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Web Animation Kit v1.1- by Chris Wenham
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Last month I reviewed WebAK and SX Paint together but did not have the room to go into depth about either program's animation capabilities. WebAK's reason for being is to create GIF animations for web pages and, as such, the animation module is the centerpiece of its varied features. It does a good job, but it doesn't do the best job.

However, if GIF animations for web pages are all you're interested in, WebAK is still probably the best value around thanks to extra utilities that are thrown in such as pattern generators, the image mapper and image tiler. It's also highly useful if you need to produce many similar animations that could be automated by its built in, C++ like scripting language.

Installation & Documentation

The install procedure for WebAK is stone-age. Two Rexx scripts, one run after the other, copy files from the five floppy disks to a directory on your hard drive. Upon completion it suggests you should drag-n-drop a shadow of the .EXE file onto your Desktop. I think it wouldn't have been too hard for the developers to consolidate the installation into one script that also creates a program object on your Desktop automatically, at the very least.

But the documentation is a neatly bound booklet that explains the concepts behind WebAK's use of "Image View Canvases" and how to use all the different modules for creating animations and patterns, complete with screen shots and examples.

Animation

WebAK can only manage animated GIFs; if you want to import or export to other animation formats, you're out of luck. But the GIF animation module is still more than capable enough for producing complex animations, complete with offset frames, pauses between frames, comments for each frame, multiple dispose techniques and more.

Adding frames to an animation (GIF, 18.4k) is fairly simple, you right-click on the gray area bordering a frame and pick 'Add Frames' from the pop-up menu that follows. You can add spaces for frames one at a time or in batches, but you can not add the images for those frames in batches like you can with MainActor/2. The user must either load them one-by-one with the pop-up menus for each frame, or drag-n-drop them from WebAK's main window. Nor does WebAK display the size of each frame in bytes, as MainActor/2 does. Deleting frames is an easy right-click affair though.

The GIF specification was designed to allow the animator to update the whole image in each frame, or just part of it. For example, if you wanted to create an animation of a person looking back and forth with their eyes you only need to make the first frame display the whole face, while the remaining frames can update just the eyes. In this scenario you could have one 100x100 pixel image of the face, but each frame of the moving pupils could be just tiny 10x10 images. WebAK allows you to specify an offset for each new frame so the eyes are lined up properly with the initial image of the face.

In conventional animation formats, each new frame must have the same 100x100 pixel dimensions as the first and replace any data that would be 'wiped out' as it is written over the previous frame. Luckily, the GIF's bandwidth conserving scheme has allowed clever artists to create highly complex multi-frame animations that take only seconds to download with a web browser. Unfortunately, WebAK was missing an optimizing routine that could automatically extract only those pixels that change between frames -- forcing the artist to manually figure this out for himself.

WebAK can give each frame a separate delay, meaning that the last frame could stick around for a couple of seconds before the animation cycles again. Or intermediate frames can pause to let the viewer read any text that may vanish on the next frame. Disposal methods are also widely supported, even ones that aren't supported by Netscape or other web browsers. Perhaps in anticipation of browser updates?

For playback of animations the user is given three VCR-like controls, two for stepping backwards and forwards frame by frame and a dual-purpose Play/Stop button. Click on this play button to view the animation, then click it again to unlatch and stop. In practice, stopping the animation is harder than it sounds, since I was never able to get it to stop with just one click. Double clicks often failed to work too, triggering Warp's "unresponsive application" safeguards, and popping up the window list (repainting the screen, keeping the animation going, grinding the hard drive for a while before I got the chance to try again...). I think either a separate 'stop' button or a more responsive unlatching mechanism for the 'play' button would be desirable.

Summary

The other goodies that come with WebAK, such as the Pattern Generator and the unique "Collapse and Resurrect" ability to store work environments or trade with colleagues were discussed in last month's review in further detail. WebAK is not really a multimedia tool, but it's clearly the best value for web designers who are unconcerned with other video formats and need the most control over the finer elements of GIF animation. Its stability was called into question though, since WebAK was annoyingly easy to crash.

* * *

Web Animation Kit v1.1

by Modular Dreams, Inc.
MSRP: US$69.99

Chris Wenham is a freelance web designer, writer and Englishman who now lives in Endicott, NY. In the past he has written comedy, sci-fi, Pascal, Rexx, HTML and Gibberish. He has been using OS/2 exclusively for the past 2 years.


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