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Craig Drake

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Craig Drake, aka the "Boba Fett of Flash," brings motion to a flat Web

By Andrea Dudrow

Craig Drake sauntered across the street looking much more the West Coast hipster than the Flash-obsessed nerd I knew him to be. Sporting the all-black uniform of a San Francisco 20-something (complete with a leather coat and iridescent denim trousers), he settled into a cafe table, and told me his drink, which looked suspiciously like water, was a vanilla soda. "Actually," he whispered, changing his mind, "It's vodka." That's okay, I figured, because if the number of big-name companies seeking out his services are any indication, Craig Drake can do anything he wants.

Indeed, things are going well for Drake, who, since he began his career as a hired gun two years ago, has attracted a range of high-profile clients, from digital agencies such as Red Eye Digital Media to the San Francisco International Airport (U.S). He doesn't appear to be slowing down, either and Drake routinely fields more than his share of work offers.

But things weren't always this way. Drake was a print designer for over seven years in his hometown of Detroit. "I was really used to having a solid job and I came out to San Francisco and ran into a friend. She said 'You've got to go Boba Fett, be a hired gun.' And I swear to God the day I quit my job, my life was 100 percent better. The world just opened up."

But why animation? Why not do regular old HTML, like everyone else? It turns out that Drake grew up wanting to be a special-effects technician for movies, and animation design has since filled that space for him. "I really get into my designs in a cinematic sense," he says. "That's one of the main reasons I migrated over to multimedia."

In fact, Drake predicts that the Web will only become more multimedia-heavy in the future. "It will be like television," he says. "Web designers will have to become video-savvy. In the future we'll just have to know about motion graphics so much more." Drake describes a site of the future where visitors can watch a fashion show, much as they might on TV, but they can roll their mouse over a specific model to zoom in on an outfit, get information about the designer, or simply buy it online. "There are companies right now that are actually working on just that," he says, eyes aglow from the niftiness of it all.

Drake's alter ego as the Boba Fett of Flash landed him a gig recently beta-testing Adobe LiveMotion, and he thinks that the software will fit in well with just such a video-heavy future. LiveMotion's pixel-based frame-by-frame editing capabilities are a boon for designers, he says. "LiveMotion is really going to take off when video happens, because it's very AfterEffects®-like," he says. "Right now a lot of people are comparing it to Flash, and it does do a lot of the same things that Flash does, but it's really good at handling pixel-based stuff. And LiveMotion has amazing JPEG compression. It's unmatched."

He says his favourite thing to design these days is animated rollovers. "The Flash format is so awesome because you can take a movie clip and layer it inside another movie clip and then put it inside a button and just keep nesting animations inside each other. Finally, when you roll over something, you can create this amazing waterfall of imagery - this whole vortex of events starts to unfold."

Drake's also a big music buff - he still does free print design for musicians he knows in Detroit - and this affinity often makes its way into his designs. "I really like integrating sound with the interface, instead of just letting the visuals do all the talking. Sometimes I actually get in trouble for bogging my sites down with multiple sound tracks," he says with the grin of a music geek who's learned to be practical.

Though, there's also a dark side to Web animations, explains Drake: "It's not yet a good idea to design whole sites in Flash, the way some folks are doing these days. I think the technology is not 100 percent there to put this major Las Vegas-showgirl-crazy-explosions-and-fireworks production all on your home page."

That's not Drake's style anyway; he's much more modest and humble. Even though he's one of the more successful animations designers around, he's very self-deprecating, especially when it comes to his own work and his views of the future of the Web.

"I don't claim to have any insight into the future of design and the future of animation on the Web," he explains. "I just know what's working now."

Freelance writer Andrea Dudrow hopes to be the Queen Amidala of content someday.