首页    期刊浏览 2022年08月18日 星期四


  • 标题:EnterFrame: Cage, Deleuze and Macromedia Director - multimedia authoring software - Evaluation
  • 作者:David Goldberg
  • 期刊名称:Afterimage
  • 印刷版ISSN:0300-7472
  • 出版年度:2002
  • 卷号:July-August 2002
  • 出版社:Visual Studies Workshop

EnterFrame: Cage, Deleuze and Macromedia Director - multimedia authoring software - Evaluation

David Goldberg

on prepareMovie

To think about Macromedia Director is to think about a complex and powerful piece of software in the category of "multimedia" authoring. To think critically or theoretically about Director is to think about a philosophical framework and not just a production tool. By surveying the key features of its interface and capabilities with a little help from John Cage and Gilles Deleuze, this article contemplates how Macromedia Director--a digital media authoring veteran at 17 years old--remains an incredibly rich, open "site" for investigating the benefits, problems and complexities of the "new media experience."

Originally designed in the mid-1980s to facilitate video game authoring (as Videoworks I & II), Director is currently at version 8.5, and includes 3D modelling, pixel-level control of graphics, an object-oriented scripting environment, and streaming media protocols in its feature set. It came of age in the early 1990s when the CD-ROM represented the synergistic effects of microprocessor improvements applied to the management of graphics and sound. This storage medium's message was one of Director announcing that access to a computer's audio, visual and interface resources was no longer the exclusive right of professional programmers. Reflecting this ongoing process of democratization, Director enjoys strong support from a developer community that extends the program's capabilities through "Xtras." With extended features such as database management, DVD playback and control of the computer's operating system, Director is approaching the status of a full-fledged application development environment. These third- party enhancements supplement Director's primary tenets: emphasis on artistic as well as commercial applications; continued commitment to its cinema-based production and organizational metaphors; supporting Internet-related media formats; and steady evolution of its scripting language.

Beyond animation, slideshows and point-and-click interfaces, Director can be used to create custom Internet browsers, streaming media clients, music sequencers, peer-to-peer applications, and video games that are at least as sophisticated as those from the "classic" 16-bit era. Though some of these possibilities require supplementary technologies and a certain degree of programming effort, Director is for the most part "template free." Its founding (possibly vestigial) metaphor remains "movie-making." Speaking of casts, scores and stages implies the crafting of narrative, which is more than a functional arrangement of different media types, or the delivery of content through the most popular channels. It is not just a long history with the program (since It was Videoworks) in educational, artistic and commercial contexts, or a chance to apply postmodern philosophy, that makes me conceive of Director as more than a media processor. To re-think and remember Director now that the Web is the new CD-ROM is to appr ehend a tool that has quietly integrated itself into the fabrics of networked media and data processing that surround us. Though the "new media experience" is heavily scripted and monitored, Director offers the opportunity to create alternative and critical responses to this experience on its own terms--but not without serious theoretical considerations that must replace the lingering hype of the "desktop multimedia revolution."

> Movie.Score.Frame

Authoring tools are implemented based on one of four organizational approaches that reflect how the author or user is expected to conceive or experience the resulting package of media. They are the slide show, the stack of cards, the circuit-design model and the timeline model. All four approaches bear traces of real-world practices that have imparted some of their aura. The authored slide show (Powerpoint) is widely used (and abused) in corporate America, bureaucratic organizations and scientific communities. The card stack (Hypercard, Supercard) is probably the most venerable approach, having turned its metaphorical connections to epistemology, experimental publishing and the encyclopedia into a concrete function: the hyperlink. The circuit-based model (Authorware, mTropolis) emerged as an alternative to the established timeline model, and came from a decidedly more technical background in computer-assisted design tools. In circuit-based authoring one "wires together" various iconic media assets, events or actions, resulting in a flowchart that represents the overall logic of the project. A timeline-based tool (Director, Flash) employs the more intuitive "tracks over time" approach; Director gathers all of its interface conventions and production approaches under the umbrella metaphor of making movies.

