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Camp Jonah Winter Camp Serif DrawPlus Animations and Graphics Lecture Extraordinaire

Jonah Winter Camp 2007 Logo
Last year's Winter Camp logo I designed. Both this one and the new one are supposed to look like a snowball is being thrown across. Obviously it is conceptual rather than blatantly obvious. In the new one, it probably appears to most people like a full moon shining brightly. Oh well, that's cool too.

The last several days I've been working on a storyboard for an animation that will promote Jonah Ministries' upcoming Winter Camp. It is far too involved to get done in a prompt manner though, so I'll probably do it just for fun later. Maybe I can use it next year.

Instead of going full bore with the lengthy animation, I designed a simple graphical logo in Serif DrawPlus X2 and converted it into a simple keyframe animation. After an in-depth search, I couldn't locate the original Fireworks file for last year's winter camp logo, so that's what motivated me to recreate it in DrawPlus. I couldn't find the font I used, so rather than copying what I did before, I made it over completely.

Winter Camp Animation 1

Winter Camp Animation 2

DrawPlus X2 really shines on simple projects like these. The storyboard keyframe format makes it rather easy to set up simple movement for Flash banners and things like this. However, I still hold firmly that a multi-layered timeline is by far the superior interface for animating - especially for character animations and other complex organic movement (at least until I sit down and think of a better idea and share it with some lucky company... okay, just kidding, I'm not that arrogant! But I might have an idea or two up my sleeve).

I found a very easy set of tutorials on to create a falling snow effect with Actionscript. I have enough sense to know that keyframing such a thing would be absolute insanity and horribly inefficient. Unfortunately, the tutorials are set up to be used with Flash, detailing the interface panels of that program specifically. I tried parsing the code, pasting it into the "equivalent" areas of DrawPlus where it made sense to me that it should go. However, I couldn't get the same falling snow effect to work in DrawPlus - not at all! I even tried very simple variations, just trying to get some duplicateMovie functions to work... couldn't make it happen at all in DrawPlus. I'm not sure if it's a bug in DrawPlus, or I just don't know how it should be done. I'll give Serif the benefit of the doubt here because I'm not an Actionscript expert yet - just getting my feet wet (though I'm familiar with ECMA standard syntax). DrawPlus treats everything differently than Flash, so it's not really possible to have direct cross-over of Actionscript. The code needs to be put in different places. Not only that, but DrawPlus has no obvious ability to create and embed what are called "symbols" in Flash. This is a core feature in Flash that allows for a host of functional outcomes. I think "placing/importing a movie" into a DrawPlus animation document achieves somewhat the same thing, but it's not documented well, and the functionality is not nearly as robust as Flash.

Speaking of "symbols": I always thought this was a stupid word for Macromedia to latch onto. To me, the word refers to a written character with meaning, like &, %, @, etc. All programs in the multi-verse use "symbol" to refer to a non-alphabetic written character, or alternatively, some sort of iconic image. The idea of using the word to mean something that has no relationship to its core English definition is annoying. This confusion was one of the reasons I was initially intimidated by Flash. I scratched my head, thinking, "What in the world do they mean by 'symbol'?!". I have since come to understand Flash's terminology, defining "symbol" as a sub-movie component, often very much an animation (or significant object or button) inside another animation. An example of this would be the hair and paddleball in this animation. These two objects move entirely on their own, out of sync with the rest of the keyframed motion. They are in essence, movies inside the movie. I see no reason for Serif to follow suit and use "symbol" to describe this functionality, but I would like to see better support of something very closely comparable (and other designers more entrenched in Flash than me would too), since it is a core and valuable feature of the SWF file format - and a way to trick the limited storyboard design format to "do more" for you.

End of blah blah blah tangent... So, because I couldn't get the Actionscript for the falling snow to work in DrawPlus, I simply made it happen in my older version of Flash. I exported the snow as an SWF and imported it into DrawPlus. Luckily this worked like a charm. Everything else besides the snow was done in DrawPlus. It would be nice not to have to use Flash at all though. I'm guessing there's a way to adapt the code to get DrawPlus to behave similarly to Flash, but there's pretty much no documentation for these more advanced features and very little community out there doing it. I feel like the only one even trying this stuff right now. But hey, at least I have a Serif project manager I can bug at any given moment ;) Just kidding, I'll leave that guy alone for a change... let him recover before my next barrage del garbage.

By the way, since Serif goes about doing things in DrawPlus differently than Flash's approach, I'd highly suggest some well-written cross-reference tutorials to be included somewhere in it's documentation. Like, "If you are trying to do this in Flash, do this in DrawPlus". Since Flash has been around for years and is the de facto tool for vector animation, all serious animators know it inside and out. The goal of "ease" and "simplicity" in Serif's product is undermined if a Flash user can't figure out how to do in DrawPlus what they after habitual use consider "easy" to do in Flash. Granted, a serious animator will probably not choose this product over Flash if they can afford to keep up with the latest exorbitantly priced Adobe upgrades... but Serif can't hope to grab that market if they don't invest some serious marketing, user case studies and planning into it. And don't forget the infinite value of user feedback! Ignore it, and you will not gain any users. Naturally, if there is a better, far more innovative ideal way to do things than the Flash way, then there's a little more leeway for artistic license... but there needs to be a balance between trashing the traditional for the trendy and cherishing the treasures chucked down from times of graphics lore. I personally think the Flash market is wide open these days. There are a number of other key companies emerging and capitalizing, such as E-Frontier with their bone-enabled Anime Studio, ElectricRain's Swift3D, and Swish, to name a few. Not to mention the whole open source Flash community ( - try to keep up with that, and you'll get dizzy! Serif really has a chance to capitalize on this market if they pay attention to the opportunity at hand and take it seriously (and keep their prices low - oh yeah!).

I just sent in my 2-year contract to Serif to be an outside beta tester for their products. So these thoughts here are independent of and prior to any "inside information" that might result from such future activity. I'm not sure how much involvement that arrangement will result in (possibly none, depending on my motivation), but I figured it would be a good experience - especially since I'm the biggest graphics enthusiast I know ;) And, of course, I will respect every bit of privacy Serif requires in not divulging secrets of features and such before release of new products - so don't even ask! But hey, once they become public releases, you bet I'll talk about them and review them for good or bad. No one company or product owns me. I use the best products for their strengths and switch between them constantly.

Even some open source projects are worthy of serious attention. Can you say Inkscape and Google Summer of Code? Inkscape is becoming one of the most viable illustration apps in existence, regardless of price or branding. Watch out, Adobe, Corel, Serif, Xara, and anyone trying to turn a profit from your work! (trust me, I know all about the whole fee versus free frustration - after all I'm a web designer! - most people think what I do should be free - waaaaah!) Inkscape already has some killer features that I REALLY like, that no one else seems to be addressing much at all, and a number of whoppers on the horizon. If they keep this up, there won't be a market for commercial products! If Inkscape takes up animation and some other kewl key features, I'd use it as my mainstay vector and all-around illustration and design tool. After all, as the floating, disembodied head of Tom Peterson once (or twice) said, "Wake up! Wake up to a happy day!"... er, I mean, "Free is a very good price!"

Note: If I shortly become a bonafied Actionscript expert, I might write more about how to translate between programs. Right now, I'm with everyone else, trying to figure out if it's worth the time.

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