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When a simple animation program called VideoWorks first appeared on Macintosh desktops in 1985, no one expected that—under the name of Macromedia Director—it would evolve into the leading tool for creating interactive multimedia. Over the years, Director has been a pioneer in giving creative people the tools and the framework they needed to bring their ideas to life and distribute them in an increasing variety of formats, from floppy disks to CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, and Web pages.

Director MX, the latest version of Macromedia’s all-purpose authoring program, allows you to combine images, text, sounds, music, video, and even 3D objects into fully interactive “movies” that put the user in control. Its capability to handle all sorts of media allows you to repurpose content—for example, to distribute an interactive presentation as a stand-alone CD-ROM and also as a streaming Shockwave movie—with a minimum of effort.

Who Uses Director?

Director is one of those rare pieces of software that has something to offer to almost everyone. Its intuitive, time-based interface allows new users to begin creating simple animations almost immediately. But Director’s feature set is broad and flexible enough for professional developers to use it to create content for nearly every imaginable distribution channel. Director’s scripting language, Lingo, allows nonprogrammers to add interactivity to movies using basic English commands. Yet Lingo is sophisticated enough to allow experienced programmers to do almost anything that can be done in more mainstream programming languages.

In short, the possible uses for Director are limited only by your imagination. Here are just a few of the kinds of people who typically work with Director:

  • Animators use it to create animation for output to videotape or streaming Web movies.

  • Web developers use it to add motion, sound, interactivity, and data-processing capability to their Web pages.

  • Game and entertainment developers use it to create single-user games for distribution on CD- or DVD-ROM, or multiuser online games.

  • Educators use it to create interactive learning and testing materials for distribution over the Web or on CD.

  • Software developers use it to create working models of applications, allowing them to demonstrate and fine-tune the interface or the “look and feel” of products that are still in development.

  • Software publishers use it to create tutorials for their products, or to guide users through the installation process.

  • Business people use it to create presentations and training materials.

  • Artists use it to create multimedia artwork.

  • Exhibit designers use it to create touchscreen kiosks that provide instant information for tourists, museum visitors, or conference attendees.

  • Consultants use it for just about anything. Does a rug store need an interactive catalog that will help buyers choose colors and patterns? Does an acupuncturist need a way to illustrate the flow of qi through various parts of the body? If a particular application can’t be bought “off the shelf,” a good consultant can always find a way to build it in Director.

Director’s Place in the MX Family

In 2002, Macromedia began to release new versions of its products with the designation MX in place of a version number. (In case you’re wondering, the initials don’t stand for anything; Macromedia’s marketing department just thought “MX” sounded cool.) Macromedia Flash MX came first, followed by Dreamweaver MX, ColdFusion MX, and Fireworks MX. Macromedia bundled all four MX products (along with FreeHand, not yet upgraded to MX status) into a single package called Macromedia Studio MX, intended to serve as a tightly integrated set of tools for the creation of media-rich, data-driven Web sites and Web applications.

Director’s conspicuous absence from the package didn’t come as much of a shock, given that much of the role previously played by Director in the development of interactive, multimedia Web sites had gradually been taken over by Flash. With Flash offering multimedia authoring and interactive scripting capability, Dreamweaver providing the HTML and JavaScript framework, Fireworks doing the image processing, and ColdFusion providing integration with databases, the MX family seemed to be complete without Director.

It therefore surprised many observers when, months after the release of Studio MX, Macromedia unveiled an MX version of Director. Though largely unchanged from the previous version, Director MX does sport the hallmarks of an MX product: a new, screen-friendly interface and integration with other MX products. If nothing else, the release of Director MX reaffirmed Macromedia’s commitment to Director. It also reflected Macromedia’s acknowledgment—despite its having positioned itself as the prophet of “what the Web can be”—that not all multimedia development is intended exclusively for the Internet.

Director has not been bundled into Studio MX, and it’s unlikely that it will be. The Studio MX applications are designed to work together seamlessly, almost as though they’re a single application. Director has close operational ties to Flash, and it offers round-trip editing capability with Fireworks as well, but its relationships with Dreamweaver and ColdFusion are strictly arm’s-length. For the most part, Director remains what it always was: a stand-alone application that works well with all kinds of media and all kinds of hardware. Though officially a member of the MX family, Director might best be considered a distant cousin, continuing to do its own thing in its own way.

Director Compared with Flash

In the mid-1990s, when the Web replaced CD-ROMs as the primary means for delivering multimedia content, Macromedia saw both a problem and an opportunity. The problem was that the Web demanded quickly downloadable, low-overhead files, which Director movies certainly were not. The opportunity was that the Web at that time was a basically static environment that cried out for the kinds of movement, richness, and interactivity that were Macromedia’s specialty.

