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Serif DrawPlus X2 Keyframe Animation (and Frustration)

When I saw the release notes and feature list for Serif DrawPlus X2, I was very intent on buying the upgrade. I waited a while to decide, then went ahead and ordered it. As with all my Serif purchases, I anxiously wait for them to arrive in the mail and am super excited when they show up.

Serif is a pretty good company with several very promising products. For some reason they don't get as much attention as some of the bigger competitors' products. In many ways, Serif products are every bit as good. They are definitely packed with enough features to make them worth the relatively low purchase cost.

Dave and I have been toying with the idea of working on a web project together, mostly just for fun. Part of what we want to accomplish would benefit greatly from using a Flash-based technology. We had been looking into open source solutions, including versatile packages such as Adobe Flex and Open Laszlo. After discovering both technologies require the use of Java (my host doesn't support Java), we kinda gave up.

After finally getting Serif DrawPlus X2, the potential for creating Flash animations, and possibly even interactive components is renewed. DrawPlus is not an extremely robust animation package, and it may not allow for development of sophisticated Flash-based systems. It is ActionScript 2 enabled, though, and theoretically a lot can be done with that.

I will not go into detail right now, but I must say the storyboard interface of DrawPlus is a little cumbersome for making sophisticated, multi-layered animations. All the keyframes for the various objects are all in one storyboard, so it is impossible to visualize the concept of linear time or to see what your animation will look like on any given frame. All you can see is the keyframes. You cannot view each tweened frame of the animation.

Once you get used to the simplicity, it is possible to make some interesting animations with DrawPlus. On one side, it is extremely easy to make simple animations where objects move around along linear paths. However, it is very difficult to create complex character animations that require the interaction of a large number of objects. The reason for this difficulty is that the tweening and animation in general is quite buggy. Though you set up a couple simple keyframes, sometimes your objects will jump around or disappear unexpectedly, making it impossible to animate anything. I've spent hours and hours coming up with ways to fix some of these massive problems and bugs, but some of them you just have to live with, or give up entirely. The program also frequently crashes due to a number of bugs.

On the positive side, I have some hope that the program will see some improvements - and quite possibly due to my own efforts :) I recently got in touch with Matt, the project manager for DrawPlus and passed along some of the bugs I encountered. Our emails back and forth were rather enjoyable, as I see we have some things in common. Matt was able to immediately locate one of the bugs I described and supposedly fixed it. I'm not sure how long it will be before this fix is reflected in a publicly released patch. Plus, it may be even longer before some of the other more significant bugs are fixed. It may require a full rewrite of the SWF creation aspect of the application. The tweening math definitely needs to be looked over, as very bizarre things happen for no good reason, as far as randomly moving/scaling/rotating objects.

I have the storyboard for a weird short Flash film in my mind. I have hand-drawn the key frames for several scenes and have spent countless hours trying to animate one of these scenes. Due to the mega-bugs, it took me dozens of retries to get it to work, but I finally have a basic animation rendered. It's far from perfect, and the movement is not as ornate and natural as I'd like it to be (and I haven't tried adding sound yet). But after experiencing so many bugs and setbacks, I decided to stop while I had something somewhat stable. Keep in mind, this is just a small part of a much larger animation - which I will hopefully finish some day, but maybe not if it suddenly becomes impossible due to bugginess and frustration. Sorry if you read this, Matt... just being honest. I really like the product. I just hope it sees some significant bug fixes shortly. I've nearly pulled my hair out a couple times!

Sample Animation

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