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Using Fireworks with Director 8 for Fireworks 3

An interview with Joe Sparks, founder of Pop Rocket

Joe Sparks is a leading Director developer, designer, and Lingo programmer. Joe is best known for his games Total Distortion and Spaceship Warlock.

What kinds of graphics do you create with Fireworks?
Lately, I've been using Fireworks for the user interface design in my Director projects. User interface has always been tough for me because I find it difficult to be stylish and still end up with a clear and functional interface.

Do you have any examples we can see?
Here's a screen shot of a Director 7 project of mine. This is an avatar-based chat program. The screen shows where the users create their own avatar. I was going for a cute, non-threatening look. I stumbled onto a kind of torn pastel paper look in Fireworks, and I started using it everywhere.

Why did you start using Fireworks for user interface design?
Mostly because I can get stuff done faster with it, and I think I'm doing cleaner work now. Plus I can actually use my early sketches and experiments in my final designs--a real time saver.

How did you design before Fireworks?
I would open a drawing program and experiment a bit with various layouts. I would try different arrangements of the basic navigation elements, buttons, fields and labels. Vector-based drawing programs are best to use at this early design stage because I can quickly resize shapes, edit text, and such.

After getting the basic shape, size, and layout, I would convert my vector drawings into bitmaps and bring them into Photoshop. Then I would create more graphics, using my sketches as guides. I would play with color and the basic look. But then, as usual, I would start having problems. Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, I would find a design flaw, or have to add something new to the interface. And when I am working with bitmaps, it can be very difficult and time-consuming to completely change a shape or layout and then re-create all of the colors and effects. Usually, I would go back to the drawing program and start all over again.

With Fireworks, I can make my vector drawings look like handcrafted bitmaps, and I don't have to keep starting all over again just to fix a mistake or make a minor change.

We designed Fireworks to be always editable all the time. What is it like to actually design and create layouts and graphics inside Fireworks?
It's good. I've got the nice drawing tools I need to get precise shapes and curves, plus I get these really unique strokes and fill styles that can give vectors an organic, painterly look. More and more I'm going into Fireworks first and just free-flowing around, trying to get a basic look and feel together. Another great thing about experimenting in Fireworks is that my color and style experiments never have to go to waste. You can copy the attributes of one object and paste that look right into any other selected objects. What's cool is that I can take my rough sketches all the way into the final design instead of it being just a comp.

I noticed in addition to layers, you've got many frames here. Are you doing animation in this document?
Not really. I add frames in Fireworks to give me multiple pages. Instead of hiding and showing a ridiculous number of layers all the time, I just duplicate a frame and go from there. This way, I can manage multiple variations and all my sketches in one document. It's very handy.

Can you show us any other Director projects where you used Fireworks?
I did this Web database thing where just about all of the graphics were done in Fireworks. This one was really rollover-intensive. I used the glow effect a lot.

To bring this stuff into Director, I would export a frame of rollovers, then a frame of "mouse-downs," and so on, as bitmaps, and then chop up the PICTs into sprites inside of Director.

I also used Fireworks to do a menu screen inside of my a ShockRave project, the "ShockRave Dance Club."

Even in this small titling job, the instant editing of effect-laden text really came in handy. The Dance Club was featuring three songs from the band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Right after I thought that I was done with it, the band manager tells me, "You've misspelled 'You and me and the bottle make three tonight'. It is supposed to be an ampersand, not the word 'and'. All I had to do was retype and export. Fireworks retained all of my glows, shadows, and highlights.

How does Fireworks fit in with Director 7?
For me, JPEG is a much bigger deal now. I have been using linked JPEGs in my Shockwave stuff since Director 6. Especially for larger bitmaps, the file size saving can be huge over regular bitmaps. This is where an external JPEG file gets imported into your project at runtime. So I have been using Fireworks ever since it came out to visually optimize my JPEGs--you just can't beat Fireworks' Export Preview for finding the best balance of image quality and compression.

What's new here is that Director 7 supports JPEG files internally. This is great for Shockwave. While Shockwave has supported external JPEGs for a long time, no one wants to use too many of these because of the browser overhead and delay that results with downloading too many external files at one time. With JPEGs packed into a single Shockwave file, you got a much faster, much more optimized download. I'll be using Fireworks to export many more JPEGs with Director 7.

Director 7 also supports animated GIFs and PNG, you know.
Yes! I can set up Director 7 to use Fireworks as a PNG editor. This means that I can simply double-click a PNG cast member to edit it in Fireworks.

[ Editor's note: To set Fireworks as the external editor for Director 7 go to "Preferences", choose external editors, and select Fireworks. Make sure you select "edit source" so that you get the PNG with all the live floating objects. When you create a projector or a DCR movie, Director only takes the bitmap with the cast member, so you don't have to worry about all of the extra PNG data. ]

What do you want to do next with Fireworks and Director?
Well, I want to start using Fireworks slicing as a better way to cut up Sprites for Director. Normally, I export a whole picture and cut it up inside Director by hand. Slicing in Fireworks is normally used to cut up graphics for Web pages, but it would also work for Director projects.

Where can we see some of your work?
Check the "About Director" choice on the menu bar of Director 7. I did a groovy little About box with some fun animations and stuff. And keep an eye on shockwave.com. I'll get some new stuff up there soon!