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Tools of the Trade: Technology Co-Pilots Online Animation

In many respects, Macromedia's Flash has become the de facto standard for creating Web animation. And with good reason. Flash movies download quickly and are relatively easy to create. Flash is also very popular among Internet users; the Flash browser plug-in was downloaded over 70 million times in September 2000 alone, and the total number of Flash users has topped 220 million, says Macromedia.

Brilliant Digital Entertainment ( www.brilliantdigital.com) and Pulse (www.pulse3d.com), both make authoring tools similar to Flash, but they tend to focus on more advanced 3D animations. Brilliant Digital also offers interactivity, allowing developers to make "choose-your-own-adventure" movies. "We target the higher-end production," says a Brilliant Digital spokesperson, "but we allow more interactivity and have a higher polygon count [than the competition]."

From its animation studios in Australia, Brilliant Digital is also a producer of online content. It creates cartoon series that feature popular characters like Superman, Xena, KISS, Popeye and Ace Ventura. Many of these "multipath" movies are distributed via syndication to sites like Yahoo!, Entertaindom and Excite@Home.

Macromedia has also taken the leap into online entertainment. In 1999, Macromedia created a separate company, Shockwave.com, to showcase the company's technology. Shockwave is privately funded, having raised $44 million from Sequoia Capital and other individual investors. It has also made headlines by signing big-name talent like filmmaker Tim Burton, comic book legend Stan Lee, and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to create animated series.

But Shockwave didn't escape the dismal summer for online entertainment. In September, Shockwave laid off about 20 employees, proving that even a popular entertainment site isn't immune to the content shakedown.

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