Director recasts the information-processing computer as a movie-making machine, or a signification engine bolstered by interactivity that can be mechanically scripted with finite options or driven by the fluid dynamics of video game methodologies. But when one introduces the program to the cinematic philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and the compositional approaches of John Cage it can become something else entirely. When interactive media is introduced to Deleuze's radical theories of cinema-thought and Cageian silence--which can be understood as the dynamics of a system that is left to "be itself"--a sort of "idle" artificial awareness becomes possible. But before exploring this Cage-Deleuze hybridity, we must first get a handle on what authoring software actually does.

In general, authoring software introduces a layer of abstraction to computing, one that allows binary data to be choreographed at its highest conceptual level: that of "information" (image, sound, decision), instead of a programmer's stream or collection of bits. The resulting logical entity--call it, in generic terms, a presentation--is a vehicle for alternative computing experiences in much the same way that a costume functions in relation to the human body. When authors costume (and customize) the computer's GUI, they communicate information in terms of its, content, not in terms of the program that encoded it; an image experienced as part of a running Director movie is not the same when it is surrounded by the functional ornamentation of a program like Adobe Photoshop, or Director's own interface, or when it becomes a computer's desktop graphic. Authored content reads differently.

We frequently refer to this information-in-costume as "multimedia," a term that does not adequately describe an assemblage of concepts and techniques inspired by and borrowed from cinema, video games and interactive computing. The authoring tool's genealogical diversity is readily visible in Director, whose ancestry goes back to Apple's Hypercard, and includes rival cousins Flash and Authorware, living peers like SuperCard and Powerpoint, and a host of ghosts such as mTropolis, Apple Media Tool and Oracle Media Objects. The information organized by any of these authoring tools can be presented sequentially, randomly or simultaneously, all on one screen. In Macromedia Director, this choreography is recorded in the score, while its visible results appear on the stage.

In his 1937 essay "The Future of Music," avant-garde composer john Cage wrote that "the 'frame' or fraction of a second, following established film technique, will probably be the basic unit in the measurement of time" as far as the composer of sound was concerned. Cage was already prepared to think in terms of music as cinematic apparatus composed via a system driven by external events and not prescriptions. Cage was prepared to accommodate accident within structure, and was not afraid of electronic instruments. If we switch the phrase "composer of sound" for "author of media" we find ourselves in some version of Cage's predicted frame-driven future. From megahertz to refresh rates, the computing environment is a choreography of events possessing the complexity and precision of a Balinese gamelan, operating at speeds that border on the unimaginable. Digital representations require the definition of discrete steps, and cannot avoid being reduced to absolute minutiae, like sprockets along the edge of film. The majority of time-based authoring tools use the metaphor of the frame, and are able to operate at increasingly flexible tempos that can take us from time-lapse to bullet-time. Director works with various time scales, including the visible frames in its score, logical "ticks" of its internal run-time clock, milliseconds of sound, network timeouts and frame-rates of digital video; Director can even demand more "frames" or cycles from the computer's processor.

As prescient as Cage was, he could not foresee that the flexibility and multiplicity of the digitized frame would cause it to lose some of the geometric and mechanical rigor of its cinematic analogue. In his day, a frame was not something that one could name, or intentionally jump to or away from; nor could it contain an entire sequence of events in itself, or make decisions based on an awareness of its own contents. Logically, a frame consists of multiple channels: two for sound, one hundred and fifty for separate graphical elements, one for the frame-rate, one for programming logic and another for a color palette. In Director, every frame is an index of properties that describes the state of all the channels that are associated with it. The duration of an element's "existence" or a property's effect is determined by how many frames of the score it occupies.

The score is a visual representation of the changes that occur from one frame to the next, whether they were interpolated by Director or made manually. Any visible results of these changes appear on Director's stage. Naturally, the illusion of motion is created when a graphical element gradually changes its position from frame to frame, while more drastic changes can emulate cinematic edits. This can be combined with other types of media such as digital video, whose frame-rates can be interactively adjusted independent of the movie that is presenting them. This kind of flexibility is impossible in film, and it both complicates and extends Cage's notion of a frame-based system. This can be illustrated in Director by setting up a movie that loops on exactly one frame, with several digital videos occupying different channels. Regardless of the movie's overall frame-rate, each digital video obeys its own internal frame-rate. Depending on their content, this arrangement could create a visual composition whose audi o equivalent might be produced by a set of (say, 12) radios being tuned at random.

