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IntroductionIn Zeallsoft Fun Morph, there are two kinds of morphs; morphs and warps. What’s the difference? When you start a project, the wizard asks you to choose between them, but doesn't explain the differences. Help isn't available when you’re in the wizard. I had to turn to Google to find out.
Morphing is short for metamorphosis, the changing of one thing into another. Accomplishing this with software means starting with one image and ending with another, smoothly over many frames. That describes a video clip, something near and dear to my heart. Morphing a person's face into an animal's face or the other way around are some common examples.
Warping is the twisting or distorting of something out of its normal shape, not something altogether different from morphing. Ripples or waves on water, earth movements in an earthquake, and the elongation of Pinocchio’s nose would be a few examples.
Fun Morph can do either. Pick the starting and ending image, add a dot to the starting image, and move the associated dot on the other side to tell Zealsoft Fun Morph where you want the dotted point of the image to be at the end of the morph. It’s as easy as that.
You create morphs using two images, and a warp using one. The process is the same for either case. You choose the starting and ending points by adding, moving, or removing dots. The more dots you use, the more sophisticated your morph or warp will be. Save your morphing project often as you go, as the application can be quirky or even crash at times. When ready, export the project to a video clip in one of six formats.
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Help & SupportRating What's Hot:
Online support is a five lesson how-to tutorial. It's good for the basics.
The Help section is a bit spartan on subjects such as the types of input files that are supported, and if and how you can set options for output files such as the HTML file and the size of the embedded Flash player.
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Price to ValueRating What's Hot:
My review was based on the $49.95 basic version of Zeallsoft Fun Morph. For $20, more there’s a Pro version with more features, and you can install it on more computers than is allowed for the basic version.
The extra $20 for the Pro version may or may not be a good value. I couldn’t find anything in the application or the online info that listed the extra features. That’s warm but not hot.
The starting price is high enough for basic morphing software that works great. As it fell short in performance on many counts, I have to suggest looking into other morphing software for a better value. The extra $20 might get you the better product, but chances are it would be throwing away good money.
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Installation & SetupRating What's Hot:
Zeallsoft Fun Morph should run well on most modern computers. These are the system requirements; Pentium 3 or 4, or AMD Athlon (400 Mhz or more); True Color video card (1024 by 768), 32-bit; 128 MB RAM; and Microsoft Windows 2000/XP or later.
I started the review with the downloaded seven-day trial version 2.0 of October 2005, a small 2.6 MB package. It installed quickly and easily on my Windows XP laptop into a new folder.
The Project wizard gets you up and running quickly.
The info in the Help/About window doesn’t include the version number. Even after installing the purchasing version, I couldn’t find it anyplace, not even in the properties of the executable file.
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User InterfaceRating What's Hot:
As the Zeallsoft website says, morphing is fun and easy, with or without the wizard. I didn’t test it with any warp projects that used more than a dozen dots (the starting and ending points from one image to the final image). It was easy enough to just start over when I found myself in a corner I couldn’t easily get out of.
I like how Fun Morph remembers the folder being used when opening an existing project or importing a picture.
Don't miss using the View option that shows triangles (see image). Dark dots on a dark background or white ones on a light background can be hard to work with. When you start using the triangles, they’ll feel as comfortable and helpful as the painted lane stripes on a major highway.
An often unsupported feature in Windows applications is the ability to save a working session to reopen later. Zeallsoft Fun Morph supports it well with their .mph project files.
I use two sets of criteria to review the user interface. The information on a publisher's website usually tells you a lot about what the software will do from a marketing perspective. It's my starting point.
I have used and developed software since the first personal computers came out, which means I have seen the full development of Windows in all its versions. Therefore, I have my own set of expectations about how an application should perform. For example, I expect one that uses still pictures to accept a picture that’s dragged and dropped into it from a file manager. Although I'm critical of Fun Morph on this count, you would be surprised how often the beta or final release of software from major software companies falls short in meeting my basic expectations.
Dragging and dropping files into the working window doesn’t work. Neither does copy/paste. You need to use the File -> Import Image one or two and drill down to the image.
The name of the open project isn’t shown, and the names of the two images used as the starting and ending points are also not shown. The project file isn’t text-based, so you can’t read the path and file names used by it, which is important if you’ve renamed or moved the files after starting a project.
When you open a project file and the two renamed or moved files aren’t there, an error message gives the path and file name to the first file it's looking for but not the second. Resolve the first and try opening the project again for the next error message. It’s best to make a new folder for each project and keep the project file and two picture files in it.
Control-P starts and pauses the morphing preview. It works fine, but many users of multimedia applications are used to using the space bar as the keyboard shortcut for start and pause.
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Product FeaturesRating What's Hot:
Zeallsoft Fun Morph has all the features needed or expected, and more. Image cropping and adjusting are tasks I expected to do in other applications before bringing them into a morphing project. Having the options in Fun Morph to apply at any time is a plus.
