- Creating Multimedia Content

Creating Multimedia Content

Also available in NORWEGIAN

by: Stefan Mischook

In the last several months I've been involved in created multimedia-based software used to train medical doctors. When I was approached to do the project, I investigated the many possible methods available including Macromedia Director, Macromedia Flash, and HTA's, among other options.

In this article I look at some of the options available to create multimedia presentations with an emphasize of introducing you to the basics of multimedia.

What is multimedia?

Multimedia is a generalized term used to describe the intermixing of different media types to create a presentation; so what we are talking about is mixing text, sound, animation, and video.

Some examples of multimedia

Probably the most obvious are websites with video or animation included. The most common seen are probably Flash based websites that nearly always contain some sort of animation and, more and more often, sound and video.

Other types of multimedia can be found in PowerPoint presentations, Director CD-ROM projects, or web pages with QuickTime or Real Video movies embedded.

How do you create multimedia presentations?

To create these presentations you need the software (often called the 'authoring tool') that allows you to build the presentation. So if you wanted to create a Flash based 'movie' you need to get a program that creates them; programs like Macromedia Flash and Swish. If you wanted to create a PowerPoint presentation you need the PowerPoint program. And of course, since Killersites is all about websites, to create multimedia based web sites; you can do it with good old HTML and a few files that you can embed into the HTML page turning it into a multimedia experience.

Turning your web page into a multimedia presentation

Probably the easiest way to create multimedia rich web pages these days is using Flash. Flash files are linked to your HTML page and though they look to be an integrated part of the web page, Flash movies are actually running in their own little 'sandbox' very much separate from the web page. Because of that, all the work in creating the Flash movies is done in the various Flash authoring tools as mentioned above. There is actually very little in the HTML page itself except for a few lines of code that tells the browser where to get the Flash movie.

The poor man's way of transforming your web page into a multimedia extravaganza is by using file types that your browser knows what to do with automatically and doesn't require special multimedia plug-ins like the Flash player. For example:

•  Use links to MP3 files to add sound to your page or links to QuickTime and Windows Media files for movies.

I was recently asked for the easiest way to deliver a bunch of sound clips via a web page. Since the web designer did not know how to use Flash, I suggested that they just create MP3's of the audio clips (it was actually a speech) and then provide links to the MP3's and let the user download them. These days, everyone's computer can play MP3's so using that format for sound is a safe bet.

•  Use DHTML

DHTML is a combination of HTML, JavaScript and, many times, CSS. You can use DHTML scripting to, for example, have an image fly around the web page ... among many other effects. Today just about all the browsers being used support DHTML in a consistent manner; in the old days you had to code for two different standards if you wanted something to work.

The problem with DHTML based animations is that it is hard to create and you need to be a programmer (for the most part). If you want animation or special effects of some sort, you are typically better off using Flash. The plus side to DHMTL is that you don't need to have the Flash plug-in installed in the users browser and you don't need another program to create your animated effects. You can just create your effects with JavaScript in a simple text editor like Notepad.

A side note: To make DHTML easier, Macromedia Dreamweaver packaged up several DHTML scripts that you can simply point and click to create. They are fairly basic but still could be useable in some situations.

Use the right technology for the job

Now that we covered some of the basics, let's sum up things with the right tools for some common applications:

•  Simple office presentation / slide shows: Microsoft PowerPoint

There is no question that PowerPoint is the easiest way to go when it comes to creating slide shows with simple transitions and some video and audio elements. PowerPoint is widely used and readily accepted by most audiences. You probably won't win any multimedia design awards, but you will be able to put together an effective presentation very quickly.

•  Web delivered multimedia presentations: Flash or Director

If you are doing straight 2d animations and sound and video all having to interact with each other, Flash is probably your best bet. If you need interactive 3D environments or objects, then you may want to take a look at Macromedia's Director. Since version 8, Director has a built in 3D engine that seems to be pretty powerful, even for web delivery.

•  Simple sound or video only presentations: Link to specific media elements

If all you need is to allow users to listen to or see some audio or video clips, and there is no interaction between the video and the audio with the rest of the page/presentation, then simply create links to these files where users can choose to download what they.

This last option is probably the easiest for most since you don't have to learn another piece of software or how to program; simple HMTL is all you need to put this together.

If you liked the article and you want to see more let me know!

Stefan Mischook

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