Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Vertical Moon a Risin'

Heaven knows I like not having to do things I can avoid – especially things that involve manual labor like mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, painting the house, oh and shoveling snow... yuck. This trait carries over into my work as well. And when it comes to things like programming and scripting (a euphamism for programming), sometimes it's better to use a one-trick pony that can do the job quick and easy than having to code something by hand and even better for you people who don't have or don't want to get into learning Flash.

Hence the rise (get it?) of Vertical Moon. They make niche products that allow you to build specific kinds of Flash files quickly, easily and for a very reasonable price. I have purchased three of their products and have used two of them already on a couple of client sites. The one I want to focus on in this article is Text-Osterone (TO). One of my sample text animations that I started in TO but ended up finishing in Flash can be found here.

This product gives you the ability to build Flash text animations, ready to integrate into your website as .SWF files. The coolest feature for me is that it also creates .FLA files ready to import into Flash for further editing, including the text effects!

But besides that, there are a lot of other features that are nice, too.

The ability to create multiple text blocks and have them animate separately, even to extent of having different text effects applied, is pretty cool. It's also great to be able to specify the location of each text block, it's duration and even how often it loops.

Another neat thing is the timing. If you have a series of text blocks animating one after the other, all you need to do is click "Start after previous" for it to instantly calculate when it needs to start. And it's self-correcting, so if you add a new effect or change the duration, it adjusts the timing. Nice! That should be an option in Flash.

There are over 200 text effects in TO and the options and timings can be varied and effects layered to create an almost endless selection. Of course, any good designer wouldn't want to overdo the effects, but it's great to have them and endless fun to try the different settings (yes, I am easily amused). Color, font and style are accessible as well.

But wait, there's more! You can specify separate and distinct in and out animations, with simply a click of a couple of buttons. Also you can assign actions to text blocks or the whole document to be a link to web page or to run other SWF files either at the end of a movie or by a mouse press. Document size, color, and even background image can be set. Reordering text blocks is as easy as clicking an up or down arrow. For such an unassuming interface, this program packs in a lot of time saving features.

Can you do this all in Flash? Sure. Are you a programmer? Most of us aren't so it would take some time to even set up the most basic of animations, and most of the more complex ones would be very time consuming. But here you only have to pick it from a menu and view the results in the Preview window. If you are exporting to Flash, make sure to do as much as you can first, because there is no going back.

There are a few things that would really solidify TO for me, that I hope they will consider in a future upgrade.
  1. Automatic text wrapping to the document. I wasn’t sure why it wasn't wrapping the text until I realized that the text wasn't wrapping to the document size, and that I had to put in hard returns.
  2. Leading should be either calculated as a percent of the text size, or starting from the text size. A leading of 0 doesn't make sense to a designer. It would either be 100% or 12 on 12.
  3. Extended character support. I can't use an “n” or “m” dash in the copy, curly quotes. or the three dot thingy. They show up in the edit window but don't show in the preview. I will see if they export properly to Flash.
  4. Support for an external XML text file. It would be really nice to be able to build a file that a client can edit without having to open the TXO file.
  5. Text styling. You should be able to style individual words in the text (bold, italic, bold italic) within the text item. And let's throw in multiple font selection while we’re at it.
  6. Apply fonts and effects over multiple slides. Maybe even have style sheets. It's a pain to have to apply the same settings over and over. Or simply allow me to duplicate an existing text block.
  7. Don't ask me to save an empty document. If you double-click to open an existing document, an empty window opens first which you are then asked to save.
  8. Don't ask to save a document I just saved. If you're like me, you save early and often, so it's annoying to be asked to save the file I just saved upon quitting, closing, or creating a new file.
I know, it sounds like there are a lot of issues. But when you get right down to it, these are niggling little details that only the most picky designers may even care about (like me, lol). But repeat the mantra of quick, fast and inexpensive and you'll feel better about Text-Osterone. It's only $39.95, and you'll make your money back on the first animation. Plus, if you buy one of the bundles which can include SWF, Lock & Load and/or SWF 'n Slide Pro, you can save a bundle.