Macromedia responded by developing Shockwave technology, which allowed Director movies to be compressed, streamed over the Internet, and played back transparently by means of a plug-in in the user’s Web browser. At the same time, Macromedia hedged its bet by acquiring a simple, third-party product that came to be named Macromedia Flash. Flash could do some of the same things Director could do, but had been designed from the beginning to meet the demands of the Web.

Flash rose quickly in popularity. For developers, it offered a streamlined interface and the ability to create amazingly tiny files. For Web users, it offered a browser plug-in that was much smaller and faster to download than the Shockwave player required by Director. As Flash became more and more popular, Macromedia added more and more features to it—most significantly ActionScript, a scripting language that eventually acquired many of the same capabilities as Director’s Lingo. The unfortunate result was that Macromedia now had two products with a largely overlapping feature set, and developers had no clear-cut way to decide whether to develop a project in Director or Flash.

In many ways, Flash has won out, and for good reasons: Flash is designed to use vector graphics, which are often much faster to download than the bit-mapped graphics that Director prefers to use. Flash’s scripting language, ActionScript, is closely related to JavaScript and is therefore more comfortable than Lingo for many Web developers. Flash has a much larger installed base (98% of U.S. Web users have the Flash plug-in, as opposed to only 63% who have Shockwave). Flash’s retail price is significantly lower than Director’s. And on top of everything else, there is the intangible but very real “coolness” factor: At least for the time being, Flash is, Director isn’t.

Why would anyone want to use Director?

If you’re developing exclusively for the Web, it probably makes sense to use Flash and the other MX Studio applications. But if you plan to use other distribution channels—either instead of or in addition to the Web—Director can still do a lot of things that Flash can’t:

  • For many people, Director is easier to use. While Director’s interface is similar to Flash’s, it is in many ways more flexible and more forgiving. And for people who have no scripting or programming experience, Lingo—with its ability to use plain-English syntax—is often easier to learn than ActionScript.

  • Director offers superior bitmap handling. Vector graphics may be faster to download, but many kinds of visual material—particularly photographs—still require the kinds of subtlety and fluidity offered only by bitmaps. Director is significantly more bitmap-friendly than Flash, particularly in its ability to use alpha channels for smooth compositing.

  • Director works better with digital video. The ability to use digital video was added to Flash only recently, with the release of Flash MX. Flash is comfortable with only small bits of video, using only a single compression method. Director can handle big or long video files in a variety of formats.

  • Director accepts more types of media. If your multimedia content exists in a digital format, chances are that Director can import it and work with it. The most noteworthy example is the ability to import 3D models, added in Director 8.5. But there are many other data types that are at least as useful. (Try importing a PowerPoint presentation into Flash!)

  • Director movies are more accessible. Both Flash MX and Director MX have new features that make their movies accessible to visually impaired users. But unlike Flash, whose accessibility features are designed to work only with third-party screen-reader software, Director has text-to-speech and keyboard navigation features that require no special software on the user’s computer.

  • Director remains the tool of choice for CD- and DVD-ROM development. While the Web gets all the attention these days, much multimedia development is still aimed at “fixed media” such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and the hard drives of computer-based kiosks. For these applications, Director still offers a wide array of features—such as advanced memory management and the ability to interact directly with external hardware and software—that are not even dreamed of in Flash.

  • Director is infinitely extensible. If there are features you need that aren’t built into Director, chances are you can add them by means of an Xtra. Xtras are Photoshop-style plug-ins that expand the capabilities of Director. If the Xtra you need isn’t available off the shelf, you can find third-party developers who can create custom Xtras to meet your needs.

What’s New in Director MX

Director MX is a relatively minor update from the previous version, Director 8.5. Instead of adding significant new features, Director MX focuses on making Director compatible with the latest standards in hardware and software, and in helping it work more closely with other members of the MX family of products. Here are the most noteworthy improvements:

  • Director is now more tightly integrated with Flash. Director MX can import Flash MX files and control them with Lingo. In addition, Flash MX can be launched from within Director MX to allow seamless editing of imported Flash cast members.

  • Director now shares common interface elements (such as dockable panels and an online “Answers” window) with Macromedia’s other MX products, allowing users to keep the same work habits when moving from application to application.

  • The Macintosh version of Director is now Mac OS X–native. (Although Director MX will run only under OS X, Director movies created in OS X can still be played on Macs that use the Classic OS.)

  • Director’s new text-to-speech, keyboard navigation, and captioning features allow movies to meet accessibility guidelines for sight- and hearing-impaired users.

  • Several tools within Director, such as the message window and the debugger, have been improved, and a new object inspector has been added.

  • Director now works with Macromedia’s advanced server technologies to allow the creation of multiuser games and collaborative environments; and Director can now use the Flash Remoting Service to create data-driven Web sites in collaboration with ColdFusion MX. (These features are noted here for the sake of completeness, but they are beyond the scope of this book.)

Director’s interface remains easy to use, allowing beginners to create exciting, media-rich projects without a steep learning curve. Using Director MX and this book, you’ll soon be able to:

  • Create, import, and manage the collection of multimedia elements—images, music, and so on—that form the heart of your multimedia project.

