedia Studio 8
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 9 (September 2005)

Macromedia Studio 8

Macromedia Studio 8 ships with Flash 8 (for interactive Web applications and animation), Dreamweaver 8 (HTML Web development), Fireworks 8 (Web-focused image editing), Contribute 3 (Web content editing for end-users), and FlashPaper 2 (PDF creation). The Flash authoring tool is the flagship product, but Dreamweaver also leads its market.

Two versions of Flash 8 exist: Basic and Professional. The most exciting new features-such as the ability to recognize the alpha (transparency) channel in dynamically loaded bitmaps (such as PNG and TARGA files) and in video clips-are limited to Professional. Flash previously only supported alpha channels in bitmaps embedded in the SWF file.

Flash’s dynamic loading results in smaller Flash files. For example, I wanted an animated penguin created in Autodesk Media and Entertainment’s 3ds Max to waddle along the top of text created in Flash. For comparison, I created two Flash projects, both with alpha. In one, the animation was a series of PNG files. In the other, it was a QuickTime file. The PNGs gave me a 344kb SWF (penguin and text). The Flash video import wizard-a nice new Flash Pro 8 feature-converted the QuickTime file to a 135 kb Flash Video (FLV) file that loaded at runtime into a 35 kb SWF containing the text. Alpha support in video cut the total file size in half. Flash encoded the FLV using the On2 VP6 codec from On2 Technologies, another important addition to Flash 8.

Guides, the faint green lines displayed above, make it easy to adjust layers precisely in Dreamweaver.

Another great new Flash feature, blends are compositing modes-such as darken, lighten, add, and subtract-that determine how colors blend with underlying colors. Other video and image editing programs, including Fireworks, use blends. Using blends directly in Flash is a big timesaver. I recommend the Invert blend mode for a quick silhouette effect. Flash Pro 8 boasts filters for producing drop shadows, blurs, glows, bevels, and color adjustments. As in past versions, some of these filters are available through Flash’s Timeline Effects menu. In Flash Pro 8, however, filters are easier to combine and to continue editing after they have been combined.

The filter effects do not rotate when the elements they’re applied to revolve. If you rotate text with a drop shadow, it’s as if the shadow-casting light always comes from the same direction. That’s perfect at times; other times, I’d like to rotate a blur or drop shadow with its object. Flash Player applies blends, filters, and other effects in real time, enabling interactive manipulation through scripting. To prevent the processing load from bogging down the player, Flash Player can cache a bitmap representation of the content, eliminating the need for continual redraws. However, you force a redraw (and defeat bitmap caching) when you scale or rotate the content.

Fireworks has more blend modes and filters than Flash. A raft of 25 new blend modes in Fireworks offers dizzying creative possibilities with subtle shadings. For instance, Difference, Exclusion, and Negation are slightly different versions of a negative film effect. When a Fireworks PNG file is imported into Flash, blends and filters that Flash supports can be preserved. This nice integration feature enables you to continue modifying the effects in Fireworks. The software’s new perspective shadows add an instant touch of 3D by simulating shadows cast on the ground by shapes (such as rectangles or stars), open paths (including lines or arcs), or text. After a shadow is created, you can apply filters and blends, move, rotate, scale, or skew it. A handy new Special Characters panel provides one-click access to 99 symbols.

I would upgrade to Dreamweaver 8 for background file transfer alone. Previously, an FTP transfer would monopolize Dreamweaver; and a large transfer or associated problems could lock me out of Dreamweaver for hours or force me to abandon a transfer to do other Dreamweaver work. It is a problem no more: I can work in Dreamweaver while also sending files to an FTP.

Dreamweaver now supports zooming in and out, which works as it does in Flash and Fireworks. Guides, another Flash/Fireworks feature now available in Dreamweaver, are useful when positioning layers, which snap to guides. It beats editing numbers in HTML to position layers precisely. Finally, since FLV is my preferred video format, I appreciate Dreamweaver’s new quick-and-easy FLV import dialog.

I highly recommend Studio 8. The software is extremely robust and stable-among the best I’ve seen.

Michael Hurwicz
is a writer and animator.

Price: $999 ($399 upgrade)
Minimum System Requirements: Windows 2000 running on an 800 mhz Intel Pentium III or equivalent or Mac OS X 10.3 or 10.4 running on a 600 mhz PowerPC G3; 2 gb of disk space; 256 mb of RAM, and a display capable of 1024x768 resolution and 16-bit color.