Namo FreeMotion 2006, from SJ Namo Interactive, is an end user product designed to ease the creation of Flash® movies.
If you want an easy way to create Flash® based photo albums, slide shows, web site banners, and navigation buttons, read on, this product may be just what you've been waiting for.
The setup went off without a hitch. FreeMotion installs quickly from CD. You can download a 30 day trial from the web; it's 16 megabytes so a high-speed connection is advised.
The program will prompt you for a serial number as well as an unlock code. The serial number is easy, it's all numbers. The unlock code is a pesky alphanumeric and took me 3 or 4 tries to get it right.
When the program starts up it presents you with a few basic options, Blank Document, Album, Banner, Navigation Buttons and Slide Show.
Jump Right In
Being familiar with Flash®, I started with a Blank Document and created a red circle, which also created a library object. When you create or import images or text they are stored as objects so that they can be reused, and all the objects are stored together in a project library.
I dragged a second circle onto the canvas and right-clicked to see what options are available. What is offered is a host of visual effects that can be applied directly to an object on the stage. The visual effects can be applied to shapes and text. You can easily make the text move, shake and fly around in various ways.
Each effect has various options to modify how the effect is applied. The options are different for each effect. The effect and combinations are quite extensive, something that Macromedia (now Adobe) left out in Flash®. Yes, you can build whatever you might need in Flash® if you are willing to spend the time making custom animations and writing actionscript (the built in programming language), but Flash® doesn't come with many pre-built text or shape effects as does FreeMotion.
If you are familiar with actionscript you are free to write the code to control your Flash® objects and movies. There are a bunch of tools to help you write actionscript. The code window is easily available on a tab at the bottom of the page. There are code wizards to help you insert commands to control animations and link to web pages, and other helper tools for finding functions, methods and parameters for controlling your Flash® movies. In fact this is a great way to learn Flash® and actionscript without needing to buy the entire Flash® product family from Adobe.
While I was busy creating my new movie I thought I might try modifying a movie originally created in Flash®. FreeMotion has an Import function that's supposed to let you modify SWF files without having the original FLA source (FLA files are the editable Flash® source files, SWF are the files you distribute).
It worked easily, importing a complex animation and allowing me to edit it. Since I have the FLA source I thought I'd try importing that too. Oddly enough importing FLA files didn't work. There are also numerous other import filters supporting various bitmap and vector graphics along with some audio and video formats. I didn't try them all, but what I tried worked well.
Pictures, Pictures Everywhere
It was time to move on and see what power lurked behind this Flash® compatible program.
If you start to create a new file and select the "New From Template" option you have the choice of four additional document types, Album, Banner, Navigation Buttons and Slide Show. The names make it pretty obvious what you are going to create.
Like you, I have lots of digital pictures. I am always looking for an easy way to organize and display my pictures. So it was time to test the 'Album' function. FreeMotion has two album template types - embedded and external.
The external album type keeps the SWF file separate from the pictures, so you must send both the SWF file and all the pictures to the web server or your friends. The embedded album stores the images in the SWF file. This is a larger file then the external type but the big advantage is that you only need to keep track of one file. They suggest using external for web servers, and embedded if you use a local machine for display or send the SWF file via email.
I went to load pictures, but unfortunately, the "file open" dialog doesn't have a preview mode. This should definitely be on the list for future upgrades. It's easier to use the windows explorer in thumbnail mode, then just drag-and-drop your pictures into the FreeMotion application window.
Once the images are loaded you can preview all of them, in addition to rotating and moving them. You can add comments too, using the EditPhoto command. Oddly named as it doesn't really let you edit the photo, just the text associated with it, the images rotation, and if you used the external template you can change transition effects.
The list of supported file types in the file load dialog is short (JPEG, PNG, BMP) but I managed to load a GIF and EMF with no problem, using drag and drop. FreeMotion made quick work of creating an album for me, but I was unable to make changes like adding or removing an image; to do that you'll need to start over. A bit annoying, but the process is so fast that it doesn't much matter. Creating an album only takes a few minutes.
Let the Show Begin
That being done, I next made a slide show. The slide show wizard lets you choose files to include from a file dialog box. I recommend putting the "file open" dialog box into thumbnail view. This makes it easier to see exactly what files you are adding to the show. You can select multiple files at a time.
The wizard supports four types of files JPG, BMP, GIF and PNG. I tried adding a WMF file but no joy. Once your pictures are added to the slide show list you can apply 12 different transition effects. You can apply them to images one at a time, or to all the pictures at once. There is an option for random transitions which should keep things from getting boring while saving you the work of selecting transitions for each picture.
There are additional options for the Flash® movie size, looping, advancing via mouse clicks, timing, background color and full-screen mode; all the basics for making a quick good looking slide show. You even get to select from one of eight pre-loaders so the screen isn't blank while your show loads.
There are a few sets of navigation buttons to choose from, and you can position them on the top or bottom of the screen. After that you only need to choose a folder to store your files and your show is created for you. If you are going to distribute the show you must remember to include all the files from the show folder. Unlike the Album there is no option to create a show where all the pictures are stored in one SWF file.
Staying On Top
A lot of web projects, both small and large, require a banner at the top of every page with text, a logo or both. I used the "File, New" menu command and selected the Banner Wizard. You can select from 14 pre-built banner templates. The templates are really just different themes. You can change the banner background and size easily.
The wizard prompts you for some text, a logo, a URL link and then generates the banner. For the most part I accepted the defaults, adding only my own text and a link to our test web site. I tried the "preview in browser option" but the link to our test site did not work, so I thought I should publish the project.
The publish settings are different from what Flash® provides, but they seem adequate to the task. Again, if you want to make changes, such as changing the banner text, you either have to start over, or try to find and replace the text in the Flash® movie explorer or object library. I tried but could not find the banner text in the movie explorer. The best advice is to understand what the banner capabilities are before starting the wizard, which means you'll need to spend a bit of time experimenting. For basic banners it should work fine.
Finally, I selected 'Navigation Buttons' from the 'New Template' menu. You have a choice of 15 button styles. I decided to start with the Zoomball style. I added 4 buttons to the list interface. It's not a visual interface as you might think, but is a set of text boxes for specifying 3 parameters per button (text, link and target). You can choose a vertical or horizontal layout.
There is no obvious way to add submenus. Publishing the buttons was easy. If you want to integrate the buttons or banners into your own web page you will need to copy some code (provided by Free Motion) and paste it into your web page at the correct spot. This is easy if you have ever had to directly modify the HTML markup that makes a web page work.
All the buttons I tried making had sounds that triggered when I moved my mouse over the button and when I clicked on it. If you are happy with the built in sounds your work is done. There doesn't seem to be an option to change or turn off the sounds. I was able to change or remove the sounds by going directly to the Library explorer and locating them, then modifying or deleting the sound symbols until I got the results I wanted. Even with the difficulty changing sounds this is a very quick way to make good looking buttons for your web site.
The Bottom Line
Namo FreeMotion 2006 will help you get started creating Flash® banners, buttons, albums and slide shows in very short order. You will be limited to the supplied templates and styles, and there should be more for a product of this type. Once you are comfortable using the templates and wizards try your hand at creating your own animations. And if you are truly ambitious, add some actionscript to control your new Flash® animations.
At $59.95 you won't find a less expensive way to start making Flash® part of your web life.
Take a look at the Namo web site because in addition to FreeMotion they have a host of other tools you may find useful.
And if you like FreeMotion take a look at SWISH Max ($100), KoolMoves ($49), Selteco Suite ($79) and Sothink SWF Quicker ($69).
Stan Coplan is a contributing editor for Int2view.com.