The team blog of the Expression Blend and Design
The availability of the first Release Candidate of Blend is an exciting milestone that takes us another step closer to shipping. With an updated User Guide, a host of quality improvements, and a shiny all-new set of impressive and informative samples, the RC is available now on the Expression Web Site .
We're pleased to present the second Beta version of Expression Blend. Here are some of the changes since the Beta 1:
Download Microsoft Expression Blend beta
An updated version of the Expression Design December CTP is now available that no longer expires at the beginning of 2007. This should let you start testing again with hopefully a minimal interruption. The team appreciates all the great feedback we've been hearing and many of us have taken to reading the news groups daily in order to catch up on the latest issues.
You can download the updated CTP here:http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/expression-design/free-trial.mspx
Expression Design Users,
If you have tried to use Expression Design after December 31st, 2006 you have no doubt found that the product is not working. This was caused by an unfortunate time-related bug in the code that somehow escaped our rigorous testing.
I very much regret that this has happened and I hope you will accept my apology. We appreciate the time and effort that you take when testing our products and especially the feedback that you give us -- whether positive or negative.
You should expect a fix for this problem to be posted no later than end of day tomorrow (January 3rd,) or possibly sooner.
Once again, myself and the Expression Team regret this unfortunate problem.
Douglas K. OlsonProduct General Manager Microsoft
In Blend you can author keyframes with ease out and ease in interpolation to give your animations acceleration and deceleration: in other words, life. You can also draw a motion path and animate an element along it. A value curve is a graph of the change in a property value over time, and the combination of different value curves for different properties allows fine control over advanced scenarios such as acceleration along a curved trajectory.
The previous post Keyframe easing and key splines explains the string of numbers in a XAML KeySpline attribute such as those generated by Blend’s ease out and ease in settings. In a nutshell, the numbers are one keyframe’s worth of control points on a value curve. You can draw a value curve in Blend using the Pen tool and if you associate that curve with an element, a double property, and scales for the axes, then it’s a simple task to generate a set of keyframes and key splines. There are some scenarios where doing this is more appropriate than using Blend’s timeline so here’s a sample application which will get you started. The sample is unsupported but it is offered in the hope that it will be useful, instructive, or interesting.
Download the ValueCurve2KeySplines source code (Blend Beta 1).
Once you’ve downloaded and unzipped the sample project files, open and test (F5) the application. After building, the message on the artboard will disappear and the scene will display correctly. In the running application you can see three different-colored value curves, each of which targets a different property of the red plus sign-shaped element. When you click the ‘Generate’ button, an animation is generated from each of the value curves and these animations are saved in XAML format into the build folder in a file named Storyboard.xaml. The animations are also inserted into the application and previewed. The animation generated from the value curves included in the sample resembles an object spring-mounted on a surface and set in motion with a twang. If you’d like to know how the value curves and parameters were assembled then you can recreate it with the following procedure.
First, you need to delete the value curves and parameters so you can recreate them. Expand LayoutRoot > Graph > ValueCurves and delete the Path elements named X, Y and Angle. Expand LayoutRoot > LegendBd > [StackPanel] > LegendLB and delete the ValueCurveParameters elements named XParms, YParms and AngleParms. On the artboard you’ll notice that the Legend list box is now empty. Running and clicking ‘Generate’ now will have no effect.
The ‘spring twang’ animation happens over a small area and time period so let’s scale everything up while we’re designing it and then we can set the correct scale later without having to change any curves. Find the TextBlock element LayoutRoot > Graph > Axes > TimeAxis > TimeMax and set the Text property to ‘10’ so that the animation has a duration of ten seconds.
To recreate the value curve which controls the element’s X coordinate, first double-click ValueCurves to activate it; the yellow border confirms the activated state. Click the Pen tool (or press P) and draw a curve like the one in the diagram:
Make the first point with a click-drag toward the top-right of the screen to set the control point in that direction. Click-drag to the right to draw each of the subsequent points which will set horizontal tangents at the same time. In the previous post I mentioned that it is not valid for a control point to fall outside the bounding box of the spline which owns it. But some of the tangents shown above (and likely some of the tangents you will draw) are not perfectly horizontal so the control point on one end of the tangent will be breaking the rule. The ValueCurve2KeySplines sample will silently tolerate such errors up to a configurable limit (by default, 5% of the corresponding side-length of the bounding box) and will correct the control point. Any error greater than this tolerance will still be corrected but will provoke a warning message when the ‘Generate’ button is clicked. If you don’t want any automatic correction to take place then set the Window1.controlPointWarningTolerance member to zero and correct your control points manually until no warning message is shown. You can manipulate the control points individually with ALT and the Direct Selection tool (A). In the object tree, name the Path ‘X’ and set its Stroke to DarkSeaGreen and its Fill to No brush.