It’s great to see options to make morphed clips in sizes that align with standard video sizes, making it easy to include them in movie projects. Use a custom size to align with high-definition video, or define your personal size; these are great choices to have. Automatically maintaining the aspect ratio is nice touch as well (see images).
There’s a nice selection of six file types to export the morphed clips to (see image). These are extremely important as they need to align with the file types needed by your next step, whether it's making movie projects or getting your morphed clips to a website.
The AVI choice, being uncompressed, works well in video editing applications such as Windows Movie Maker, as does the animated GIF choice. The HTML file output with the embedded SWF file is pretty neat. Your morphed clip is in the web page, ready for you to add more info around it or to copy the code from the page into one of your other already existing website pages. This is a nice feature for easy, quick online use.
See the Performance section for my comments about features that don't work well.
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PerformanceRating What's Hot:
Focusing on making morph and warp clips for movie projects, I ran through the process of taking a frame of a video as the first image, morphing it to something else, and then swapping the images to make a second clip going back to the original frame. The clips played seamlessly and smoothly in a Windows Movie Maker project and rendered movie.
The drop-down menu when opening an image file shows that Fun Morph supports the file types BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, and TIF, an assortment that should cover everyone’s needs.
I did one test using a folder on an external drive on another computer on my home network for the project files. There were no networking issues.
It takes a while to export or render the morphed clips. I timed the saving of one 50-frame morph to each of the option formats, all at 640 by 480 pixels:
- AVI: 2 minutes, 22 seconds
- SWF: 1:40
- JPG set: 1:37
- Animated GIF: 0:55
- HTML web page with embedded SWF file: 1:45
Expect it to take longer for projects with more frames or higher resolution.
Sometimes you want to morph just part of an image, with the rest of it not changing. I wondered if I could select the small area of my emerging logo in the image below, and then "anchor" the rest of the image by adding fixed points just outside the small logo area. It worked well (see image). This alone will give me endless hours of making enjoyable morphing video clips. I like the tactile relationship between images and Fun Morph, like making clay figures but not getting your fingers and keyboard sticky.
I mentioned before that Zeallsoft Fun Morph doesn't support dragging/dropping and copying/pasting from my file manager. I received access violation warnings after trying these, with Fun Morph crashing afterwards.
There are features to crop and adjust the images. The ideas are good but they didn't always work well. Before adjusting this starting image, both images appeared normal. Adjusting the starting image by changing colors or making it a negative resulted in the image showing at about 1/4 the size it did before the adjustments (see images). There wasn’t an easy way for me to recover. When I added a dot to the starting image, it got distorted. When this happened, I started the project over and avoided the adjustments.
In addition to the routine apparent down-sizing of an adjusted image, at times there were visual glitches in the working windows and file outputs. Here's an example; the bottom part of the picture suddenly dropped out and distorted when I added a dot (see image). During a couple of sessions I received these error messages and had to forceably shut the application down from XP's Task Manager. (see images)
The output HTML page had a pretty small Flash file viewer of about 190 by 145 pixels, with no options to make it larger. The Flash file it was playing in the viewer was 640 by 480. I wondered why the viewer defaulted to such a small size.
You’re not finished with video clips until they’re being viewed by your audience, and comments start rolling in. The Flash file outputs should be good ones to upload directly to online services. They play well in my computer’s flash file viewer. My test was to upload a SWF file to YouTube. I got a note saying the process at their end failed due to the uploaded SWF file being an invalid file format.
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The Zeallsoft website should list the additional features of the professional version. Better yet, if the extras are worth touting, they should provide a downloadable trial copy.
Zeallsoft should onsider having Fun Morph open in windowed mode rather than full-screen, especially because you can't change it to the windowed mode until you finish going through the Project Wizard. Today's bigger computer screens shouldn't be totally covered by a utility. It's best to remember the user's preference for window size and use it as the default.
The name of the open project should show on the working window. When outputting to a set of still pictures, the first nine lack the leading zeros needed to put them in sequence without renaming. It would help if the application added leading zeros. This is more important if one were to output to a set of files that number much more than 100.
I found myself in the middle of one project before realizing that the final image would work better in the morph if it was mirrored horizontally, but the adjustment options don’t include flipping horizontally or vertically.
A final thought for us movie makers; the preview of the morph plays forward and backward, but the saved morph clip only goes forward. It would be handy to have an optional setting for the saved morph to play forward and then in reverse, a full cycle.
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The standard version of Fun Morph I reviewed didn't impress me enough to recommend purchasing it. Moreover, it doesn’t warrant enough confidence to consider paying extra for the pro version.
If you’re not yet into morphing, have already looked elsewhere, and can well afford the investment, you should get enough mileage out of Zeallsoft FunMorph. For my money, however, there are other morph products that offer more.