Washington Apple Pi

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Learning New Software --
Goes to the Movies!

by C. Etana Finkler

Washington Apple Pi Journal, pp. 64-67, March/April 1999, reprint information

...highlighting the MacAcademy training videos of the programs Macromedia Director 6 and MetaCreations Painter 4, and how videos can help prepare one for better using books about applications.

This is another of a series of articles with a focus of exploring various ways of learning a new software program.

Well, after a stressful fall in a new job and an overly busy schedule, I decided that over the holiday month I would accomplish two finite, relatively passive goals: to watch the two full sets of MacAcademy videos that I own: Macromedia Director 6 and MetaCreations Painter 4. I did complete these goals, and in this article, I would like to share my very positive reactions to watching training videos as a method of learning software, and to recommend it to you. (I am unfamiliar/unaware of the training videos made by other companies, but I believe there are other companies that do make videos).

The MacAcademy videos are not inexpensive for the individual, at $59 per volume or $50 each if you buy the set for the application (and a set can be 3-7 volumes). For a corporation, however, they are extremely inexpensive, and a well-advised investment, since they can be viewed and re-viewed by every computer user of that particular program. They cover an extensive set of applications, including accounting, desktop publishing, digital cameras, integrating programs, Mac to Windows, multimedia, networking, troubleshooting, and web page design -- practically any software application you could think of, they have. They have Access, 4th Dimension, Infini-D, Premiere, etc. I have viewed QuarkXPress, Adobe Illustrator, Director 4, 5, and 6, and Painter 4, and I have to say that they can be very boring to watch! However, you can rewind, and that feature makes all the difference.

My first encounter with them was with QuarkXPress, which I just wasn't comprehending either on my own or with a training book. Then I watched the trainer on the video show how to make text boxes and art boxes in Quark, and I had the program down! Showing sometimes can be much more effective than reading in a book, and this is where video training excels.

I really was won over to the MacAcademy series of videos with the most recent set I bought -- the Painter 4 series. I bought them used at this past December's Washington Apple Pi Computer Sale and Show and couldn't wait to view them. I have had Painter on my system since Painter II on my IIsi, when I could not only drink a cup of coffee while waiting for the pencil to turn to an eraser, but could also grind and brew the coffee; it was that slow. Now I have a 7100av/80 and two monitors, and I had perused the Painter 4 Wow! book and the Painter for Macintosh Visual Quickstart Guide, but I still found Painter to be conceptually confusing to learn: often I would try to paint and nothing would come out of the brush; the tools are not totally intuitive.

And that is where the videos were so helpful. Jeremy Sutton, the trainer, is the same artist who has created the beautiful video demo that comes on the Painter CD-ROM, of drawings of a piano keyboard transforming into a pianist's face and then figure, with audio accompanying the video drawings/paintings. I can't really decide whether I liked his training best, or whether Painter was the most fun to be trained in, but I just loved these 4 videos, and wished there were more of his good ideas to try out.

I did watch the videos all the way through first off, and it really gave me a better understanding of what the big picture was with Painter, especially in the case of the floaters, paths and masks. (When I try to do what the trainer does on the video, step by step, and it is the first time I am viewing the video, I get so bogged down in the slowness of it, with my minimal understanding of the program, that sometimes I put the videos aside and don't finish watching the set.) After I watched the video all the way through, I went back to review a few specific topics: customized brushes whereby Jeremy shows how to create one brush with a thick / thin / opaque / transparent range to it; and to review how to make my own image hose that I could spray over my painting (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

I then went on to my books with renewed vigor, and created the two other paintings included with this article -- Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 -- still-life of flowers, and rollerblader. I was able to use floaters, masks, and shapes, as well as different paint brushes and paint techniques, and then bring the riff (raw Painter layers file) into Photoshop for finalization and flattening and saving as a tiff, then into Quark to print. I finally understand the process and am able to make happen what I want to happen.