Now the value curve needs parameters so you need to create a parameter object which refers by name to the Path element representing the value curve. Make sure the ListBox named LegendLB is visible in the object tree. Click the Asset Library tool (the bottom tool in the Toolbox), click User Controls, and drag ValueCurveParameters out of the library. Be aware that the Asset Library will close as soon as your drag begins, but keep the mouse button pressed and drop the object onto LegendLB in the object tree to create a new ValueCurveParameters item in the ListBox. Name the object ‘XParms’ and then, in the Property Inspector, expand the Miscellaneous category and set the following property values: MaxValue = 350, MinValue = 50, set PathBrush to a SolidColorBrush with the Color DarkSeaGreen, TargetName = ‘Plus’, TargetProperty = ’(UIElement.RenderTransform).(TransformGroup.Children).(TranslateTransform.X)’, and ValueCurveName = ‘X’. An easy way to determine the TargetProperty and to make sure any necessary property elements exist on the target element is to create a new timeline and animate that property. You can copy the correct property path from the Storyboard.TargetProperty attribute in the XAML. Then you can delete the timeline and the necessary property elements will remain on the element.
For the element’s Y coordinate, draw a similar curve to the first but out of phase with it. Name the curve ‘Y’ and color it Navy with no Fill. Add a second parameter object (named ‘YParms’) to the ListBox and set the following property values: MaxValue = 350, MinValue = 50, PathBrush = ‘Navy’, TargetName = ‘Plus’, TargetProperty = ’(UIElement.RenderTransform).(TransformGroup.Children).(TranslateTransform.Y)’, and ValueCurveName = ‘Y’.
Finally, for the element’s angle, draw a third curve out of phase with the other two. Name the curve ‘Angle’ and color it Orange with no Fill. Add a third parameter object (named ‘AngleParms’) to the ListBox and set the following property values: MaxValue = 30, MinValue = -30, PathBrush = ‘Orange’, TargetName = ‘Plus’, TargetProperty = ’(UIElement.RenderTransform).(TransformGroup.Children).(RotateTransform.Angle)’, and ValueCurveName = ‘Angle’.
The finished application should look similar to this:
Test the animation and make any adjustments to the value curves to get the behavior you want. Essentially the frequency should be increasing while the amplitude is decreasing. When you’re happy, scale the whole animation down. Set TimeMax to ‘1.5’, set the MinValue and MaxValue of the X and Y parameter objects to 220 and 230 respectively, and set the MinValue and MaxValue of the Angle parameter object to -20 and 20 respectively. Now test the animation again. If you want to use the animation in another application then make sure a target element with the correct name and property elements exist and paste the contents of Storyboard.xaml into Window.Resources. You’ll also have to change the xmlns attribute into an x:Key attribute.
For another example set of value curves and parameters, you’ll find a file called Example2.txt in the zip file along with the source code. Replace the ValueCurves and LegendLB element in Window1.xaml with the ones in Example2.txt and give the result a try. It’s an example of an element moving along a circular path with increasing speed.
An animation authored in Blend contains keyframes. The animation defines which element/property to affect and each keyframe defines a key time at which a value should be in effect. The process of animating the property values between successive key times is called interpolation.
Let’s say you’re translating an element from the top of a Grid to the bottom to represent a falling motion. With the element at the top of the screen you drop a keyframe at time 0. Then you move the playhead to time 1 and drag the element to the bottom of the screen. The interpolation between the two screen positions will be linear by default: the element will appear to fall at a steady rate.
If you want the motion to resemble a real-world falling object then you want the element’s speed to be slow at the beginning and gradually speed up towards the end. This kind of interpolation is known as ease out because the element’s position is easing out of its original value on its way to the new value. Similarly there exists an ease in type of interpolation which can either be used alone or combined with ease out. To apply full ease out to the animation you right-click the first keyframe and click Ease Out > 100%.