  • Animate your drawings, photos, text, and other visual elements, and synchronize your animation with sound, music, and video.

  • Use Director’s library of behaviors to add interactivity to your movie.

  • Create extruded text and other 3D elements, and import 3D models from other programs.

  • Create a standalone “projector” file, suitable for CD- or DVD-ROM.

  • Produce a Shockwave-format file for distributing over the Internet.

  • Use new features in Director MX to make your movie accessible to users with visual or hearing impairments.

  • Use Xtras, add-on modules that provide extra features.

  • Introduce yourself to Lingo, Director’s scripting language.

Using This Book

The Visual QuickStart Guide format is intended to get you working with the software immediately, without having to read long-winded explanations.

This book assumes that you’ve already mastered the basic skills for using your computer: clicking and dragging with the mouse, choosing items from menus, and so forth. Given that Director is a multimedia authoring program, it’s also assumed that you have at least minimal experience working with basic media formats, such as image, sound, and text files. From that starting point, how you can make the best use of this book will depend on your level of experience and on your preferred style of working.

If You’re a Beginner

If you’re new to the process of multimedia authoring, or if you’re the kind of person who likes to approach things in logical, linear fashion, your best bet is to start at the beginning of the book, learning the most basic Director techniques, and work your way to the end, by which time you’ll have acquired the skills to create a full-featured, interactive movie. The book is structured to support this type of learning: Each chapter builds on the skills and concepts that were introduced previously, and no chapter assumes that you have knowledge of anything in a later chapter.

If You Have Some Experience

If you’ve used earlier versions of Director, or if you have experience with similar multimedia authoring programs (such as Flash), you might prefer to treat this book as a task-based reference. Use the table of contents, thumb tabs, or index to find the topic you’re interested in, and then go directly to the applicable pages. Although learning a particular skill or completing a particular task may require that you understand the relevant concepts and vocabulary, no set of instructions directly depends on your having completed any previous set of instructions. In many cases, the illustrations alone may give you the information you need to accomplish what you’re trying to do.

If You’re a Flash User

Many new Director users these days are people who already have some experience with Flash but are moving over to Director for some of the reasons listed earlier. If you’re in that category, you may be confused by a number of Director features that seem similar to those in Flash but in fact operate differently.

To help you make the transition from Flash to Director, this book contains a number of sidebars just for you. These shaded boxes with the heading “Flash Talk” will succinctly compare the functionality of corresponding features in Director and Flash—explaining, for example, the differences between the Score and the Timeline, or between the Cast Window and the Library.

Cross-Platform Issues and System Requirements

Director MX for Windows and Director MX for Macintosh differ very little. In the few cases that some techniques are performed slightly differently in Windows and on the Mac, a step has one method for Mac and one for Windows.

Even rarer are tasks that differ completely on the two types of computers. In those cases, the platform to which a particular set of instructions applies will appear in parentheses in the heading for the task. For example, only the Macintosh can record sounds into Director, so there is a task called “To record a sound in Director (Mac).”


The screen shots that illustrate the tasks in this book come from both Mac and Windows versions of Director MX. If a task is performed differently on the Mac and in Windows, there will usually be two screen shots, one for each platform. If a task is performed the same way on both platforms, the accompanying screen shot will be taken arbitrarily from one version or the other.

Modifier Keys

Modifier keys for keyboard shortcut commands differ on the Mac and in Windows. In Windows, the keys used are Shift, Ctrl, and Alt. These correspond to the Shift, Command, and Option keys on Mac. Instructions for each task will include the modifier keys for both platforms, as in “Hold the Alt key (Windows) or Option key (Mac) while dragging the Lasso.”


Mac OS X, the required operating system for the Macintosh version of Director MX, has a new menu structure that is slightly different from that of Windows (and, for that matter, from that of previous versions of the Mac OS). In cases where the location of a menu item is different on the two platforms, the instructions will include both menu paths—for example, “Choose Edit > Preferences > General (Windows) or Director > Preferences > General (Mac) to open the General Preferences dialog box.”

System Requirements

To run Director MX, your system must meet these requirements:

Windows requirements
  • Intel Pentium II processor or higher

  • Windows 98 SE, Windows 2000, or Windows XP

  • 128 MB or more of free system RAM

  • 1024 × 768, 16-bit (or better) color display

  • 100 MB of available disk space

  • CD-ROM drive


  • Microsoft DirectX 5.2 or OpenGL

  • 3D accelerator

Macintosh requirements
  • Power Macintosh with PowerPC processor

  • Mac OS 10.1.2 or later

  • 128 MB or more of free system RAM

  • 1024 × 768, 16-bit (or better) color display

  • 100 MB of available disk space

  • CD-ROM drive


  • G3 processor or better

  • Mac OS 10.2 or later

  • OpenGL 1.1.2

  • 3D accelerator

  • Creative Edge
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