Figure 2

The MacAcademy videos are very well organized: on the back of the box are subjects listed, with their time code of when they appear in the video, and on the actual video there is always a clock, so you can find what you want pretty efficiently.

Figure 3

I bought the 5-video set of Director 4 videos (at $49 per video) a couple of years ago before I owned the program; I watched one and a half videos, falling asleep along the way, and put them aside for a year; they are that tedious. Then at a Washington Apple Pi Computer Sale and Show, I bought an old version of Director for $20, and for $500 I upgraded it to Director 6 Studio, including Sound Edit. I sent another $100 to MacAcademy for the 5-video upgrade to the Director 6 videos, which are taught by a different artist, Chris Leach. And I have to say I often fell asleep last month watching this Director 6 series.

Director is a program I still hardly know; it is a programming application, combining sound, video, text, artwork, simple animation, and interactivity into either a running video or an interactive game, training application... I believe it is the program that makes the tutorial and product demo applications you get when you buy software CDs. Director is the maestro that puts it all together. So the MacAcademy training video set has to be somewhat dry, I guess, since it is teaching programming, not painting or drawing.

I can't exactly say whether I liked the way these Director videos are organized/presented, or not. I think it would have been better if the projects they chose as their base for teaching the program were projects I could better identify a use for. They showed a very specific project: a game which was interactive, and I think I could write my own storyboard and use some of those methods, but mostly it seemed that I would not be doing that, so how is it relevant to what I might do; and what exactly can I do in Director? How could they show me the different possibilities that Director can do, and how can I approach learning them? These videos got so bogged down in the lingo that is Director, that I didn't understand how I could apply that to anything I could do. I definitely will re-view the videos, and step-by-step I will do the two projects covered on the 5-video set along with the trainer. I am confident that doing his project along with him will teach me so much, and I might even have a couple of "ah-ha's" along the way that will put me over the edge of comprehending how to make Director projects of my own, instead of just being too overwhelmed by the program.

One interesting thing to note, is that when I watched their previous set of either Director 4 or Director 5, the instructor showed things that weren't even covered in this current version's video: how to take a set of frames over time and combine them all into one little movie condensed down into one frame, sort of stuffed/compressed.

I think the best way to learn Director would be to be the apprentice to an artist who is using it!

However, now, after viewing the training videos through to the end, I am returning to the books with an entirely different sense of understanding, and finally I am able to use the books as they were intended; I am finding them easy to understand, and full of rich possibilities of going deeper into learning the applications. I can finally recommend these two books mentioned above, as well as the fat and thorough Director6 Demystified* book that I look forward to returning to, now that I have seen the videos. (I sailed through the first 200 pages of the 1000 pages of Director6 Demystified last year, loving and understanding their presentation of the chapters: A Guided Tour: the Stage, the Cast, the Score, Animation, Making it Multimedia, Introducing Interactivity, Deeper into Graphics... and then I got completely stopped at "Book 2: The World of Lingo." I couldn't figure out how to learn to make projects; I could hardly identify whether the second section of the book was a tutorial or a lecture; it seemed obtuse. But now, I just went back to skim the pages, and after viewing the video, I must say that the book looks less daunting.

So I do highly recommend viewing training videos of software programs or other computer topics. Videos can very effectively help prepare one for better using the many terrific books that are written with the purpose of teaching the use of applications, but may be too advanced for the beginning learner to tackle.


MacAcademy/Windows Academy
100 East Granada Blvd
Ormond Beach FL 32176-1712


Director6 Demystified
by Jason Roberts
Peachpit Press
1249 Eight Street
Berkeley CA 94710

Painter 4 Wow!
by Cher Pendarvis-Pendarvis
PeachPit Press
2414 6th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

Painter 4 for Macintosh: Visual Quickstart Guide
by Elaine Weinmann and Peter Lourekas
PeachPit Press
2414 6th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710


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Revised May 2, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/