Photo credit: Windell H. Oskay,
on creative engineering and new media art


January 29th, 2008

Director 8.5 (click for larger image)

Adobe Director, formerly known as Macromedia Director (and before that as Macromind Director…) is probably not really Adobe’s best-selling product at the moment. I’m mentioning it here because so many media artists have used it. And because these days I think it’s underrated (while a few years ago I would say it was highly overrated).

Director is a little like Flash, and these days it is perhaps hard to see the point in learning Director if you haven’t used it before. It relies on a metaphor of you being the “director” where you have a “cast” of little things (symbols, video clips, what have you) performing on a “stage”. You can drag them in and make animations on a time line, much like in Flash. In practice though, at least I would never use these animation facilities but do it all in code, and have the movie spinning on the same frame in the timeline, or jump between frames for different layouts or modes.

At one point, media artists used Director rather than Flash because Director could be extended (using “Xtras”, as the plugins are called) while Flash was limited to screen, mouse and keyboard – so if you wanted to make something that connected to a webcam or to a microcontroller, Flash wouldn’t work. These days you can do that with Flash. Also, Director was from the start (think back in the “interactive CD-ROM” days) capable of playing video etc.

The original scripting language used in Director was called Lingo, a sort of basic-like language that could be coerced, at gun point, to perform something similar to object-oriented programming using what is known as “parent scripts” in Lingo. Incidentally, Director has probably seriously skewed the image of what object-oriented programming (OOP) is about to many of its original users, since there is a similarity between OOP in general and the way you drag and drop visual objects (“cast members”) to the “stage” and they have properties (clown.x – or actually, I think it’s clown.loch in Lingo). The syntax of Lingo is unusually lax, and you can get away with both “the width of the stage” and “stage.width”. I have a feeling some people thought they were suddenly doing object-oriented programming when they switched to dot syntax.

The more recent versions of Directory allow you to write the code in JavaScript instead of Lingo, which makes it even more similar to Flash, except Director is not so obsessed with these movie clips within movie clips that you always end up using in Flash.

Anyway, Director is pretty powerful, it plays video and audio and has a fairly advanced 3D engine, that even allows some physics simulation. And you can put your stuff online (this is what is known as Shockwave, if you recall). These days I think Director is used mainly to do the menus on those CDs and DVDs with free demos that you get with your gaming magazines. A sad way to go for a piece of software that really was the shit at one point.

I was surprised to see that Adobe actually released a new version (Adobe Director 11) as late as February 2008. Perhaps it’s time for a comeback. If you’re looking to buy, it’s at