These days you’d be hard-pressed to find a Web site not attempting to immerse visitors in rich sound and visuals, especially those sites that target young people. Enter Macromedia, supplier of a Flash-y technology that lets major motion pictures have as impressive a presence on little screens as they do on the big ones.
Motion pictures sure have come a long way-Titanic, A Bug’s Life, Small Soldiers-not exactly hum-drum releases. Ironically though, even these blockbusters have largely relied on mediocre promotion mediums like print ads, posters and Web sites that fall short of the high-tech mark set by the films themselves. All that’s changing with the advent of Macromedia’s Flash technology.
Used by Web developers to add both vivid screen images that respond to mouse clicks and graphics that control site functionality (i.e. navigation buttons, funky illustrations/cartoons, etc.), Flash has taken Web site responsiveness to a new level. Unlike the passive links of yore, Flashed links have the ability to react to on-screen mouse movements (move a pointer over a link and it responds by brightening, changing shape or spewing out a whack of options, info and images). So let’s take a look at two films, Star Trek: Insurrection and the rock-a-blockbuster Prince of Egypt, each using Flash technology and arriving at a different on-line end product.
Star Trek: Insurrection
The latest in a long series of Trekkie flicks, this movie’s site (www.insurrection.startrek.com) incorporates a major infusion of Flash technology to tantalize visitors with movie-related offerings. As soon as you engage the site, things start to happen.
The introductory animation is a Star Trek control panel-the same one that you’ve seen on every show in fact-that morphs slickly into the site’s navigation bar. Amazingly, what has the most impact is the co-ordination of sounds with the use of buttons; every click of the mouse sweeps movie-driven content onto your screen and activates high-tech, futuristic sounds. The whole thing leaves you feeling highly involved.
Where the site trips, stumbles and falls, however, is with trailers, interviews and behind-the-scenes clips that are positively gigantic! The Flash-ed interface that brings them to your attention is brilliant, smoothly rolling out related information, but unfortunately, that same instant response only highlights the fact that the downloads are going to take forever. It’s a shame really, because the site quickly loses a lot of the positive impact that it gained from the cutting-edge links.
But in the end, even pointy-eared critics should be pretty pleased. The realistic effects, futuristic theme and techy content are more than enough to satisfy (even if all you do is play around with the outstanding controls).
Prince of Egypt
Currently regarded as having the most sophisticated use of animation technology in a motion picture film, it makes sense that the Prince of Egypt site(www.prince-of-egypt.
com) would be over the top. Not quite as boombastic as the Star Trek site, it is still undoubtedly slick.
At this site, Flash technology is used primarily at entranceways to different pages, and in navigation interfaces that help you travel through the site. Admittedly, the visual effects are pretty phenomenal-sumptuous almost, in the way that they float up and dissolve before your eyes, or fade into view with rich colors.
The Flash applications on the menu bar aren’t quite as entrancing, but are effective nonetheless. The buttons light up at the touch of your pointer, making it extremely easy to wander. Trolling around this site is a bit of bore without audio enhancement (the content needs a bit of a boost), but turn on your sound and things liven up dramatically. Now, you do have the option of turning the sound off (causing downloading to speed up significantly), but the icon is almost too tiny to see. This needs to change. What would really make this site soar, is if you could choose from one of the three Prince of Egypt movie soundtracks blazing up the charts.
Prince of Egypt’s use of Flash technology is highly refined, having just the right balance between high-tech features and user-friendliness to make its variety of applications easily accessible. It’s a little too conservative though, and could use a bit more jazz to keep it interesting (especially when compared to the energy of the movie), but that’s something that a tune or two could easily fix.
Flash software has taken the Internet by storm, and when you look at the breadth of applications out there, it’s not hard to see why… (go to www.shockrave.com). It’s an excellent platform for menu navigation and animation, and it allows the development of amazing interfaces. Film sites are the ultimate candidates for Macromedia’s technology, as they are constantly in search of major interactivity and visual treats to keep their viewers occupied and happy.
Next month: The Cyber Space looks at simulation game evolution and play pros and cons.
Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. He is still at it. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).