How many of you have had this experience? You walk into a computer store and there is a computer monitor running a demo, automatically changing its image every few seconds to dazzle you with some new feature or tantalize you with a bargain price.
Now, with IBM's new Storyboard Live! software ($495), you can create your own demos or other self-running computer expositions that are just as professional looking as any you've seen.
There are a lot of business uses for such demos. They can be used as training tools to show people how to use a program for which no tutorial is available. They can be used as sales presentations. Or you can create one to explain company policies to new employees.
Presentations created with Storyboard Live! can be copied on disk and distributed to other computers. Or they can be shown to large audiences with a screen projection system. And they can be converted to slides and video.
Storyboard Live! runs on any hard-disk-equipped IBM or compatible computer with graphics display. But it is not software that requires any art or graphics training. Anyone can make a handsome presentation using the images supplied with the program. And when those run out, a nearly endless collection of clip-art images is available from software dealers.
The software is a series of interconnected modules that allow you to create colorful images on the computer screen, label them with text in various fonts, sizes, styles and colors and add a variety of animated objects. If you invest in extra hardware, you can also incorporate short video sequences, digitized voice and music in your presentations.
A presentation is referred to in the program as a "story," which consists of a series of "frames" that are displayed in a predetermined order. Each frame is controlled by a set of instructions that tells the computer what images to display and for how long, along with taking care of sundry other details.
The first requirement of any good story is a good plot, and that's the part that you'll have to supply. Once you decide what you have to say, start in the Picture Maker module, which is a color drawing program with special embellishments allowing you to resize, stretch and compress the images.
There are about 800 pre-drawn images with the program, including maps, business equipment, cars, planes, trucks, symbols, people and the like, which can be placed on the screen and colored as you wish. Picture Maker can also draw four kinds of graphs -- horizontal and vertical bar, line and pie -- with up to 36 data points each.
This module is also used to digitize video images if you have the hardware extras that lets your computer receive video from cameras, VCRs, TVs or laser disk players. Storyboard Live! doesn't turn your computer into a TV monitor, but it can digitize a full-motion video image at 30 frames a second for replay in your presentation. Slower speeds are available and save a lot of disk storage space if you can tolerate the jerky motion.
Text can be added anywhere, with a choice of five sizes, 14 fonts and seven styles. You can even create your own fonts.
Once the pictures for each of your frames are done, you can go to the Electronic Presentations module. There you will see a graphic depiction that looks like a slide sorter for 35mm slides. This is where you assign the pictures to the frames and see the miniature images line up across the sorter as you do.
A frame probably will consist of several elements. First may come a template with the company logo. Then comes the picture you have created.
Next you can add some animation using "sprites," whose movements can be controlled in a variety of ways. There are 35 that come with the program, such as a globe that springs onto the screen, spins a few times and then fades away. Each of the sprites has a variety of animation modes. You can also create your own sprites using any drawn or digitized image. It is easy to animate some text, such as making the words "Record Sales" explode onto the screen in large yellow type.
Audio -- digitized voice, music or sounds -- can be added if you have the extra hardware required. Voice can be played back in your presentation through the computer speaker, but music requires an audio card.
Finally, you use the story editor to control how one frame is replaced by the next, with a variety of special dissolve effects available.
There is one other feature worth mentioning. It is called Picture Taker and lets you capture images from other programs on your PC, including Windows programs. That's handy for creating tutorials for other programs, or using spreadsheet graphs or other images in your presentation.
Richard O'Reilly is a Los Angeles Times staff writer. Readers' comments are welcomed, but the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.