> Stage.Sprite.Cliche

Setting aside Cage's pre-digital clairvoyance for a moment, we turn to philosopher Glues Deleuze's description of the cinematic frame as an information system, a "set which has a great number of parts, that is of elements, which themselves form subsets." (2) He treated film as a storage medium upon which the data in front of the camera is recorded in discrete moments. For Deleuze, the actors, locations, sets, lighting, sound, angles, durations and special effects all constitute the information in the frame. This makes it legible, and something that bears potential meaning for the viewer. In Director, the stage is analogous to the outermost or whole cinematic frame. It is where things happen. In the simplest example, a lone digital video or an animated sequence playing on Director's stage could be a subject of Deleuze's Informational cinematic analysis. The multiple-video example discussed above would be a more complex instance, and reflects Deleuze's further characterizations of the frame. Its contents can be rarefied or saturated; that is, changes in the density of a frame's elements inform as much as the elements themselves. The information in a cinematic frame can also be geometrically divided by croppings, transitions, architectural elements like windows, doors, and walls, and even by light and shadow. It can be dynamically determined as well, by varying intensities and gradations of light, motion, transformation and arrangement--in short, morphing. Deleuze completes his characterization of the informational capacities of the frame by emphasizing the out-of-field, a strange space of implication beyond the frame that can influence how its elements are perceived.

Director's digital frame is obviously freed from the materiality of film, as it is nothing more than the statistical manipulation of pixels on the screen (perhaps accompanied by sound). The word statistical is important here, because all of the criticism that can be directed towards the scripted, subtly biased nature of digital media starts at this algorithmic level of pre-visualization. This might seem like a pointless reduction until one considers that digital information is arguably more malleable than reflected or refracted light. Binary codes can become pixels organized into visual cliches, such as "3D" buttons illuminated by an out-of-field virtual sun, or network packets that become the dropped frames of remote political speeches, or pornography at a mere 72 pixels per inch. When digital images, sounds or interactive expectations are presented in the proper narrative context, and with a certain level of resolution and fidelity, a virtual realism is achieved, one that can sometimes seem more credible th an an unmediated experience. It has something to do, perhaps, with the cruel intensity with which digital images are generated.

The stage is the site where all of Director's images, its visual cast members--generally referred to as sprites--come together to form the total frame. Sprites are files of binary data that are intended to be decoded as "objects." They are either stored in a Director cast database, or linked to local or remote files as one might create an alias or shortcut. Conceptually, a sprite only "exists" when it is placed on stage. It is drawn in an "invisible" window that seamlessly integrates it into the stage's digital frame, giving the author the impression that the graphic is unmediated by the computer's GUI. Director responds to mouse events by intervening with its own visual cues that mark the sprite's boundaries, its center and additional properties if desired. In the score window, each sprite occupies one channel in a frame, with higher-numbered channels being closer to the "foreground." Director allows the author to set white pixels as transparent, so as to emulate depth of field and satisfy a basic requiremen t for virtual realism. Sprites can be scaled, rotated, skewed, distorted and have their opacity altered through programming logic or by directly setting values in the score. These transformations are all algorithmic representations of visual cues, camera positioning and cinematic techniques that Deleuze would consider to be information-bearing elements in themselves; they can be applied to almost any type of graphical media that Director supports.

DAVID GOLDBERG is a freelance writer, technologist and teacher living in San Francisco. He is a recent graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts master's program in visual criticism. He awaits a release of Director for Mac OS X.

