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All the right movies

The subject of this week&#39s column is a software package that is, in fact,

one of the most widely used tools in the IFA market. However, there are

probably comparatively few people in the industry who would realise this.

Macromedia&#39s Director package is used extensively to create simple or

complex high-quality active graphic presentations for websites, CDs and

DVDs. The vast majority of the CD-Rom presentation products created for

IFAs by life offices use this package.

Director starts where Microsoft&#39s PowerPoint ends. It gives far more

control over how the elements of a presentation appear and move around a


The whole effect is far more like a multimedia show than an animated

series of slides. For anyone planning a presentation that requires

something outstanding, this is the tool.

Such sophistication, however, comes at a price – not only in the cost of

the software but also the learning curve. An experienced user can make it

look really easy but the truth is that this is not a package you are going

to learn in five minutes.

A first-time user of high-end multimedia programs is likely to be taken

slightly aback, especially if, like me, they put the extensive operating

manuals and “lingo dictionary” aside to gather dust. In the real world, who

reads computer manuals the size of a couple of bricks?

My advice for someone who wants to get to grips with a product of this

calibre is to track down some training. I say this from personal

experience. This review started being about version 7 of the program but,

by the time I was sufficiently confident with the product, version 8 had


Sources of training can be found via the site, which

includes a database of authorised trainers around the country. This might

cost around £500 for a two-day course.

The output from the product can be created either as stand-alone files

which can run from a CD or hard drive or be converted to a compressed form

called Shockwave which is suitable for use as website content.

Any web browser trying to read such files will have to have the Shockwave

plug-in installed. This can be downloaded free from www.shock

Director&#39s basic metaphor is that it makes you the director of your movie.

The interface depicts a movie set where the user performs a director&#39s role

supervising a stage and cast made up of graphics, sound, video formats and


The stage and cast are shown on the interface on floating palettes that

can be closed, opened and rearranged at any time. Other palettes consist of

stage and cast properties, behaviours (actions), score (a timeline that

controls the movie&#39s timings), sprites (appearance attributes) and other

features to alter the look and feel of a movie.

Stage and cast elements can be created and imported into Director from

various compatible programs thatcreate QuickTime and avi movies, including

Flashand Gif animations, MP3, wav, and Shockwave compressed audio,

PowerPoint presentations, bitmap graphics, text and HTML documents.

Cast elements can be dragged from the cast palette and dropped on to the

stage or in the score.

The point at which the cast member is entered into the score will define

when they appear and disappear in your presentation. The movement and other

properties of an object can be manipulated in various ways to achieve the

desired output.

The score concept makes it far easier to identify exactly when you want not just visual items but additional elements such as music and narration to appear. The overall effectis seamless.

It is not cheap and it is not easy for a novice to use but this is a

high-quality software product that can produce dramatic results. Macromedia

also produces Dreamweaver, widely acknowledged as a market-leading website

creation tool, and Drumbeat, a website e-commerce package, each of which I

will be looking at in the future.

For the small IFA business, Director is really something that should only

be considered if you are a web hobbyist who will find it personally

interesting to produce highly creative multimedia or web content.

So, who would benefit from using it? As I have said on many occasions

recently, the best route for small IFAs in creating their own web presence

is to partner with one of the specialist service prov-iders such as

AssureWeb, Misys and The Exchange, which can offer economies of scale in

this area.

However, a number of these are increasingly allowing for some individual

self-created content on such sites and you could use Directorto build this.

For bigger organisations, which might have a dedicated member of staff who

produces newsletters using desktop publishing tools and maybe produces

PowerPoint presentations, it might be worth adding Director to that

person&#39s repertoire.

For the marketing departments of any life office or other product

provider, this software is a must-have product.

A good example of the use of Director&#39s Shockwave elements to pep up the

front of a site can be found at First-e bank parent company enba&#39s site at

Enba has also remembered an important lesson if you are going to put tools

like this at the front of a business site – give people the ability to skip

over them. Something that looks good the first time you visit a site

becomes irritating if you visit it every day and have to wait for an object

to load before you can get past it.

To get the best out of it, you are going to need a fairly top-end PC.

Although the stated requirements are a 200MHz processor, 32Mb of RAM and

100Mb of available disk space, I would probably allow for double this to

enable it to be used to its fullest potential.

It runs on Windows 95/98, NT4 and 2000. Disks to operate on a Mac (OS 8.1

or later) are also included in case your marketing department has one.

The recommended retail price is £799 plus VAT and there is

surprisingly little variation from this level even in the back of the

mainstream computer press. An alternative would be to buy it including

training. One package I saw recently offered the software plus a two-day

training course for £1,249 plus VAT.


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