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There are as many reasons for Web animation as there are users of the Web. Animation is the art and science of making still pictures move, and movement, by its very nature, is interesting to look at. It conveys action and purpose—the sense that something is going somewhere. When we see pictures move, we are naturally curious to find out where they're going. Even the briefest animation has the capability to create anticipation and fulfillment. A character crouches in anticipation of a leap to catch a rising balloon; we all know what's next, and we wait until he springs into the air. If he catches the balloon, he may float away with it or drift back to earth. It is the outcome that completes the drama. Animation brings inanimate pictures to life. A train on the tracks at the bottom of a hill is just a picture. But a train heaving to climb the hill conveys character and plot.

The Web Audience

Every Web site has an audience. Kids of all ages are out there surfing the Web for entertainment, business people conduct commerce, and a growing legion of users click around corporate intranets. Animation can appeal to all these audiences, and appropriate animation technologies and approaches can serve them all.

Like the nascent television of the middle 20th century, the Web has yet to define itself as a medium. But it's safe to say that many of the kinds of animation that you see on TV, you'll soon find in abundance on the Web. Already, the Web is host to feature-length cartoons; animated documentaries and games; music videos; and jarring, in-your-face advertising.

The first full-blown animation film festival appeared on the Web in 1998 (http://www.real.com/festival/), and there are lots more to follow. Web animation may have started slowly, but like a train that's crested the hill, it's building up steam in a hurry.

Platform Decisions

As Web content providers, animators don't have the luxury of a clearly defined delivery medium. It's not like the so-called good old days, when every animation had to fill six minutes of 16- or 35-millimeter film. In Web animation, you've got to know both your audience and its hardware and software. There are Netscape Navigator users and Internet Explorer users; there are a smattering of Mozilla, Mosaic, Opera, and CyberDog users as well. The mix extends to the hardware: Windows 3.1, 95, and 98 machines, Macs, SGIs, Linux and other flavors of UNIX machines, Web TVs, and diskless Network Computers.

This variety presents quite a challenge to the Web animator: Animations that play in one browser on one machine won't necessarily play the same way in another browser or on another machine. You need to make educated choices about which users you'll support—that is, who will and who won't get to enjoy your animations.

Tools and Techniques

There's more than one way to skin a cat—and there's more than one way to onion-skin an animation. In this book, I attempt to cover the spectrum with concrete, real-world examples in all the Web-animation disciplines. Most animators choose to have many tools and techniques in their palettes, but plenty are happy to stick with a few tried-and-true methods: building animated GIFs from Photoshop images, creating animated cartoons with Macromedia FreeHand and Flash, and putting streaming video on a RealServer, to name just a few.

How to Surf This Book

For quite a few years now, I've smirked when I've seen the common how-to-book section called "How to Use This Book." I've often wondered why the written suggestions so rarely mention the most popular uses, such as (especially in San Francisco) wheel stops, coffee coasters, and presses for drying flowers. If you care to use this book in any of these humble but perfectly legitimate ways, "good on ya."

On the other hand, if you actually hope to learn anything from the book, I recommend that you use it the old-fashioned way: Start in the middle and work your way backward, or read it from cover to cover; either approach will serve, although later chapters do build on information presented up front.

Occasionally, you may spot a reference to the book's Web site. The site is organized along the lines of the book itself (there are more specific guidelines in Appendix B), so you should have little trouble finding and following the referenced examples.

As anyone who swims in the tide of the Internet knows, everything changes faster even than someone like me can cut through the current to write it down. If today's book is tomorrow's brick, so be it. The book's companion Web site is there to build on this small but solid foundation. Visit the book's online home at: http://www.peachpit.com/ontheweb/animation/.

Icons and Symbols Used in This Book

Occasionally, I'll call attention to important tidbits of information. References to Web addresses for online resources, such as a commercial Web site, animation studio, or other source of online information, are marked in a special typeface, like this: www.peachpit.com.


Warning→Refers to potentially dangerous activities that may render your Web site unusable by certain browsers, destroy hours of hard work, compromise a site's security, or otherwise incur the vengeance of Ra. Proceed with caution.


Note→Rarely used, because everything in this book is worthy of attention, but points out things that are worthy of special mention.


Tip→These are tidbits of wisdom picked up from other Web users or discovered through a lot of painful trial and error or by extra-careful reading of all those unreadable software manuals.

I'm glad you've chosen to read this book and I hope it provides the information you need to get started. I look forward to reading your comments (you can give feedback on the book's Web site) and especially to seeing your animations out there on the Web!

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