Sprites come In many types: vector and raster graphics that can be Imported or created within Director itself; two types of text: one for interactive editing, the other for more graphic design-oriented layout; digital video formats: Apple QuickTime, Microsoft AVI and Apple's panoramic QuickTimeVR; Macromedia's Shockwave 3D, which provides a window on a fully three-dimensional, navigable and interactive digital world; entire Flash movies that retain all of their interactivity and can communicate with Director; and RealMedia's G2 streaming media format. Every sprite type is a different kind of actor on Director's stage. Each one of them arrives with their own histories, peculiarities, advantages and problematics, that can sub-divide the stage into segregated 'reservations.' Thus, Director can support a diverse media ecosystem that the program's engineers have turned into a hybrid medium of emulation, encapsulation and control, without sacrificing the program's fundamental openness and flexibility.

Call the totally-managed digital frame "Lucasian," after George. If driven by an error-correcting decoding system, no pixel is on the screen by accident, and the image appears exactly as it was Intended. With Director, the power to exploit and abuse the reality effect of the digital frame can be exercised at an incredibly intimate and detailed level, An author can combine just about any cinematic trick, trope or cliche with the advantages of the Lucasian frame and interactivity. Here, Director's capabilities and its dominant and latent metaphors demonstrate how Deleuze's model for cinematic analysis survives the leap from film to digital media and remains useful. Director's stage, as conceptually open as unexposed film, becomes the site for creating what Deleuze calls "movement-images:" cinematic representations of cause and effect, predictable sequences of images, and their rational connection; and "time-images:" cinematic images that do not describe or represent time through motion, but present time in the space between two disconnected audio/visual images. (3)

Interactive media is comprised almost exclusively of movement-images, as the fundamental purpose of the GUI is to generate and sustain them. Movement-images can be found everywhere in the computing experience, from the button labeled "click here to buy," to the various instances of progress bars filling up, to the mastery of a video game's every trick and nuance. However, the computing experience does have its time-images. Though a system or scripting error message would qualify as a movement-image, the interactive time-image arises from system failures. Malfunctioning windows, empty dialog boxes, spastic cursors and sudden video memory purges are all time-images that disrupt our previously rational linkages between one interface event and the next. Because authoring tools are subsets of the GUI, they are capable of presenting both movement-and time-Images; for the same reason, the latter type of image is much more evasive than the former. Though the interactive time-image is about time, it is not necessarily about waiting for something to happen, but more about the suspense created while negotiating the unexpected. What new media needs are algorithms for generating suspense, so as to open up room for thought not at the point of the interactive event's triggering or resolution.

In Director, authoring a pause to allow the user to make a decision does not generate suspense, neither does the use of empty gestures such as dissolve, wipe or push transitions. But to demonstrate how deeply-embedded the movement-Image is In Director's logic there is perhaps no better example than the programs "in-betweening" function. When "tweening" an author sets the starting and ending values of a graphic's property such as position, rotation, scaling or transparency, and has Director automatically generate the intermediate stages. Deleuze claimed that when humans perceive cinema they do so through "sensory-motor schemata," which literally fill in our visual, sonic, intellectual and emotional expectations. They are cliches tightly linked to movement-images and rooted in pre-World War II cinema. These tweened narratives and sequences gave way to chaos, juxtaposition and immobility in a frame that generated thought over time instead of representing time through ordered, predictable motion. This is Deleuze' s time-image, born of the post-war physical and psychological disruption of cities literally disappearing in flashes of light and genocide expressed through industrial rationality. In rough terms, the interactive time-image may be associated with confusion, but that is only because whatever is unfolding before the user does not fit their expectations. Perhaps the feeling of learning (not the structuring of knowledge) is more appropriate, assuming that such a feeling can be experienced each time the user encounters the presentation.

This is a description of a different register of Interactive media, one where Director's behavior is no longer explicity determined by the choreography inscribed in the score by the author, but by some collaboration between the user and a fluctuating network of programming logic. The question is, can we shift the focus of interactive media away from processing content and get a Director movie to act instead of simply obey? It wouldn't have to act human, or even act Intelligent, it would simply have to suspend the user's expectations of the experience in some non-trivial way. To pursue an answer to this question with the only off-the-shelf sofware that is up to the task would challenge the definitions and critical scope of new mediar. Director has two features that can make this exploration possible the Lingo scripting language, and its ability to pass messages from script to script, creating an internal communications network.

