NOVEMBER 11, 2002
Interactive QuickTime Authoring, Part 3
Is LiveStage Professional Totally Hip?
by Kevin Schmitt

We're going to turn our attention this time to a program that doesn't just enlist QuickTime as part of a larger interactive authoring solution, it makes QuickTime itself the entire interactive authoring solution, exporting fully interactive .mov files, ready for playback in the QuickTime player on Macintosh or Windows. The guilty party? Totally Hip's LiveStage Professional 4.

What it does
Ever heard of QuickTime's tween track, color track, or sprite track? If you've only seen QuickTime used as a video format, you probably haven't. Here's where LiveStage Professional 4 (hereafter known as LSP, because I'm a fundamentally lazy creature) can help. In a nutshell, LSP gives you the ability to weave together all of those varied QuickTime tracks Apple has so craftily hidden in the QuickTime architecture into really cool, fully interactive QuickTime movies. Of course, it's better to show you than to tell you (fig. 1), so you can check out some of the things LSP can do here (click on the poster thumbnail about three-quarters of the way down the page) or here (click on the "Enhanced Films" section, but beware the large download size). Naturally, you'll need the QuickTime Player to view these. Now, a disclaimer: I have no idea if the pieces are actually done in LSP, but hell, they sure are a cool use of QuickTime; regardless, I can safely proclaim that LSP has everything you need to actually produce projects like that. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Fig. 1: A screenshot from the enhanced BMW Films player, done entirely with QuickTime.

How it uses QuickTime
Yeah, I know. I kept the "What It Does" section noticeably, almost painfully, brief. That's because LSP and QuickTime are so intertwined that it makes more sense to pack all the stuff it does into the "How it uses QuickTime" section. So here goes.

It's probably important to note right off the bat that LSP, unlike some other multimedia authoring programs, doesn't provide any tools for asset creation. For example, in Flash, you can draw images directly in the program with the paint and vector tools, but with LSP, it's an integration-only environment. That means you have to create your images, movies, and other assets in outside programs before you fire up LSP to create your interactive movies. Think of it as building a house. You need to have all the materials on the job site before you can build the house, and those materials have to be manufactured elsewhere before you can start putting the pieces together. In the real world, that means you need to have all your movies edited, images produced, Flash flashed and everything else you plan to use ready to go in a format that QuickTime understands before LSP can begin to do its magic.

Once you launch LSP, you'll see a pretty standard stage/timeline interface that users of various NLEs or interactive authoring programs will probably find familiar. There is also a global and local Library panel where you choose project assets, as well as an inspector panel that gives you quick access to project-wide and individual asset settings (fig. 2). It's a deceptively simple way of accessing all the power underneath QuickTime's hood, which for my money means that Totally Hip has done a tremendous job of streamlining the potential rampant confusion when managing QuickTime's track-based architecture into a coherent and easy-to-use interface.

Fig. 2: The LSP interface.

Now, I don't mean to put you off by mentioning the potential for rampant confusion, but the fact of the matter is that the way QuickTime is designed to handle and present interactive content is confusing at best. The blame for this is Apple's, not Totally Hip's. Everything you see in a QuickTime movie, interactive or not, represents an instance of a specialized track. Even if you've only seen QuickTime in action showing you a movie trailer on the internet, you're seeing an example of QuickTime presenting a video track and a sound track in a simple two-track application (fig. 3).

Sure, that's fairly straightforward when you're talking about movie clips, but when you get into the realm of interactive movies, QuickTime's reliance on tracks can present an awkward way of doing things. I mean, you have text tracks, sprite tracks, tween tracks, modifier tracks, color tracks, image tracks, video tracks, movie tracks, and various other types of tracks, some (but not all) of which give you options to add sub-tracks (AKA samples), some (but not all) of which you can "wire up" with interactivity, each with different rules, etceteree, etceteraa. And Apple's lack of appropriate QuickTime developer tools, authoring resources, and even a coherent marketing direction on QuickTime as a viable cross-platform interactive format are probably the primary reasons that QuickTime is most widely known as a video-only technology. Fortunately, companies like Totally Hip have recovered Apple's fumble and come out with software such as LSP to make heavy-duty interactive QuickTime much more feasible (not to mention enjoyable) to develop.

Fig. 3: Even the most basic of QuickTime movies is a multitrack application.

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