Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 9 (Sept 2006)

An Industry Flashback


Karen Moltenbrey Chief Editor
 
This past summer I visited Walt Disney World, and was amused by my nine year- old’s reaction to the Carousel of Progress in the Magic Kingdom . Created for the 1964—1965 New York World’s Fair, the attraction highlights the journey of an American family, in 20-year increments, as it experiences technological transformations throughout the 20th century.
 
My son was shocked to learn there was a time when the family was entertained by listening to a show on a radio, rather than watching it on a high-def TV. He was even more surprised to discover that video games, DVD players, and PCs are relatively new staples of the American home.
We only have to step back in time a mere 10 years to notice how computer graphics technology has evolved into a relative standard in our lives. A decade ago, Toy Story introduced us to the first full-length animated feature film created entirely by artists using proprietary computer tools and technology, while the merger of Wavefront Technologies, Alias Research, and Silicon Graphics led to the development of Maya, a commercially available advanced tool set for the creation of digital content. Also, Quake and other 3D games began to emerge, and PCs were beginning to fl ex their power within the professional graphics community. Meanwhile, the Internet was expanding by leaps and bounds, and with that came the early growth of graphics on the Web.
 
This month Adobe is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Flash, which has evolved from a simple Web animation tool to a broad and robust platform for delivering rich media content and applications. Introduced as Future Splash Animator in 1996, the product was swiftly purchased by Macromedia and re-branded with its current name. Originally designed for vector illustration and animation, Flash continued to evolve, and in 1999, Flash 4 included a scripting model for development of dynamic, interactive content— one of the most vital aspects of the technology today.
 
No doubt many of us can recall when animation on the Web was limited for the creator and the end user. Flash helped change that. As Flash grew, so did broadband connections, fast computers, and the Internet, which drove the demand for higher quality, interactive content as well as more robust video and audio. When Macromedia integrated a scripting engine into its Flash Player Run-Time, it sparked a revolution in interactive Flash content on the Web. Soon after, Macromedia incorporated video and audio into the Flash Player.
 
So where has this technology taken us of late? Flash-forward to 2004, when  Jib Jab’s popular Flash-created “This Land” animation consumed the Web at the height of the presidential campaign. Today, the Flash authoring tool has an installed base of more than 1.5 million developers and designers, and the Player is installed on more than 600 million desktops (98 percent of all PCs), making it the most widely distributed client on the Internet. Now with Adobe at the helm after its acquisition of Macromedia several months ago, what can we expect from Flash in the near future? The company is working on a product code-named Apollo—a new, cross-browser, cross-platform, cross-device client that uses Flash and other Adobe technologies for “an identical experience across browsers, desktops, and devices online or offline, in or out of the browser.” (A look at Flash’s past, present, and future can be found on the Computer Graphics World Web site at www.cgw.com.)
 
Often, technology becomes such an integral part of our lives that we sometimes need a “flashback” to appreciate where we have been in order to provide a perspective on where we are going—even when “long ago” is only a decade in the past.
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