> Lingo.Messages.Chances

Everything in Director has a property associated with it. The stage has its height, width and color depth. Sprites have the channel they reside in and which cast member they reference. Frame properties include the identity of a sprite, a frame-rate or an event that changes the location of the playback head. While authoring one can set properties through a wide variety of fields, double-clicks, keyboard shortcuts and menus of the pull-down and context-sensitive variety. During playback, the use of Lingo is required to modify movie properties, which opens Director objects to a potentially sophisticated awareness of their own states. Without using outside tests, a graphic can know where it is, a text field can know what it says, and a digital video can know when it has reached a certain point and then respond. The Lucasian frame can further perfect itself. Scripting in Director comes down to conceiving of truth and falsehood at varying scales and at different points in time, from simple if-then decisions to comp lex conditional and iterative structures. Once the flow of the logic is designed, the possibilities for what actually occurs when different states of truth and falsehood are realized is limited only by the set of Director properties that Lingo can actually access.

Custom and pre-written Lingo dramatically extends the horizons of Director's ability to handle interactivity, assuming that the system can be described in terms of programming methodologies. Lingo can detect sprite collisions and change their size or position. It can alter the pitch and balance of a sound and shuttle through a QuickTime movie. Imaging Lingo is dedicated to the pixel-level generation and editing of graphics. There is word-processing Lingo that can search text and change fonts, and Lingo for designing object-oriented data structures that can describe complex states. There is Lingo for spawning new windows with other Director movies in them that can communicate with each other, and Lingo for connecting Director movies via the Internet. The list of capabilities literally goes on, but the ones outlined here should sketch a field of potential applications that might begin to prototype Director's acting lessons.

Now Deleuze's cinematic frame meets Cage's composition, further enriching our theoretical framework for Director's media and behaviors. We are particularly concerned with Cage's notions of a composition's material, which refers to the presence or absence of sound, or, the manipulation of silence. Cageian silence is highly political and provocative. It can be a retreat that allows for chance operations to enter into the creation or experience of a composition, and it can also be an attack that turns all noise into music. The interactive equivalent of Cageian silence is how a scripted event responds, not so much in terms of how long it takes but in terms of the expected results. Lingo's math dialect contains a random number generator that can be used to diversify a script's behavior, introducing the possibility of it not responding...of remaining quiet. In Director, silence could be generated by the statistical distribution of clicks and drags, the shifting states of Lingo data structures, or the amount of traf fic being passed between self-ware objects. A network of Lingo scripts driven by chance operations could determine the behavior of digital video, sound and graphics, and could conceivably generate time-images. There are ways to prevent such an Information system from degenerating into psychedelia--that is an author's job and challenge.

> xtras

This is very much a philosophical framework where the actual content is Irrelevant. Such a stance is based entirely on Macromedia Director's focus on providing options for the presentation of media, and not the media itself. On one level these options are Inherited from film, but on another they are inherited from computer science, which makes them concerned ultimately with the generation of autonomous thought. Both Deleuze and Cage share concerns with composition/information systems that provoke active thoughts as they are experienced. Cage morphed film and the I Ching into sound. Deleuze morphed cinema into philosophy. It is hoped that using theories inspired by or directly addressing 'old media' can help us to see the new in terms other than those of computing and appropriation. New media is compelling because it is popular, and in my opinion Director is still the most powerful off-the-shelf tool for creating it. It is time to use Director's broad reach to morph "interactive multimedia" into something trul y new, a medium of diverse media that no longer merely guides or suspends thought but pushes it beyond its own experience.


(1.) John Cage, "The Future of Music: Credo" in Silence (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1973), p. 5.

(2.) Gilles Deleuze, "Cinema and Space: The Frame" in The Deleuze Reader, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 173.

(3.) Discussion of movement-and time-images is spread across Deleuze's two volumes on cinema: Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, and they are discussed thoroughly in Gregory Flaxman, ed., The Brain Is The Screen (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), especially in the introduction.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Visual Studies Workshop
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group