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Making Books and Movies

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Making Books and Movies

By Michael Cohen, author of the Multimedia chapter of The Macintosh Bible, Eighth Edition

Books are great devices for information storage and display: They provide an ordered sequence of text and graphics, and they can contain indexes and cross-references. So it's only natural that many multimedia tools leverage the power of this tried-and-true technology. (See "Looking Back to the Future of Multimedia.")

Acrobat. Adobe's Acrobat 5.0 package ($249; has developed from a program designed solely to reproduce exactly the look of a printed document into something rich and strange. Today's Acrobat files can contain hypertext links, interactive forms, and QuickTime media--yet they still look like printed documents. This is hardly surprising, because Acrobat uses Adobe's sophisticated printing technology to create its documents in Portable Document Format (PDF). You prepare the document aspect of your project in a word processor or a drawing program, and use Adobe's PDFWriter print driver to create the PDF file. Then you use the Acrobat program itself to add nonprinting features such as links, audio, and video. Acrobat allows you to embed all the fonts in your PDF files so they will look exactly as they should on both Macs and Windows computers. Adobe's free Acrobat Reader can open and read PDF files (the Preview program in Mac OS X can also read PDF files, though Preview may not have access to all of Acrobat's special multimedia features). Acrobat PDFs are one of the most popular ways to distribute electronic books, and Adobe has built an entire e-commerce system to support its publishers.

TK3. From some of the people who pioneered the electronic book at the Voyager Company in the early nineties, this package from Nightkitchen ( is designed to create complex and elegant interactive multimedia books. Like Acrobat, Nightkitchen provides a free TK3 Reader to go with the for-pay authoring tool, TK3 Author. Unlike Acrobat, Nightkitchen does not start from print (though it does embed fonts for portability). TK3 Author lets you flow a main text (in HTML or Microsoft's RTF format) into the book and then adorn that text with annotations, which can either pop up in separate windows or stick to the page. Annotations are the key to using the program. Almost everything you see other than the main text itself is an annotation in a TK3 book, and those annotations can be text, pictures, audio, video, or even other minibooks (called complex annotations). Books have automatically generated tables of contents, are extensively searchable, and offer useful (and customizable) navigation tools. TK3 can create very powerful multimedia publications without requiring that you learn how to script or program. You can download a 30-day free demo, buy a year's worth of use along with technical support and any upgrades for $59, or buy the program outright for $149. HyperCard. This Apple creation was one of the first multimedia-authoring tools, and although Apple has not done much in the way of supporting it in the last few years (a Mac OS X­native version seems unlikely), it is still widely used for quickly creating multimedia on the Mac. Built on the metaphor of a stack of cards, the program by itself supports text, black-and-white graphics, visual transitions, and interactivity. Add-on features provided by Apple let you add color and QuickTime support to HyperCard stacks. What's more, HyperCard lets you add almost any functionality via external commands (called XCMDs) and external functions (called XFCNs)--you can find many XCMDs and XFCNs on the Web, or you can even write them yourself in C or some other traditional programming language. But you don't need to learn C to teach HyperCard new tricks: It includes a simple but powerful scripting language, called HyperTalk, that lets you do anything from creating simple flip-book animations to developing software prototypes. Developers have authored many critically and commercially successful multimedia products in HyperCard, including the original Myst and Voyager's Macbeth. Because it is not a cross-platform program, most multimedia producers in the last few years have moved to other authoring tools, but HyperCard still has many fans. Apple sells version 2.4.1 from its online store ($99;

SuperCard. This program began as a third-party attempt to remedy HyperCard's limitations by integrating color, better drawing tools, and multiple windows, and has had a difficult journey through life, including ownership by a succession of companies--the latest is IncWell Digital Media Group ($144.95; Now at version 3.6.3, SuperCard provides many of the same features as HyperCard and some additions, including a more powerful programming interface. Like HyperCard, this is a Mac-only product, though you can tailor some stacks to work with IncWell's FlameThrower Web-server software ($295, or $395 bundled with SuperCard), which allows viewing of these stacks in a Web browser.

Play It As It Lays

Books are about space--they order information by stacking pages upon each other. Movies are about time--they depict a process by playing one frame after another. The following multimedia tools use time as their ordering principle.

Director. No one could have predicted at the beginning that VideoWorks, a simple animation program, would become Macromedia's Director, the preeminent multimedia powerhouse ($1,199; But after adding a scripting language called Lingo (based on HyperTalk) and an explosion of multimedia-authoring features, the ugly duckling grew up to become… well, a really big, strong ugly duck. Director builds multimedia using a timeline and stage metaphor, with various multimedia objects (sprites, graphics, sounds, and videos) as cast members, entering and leaving the stage at various points on the timeline. In Director, you can attach scripts to each cast member, controlling its behavior and the behavior of others. You can also attach scripts to individual frames on the timeline; these scripts run when you reach that point in the movie. Director calls its assemblages of cast members and scripts movies, which can be confusing when you realize that one kind of cast member in Director movie is a QuickTime movie (the program supports some 40 media types). In fact, a lot about Director may confuse the beginning multimedia author, but you'll find much arcane Director lore readily available on Macromedia's Web site, and active Director user groups can also help the initiate. Director 8 comes bundled with Shockwave, which prepares Director movies for Web delivery; Fireworks (for graphics editing); and Peak LE (for audio editing).

LiveStage Pro. This package is a totally hip product--literally: Totally Hip's LiveStage Pro is the QuickTime developer's coolest friend ($699; The program was designed to take advantage of nearly all the features that Apple built into QuickTime but never bothered to provide tools to access. Did you know that QuickTime can do math? That you can script it? That it can handle tweening? It can do all this and a lot more, and LiveStage makes these features available. Like Director, LiveStage has a scripting language (QScript), a stage, sprites (graphic characters that can move onstage and respond to user actions), and a timeline; but unlike Director, LiveStage produces QuickTime movies that any QuickTime-compatible program can play. Not as confusing as Director to learn (possibly because it is newer than Director and has had less time to accrete features), LiveStage lets you assemble any QuickTime-supported media into interactive multimedia presentations; visit Totally Hip's Web site to see just how hip QuickTime can be.

QuickTimes at Media High

Among QuickTime Pro's many capabilities are its media-integration tools. The QuickTime Player lets you cut and paste tracks and track sections; adjust their placement, orientation, and size; and modify their time scale. The latest version of QuickTime Pro also offers extensive support for AppleScripts, making it possible to automate the building of complex multimedia projects. A description of all Pro Player's feature could fill a book … and in fact it has: QuickTime 5 for Macintosh and Windows: Visual QuickStart Guide, by Judith Stern and Robert Lettieri (Peachpit Press).

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