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Masks & Effects: PhotoCaster 3 Review

October 12, 2001
by Darrel Plant

Even if you're not involved with the production of artwork for multimedia, the very nature of the beast means that you still have to touch it from time to time. You can't really do multimedia work without knowing something about various graphics formats; how bitmap images are constructed, what an alpha channel is, etc.

If you work as part of a team that includes designers, or if your projects include artwork developed by someone other than yourself, you've probably got a copy of Adobe Photoshop. Despite the fact that Macromedia's trying to wean you off with the copy of Fireworks in every box of Director, Photoshop is still the tool of choice (with good reason) for a lot of people working with bitmap graphics. With its multitude of filters and effects, the ability to twiddle individual pixels and make complex masks, capabilities in color spaces like CMYK for print, and new tools that give it parity with many of the Web-centric features of Fireworks, Photoshop isn't going anywhere.

When it's your job to get those images from Photoshop to Director, though, you might just wish otherwise. It's not easy to get everything looking the way it's supposed to in Director anyway, and the more tools Adobe gives designers to make things look cool, the more work you've got to do to make it look like the original concept.

Enter the MediaLab

Denver-based MediaLab's PhotoCaster utility has been an indispensable tool for making quality multimedia since the mid-'90s, back around the time of Photoshop 3. The basic premise is that you can design (or receive) an interface composition made in Photoshop and import it straight into Director. Amazingly enough, for the most part, this is close to possible.

"So what?", you might say. Director can already import native Photoshop files with Quicktime translation (it even works in Director 4). The difference between simply importing the file and using a PhotoCaster is that with PhotoCaster you are able to selectively import individual layers of a Photoshop file. It even lets you combine layers into a single castmember. When it imports images as 32-bit graphics, PhotoCaster maintains the layer transparency and mask, without the kinds of problems you get from just importing Photoshop files.

Photoshop 6 image imported from a PSD file with PhotoCaster (left) and using Director's native Import (right). The image is a layer above a transparent background and combines layer transparency, a layer mask, and a Drop Shadow effect, and placed on a red background in Director. PhotoCaster's import correctly renders the shadow effect.

Darrel Plant is Technical Editor of Director Online. He is the Publisher at Moshofsky/Plant Creative Services in Portland, Oregon, and the author of or contributor to a number of books on Macromedia Director and Flash, including Special Edition Using Flash 5,, Flash 5 Bible, and Director 8.5 Studio..

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