If you want more control over interpolation then we need to talk about key splines and you’ll need to tweak some XAML. If you followed along with the ease in walkthrough above then switch to XAML view and find the storyboard which contains your animations and key frames. There are two animations: one targeting TranslateTransform.X and one targeting TranslateTransform.Y. Take a look at the key frames in the Y animation. The second keyframe has a KeySpline attribute which is a string containing the coordinates of a pair of points – let’s call them x1,y1 and x2,y2 respectively. The secret to understanding and controlling keyframe interpolation lies with these coordinates and what they represent.
In the sense of the KeySpline attribute, a spline is a curve of value over time (drawn between implied coordinates of 0,0 and 1,1) whose shape is defined by two control points. The KeySpline attribute contains those control points. If you’ve drawn curves with Blend’s Pen tool then you may know such control points as tangents. When you omit the KeySpline attribute, its control points default to the coordinates 0,0 and 1,1. Here’s a visualization of the resulting key spline:
When the control points (shown in red) coincide with the start and end points of the curve, as they do by default, the curve is actually a straight line. This is why, unless you explicitly set ease in or ease out, Blend will give linear interpolation between keyframes. The unit square key spline is scaled to the actual value and time deltas of the keyframe which defines it. Here’s what the key spline looks like when ease out is set to 100%:
The first control point (x1,y1) has moved to 0.5,0. If you now set the ease in value of the second keyframe to 100%, the second control point (x2,y2) moves to 0.5,1 and the resulting visualization looks like this:
To be clear, the KeySpline values x1,y1,x2,y2 for keyframe n correspond to ease out for keyframe n-1 (first control point: x1,y1) and ease in for keyframe n (second control point: x2,y2) respectively. This means that, for a handoff animation, you can still define an ease out for the non-existent keyframe at time 0. When you first build the animation, drop a keyframe at time 0; then right-click it to set ease out; then delete it. The ease out value will be safely stored in the x1,y1 values of the second keyframe’s KeySpline.
The control point coordinates can be set to any pair of double values between 0 and 1. In this example the first control point is at 0.1,0.5 and the second control point is at 0.8,0.33:
Try this key spline out in your application. Replace the contents of the KeySpline attribute on the second keyframe with the control point coordinate string “0.1,0.5,0.8,0.33”. Build and run and see if the resulting motion matches the graph. Remember that the graph is showing an increase in the property which is being animated. In this case the property is TranslateTransform.Y and Y increases down the screen in WPF.
In fact, the control points for a given curve are identical whether the value is increasing or decreasing. But it’s easier to imagine them on a graph with the value axis flipped (so the origin moves to the top-left and positive y is downwards). Here’s an example where the value of keyframe n is less than the value of keyframe n-1 but y1 and y2 have the same positive values as the previous example:
You can use Blend’s Pen tool to draw graphs like the ones shown. If you want more complex value curves than the ones shown here then just draw more segments. Adjust the control points (tangents) so that the interpolation curve between each value is how you want it. Then imagine (or draw) the dotted unit square around each pair of values and use it to call off the control point coordinates in the range 0,0 to 1,1 and build a KeySpline string from them. It’s important that your control points don’t fall outside the dotted rectangle. For a value curve, control point coordinates outside the valid range mean either that the curve has a turning point (a keyframe value is missing) or that time is decreasing somewhere on the curve.
In the next post I’ll share a tool, based on Blend, that you can use to generate double animations from a set of value curves (drawn with the Pen tool) and parameter objects.
The company X-Coders has launched two new websites - ExpressionBlend.com and ResourceDictionary.com - each carrying information, blogs, videos, forums and downloads related to Expression Blend.
The videos are great - we recommend you go and check them out.
People have been wondering how to do this so I thought I’d write up an explanation.
The HyperBar sample which ships with Blend Beta 1 has a fixed set of eleven images in it. But what if you want to combine the HyperBar effects with the flexibility of binding to data – be it XML data or CLR object data? The solution is to draw out a ListBox and bind your data to that. Then you edit the ListBox’s control template and place a HyperGrid panel in there as the items host. It’s the HyperGrid panel that does all the magic in the HyperBar sample. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to get this to work, and then links to some files so you can study/copy the code in there.
// Clear the ColumnDefinitions and re-add one per child.
foreach (UIElement uie in InternalChildren)
protected override void OnInitialized(EventArgs e)
Now you’re done. Build and run. If you have any problems then you can study the following files to see if they differ from what you have. One final point is that the image files are still embedded in the project and the data.xaml refers to them as embedded resources. An exercise for the reader is to store these in a folder which the .exe reads at runtime.
Expression Design is a vector based graphics design tool that is part of Expression Studio. It is targeted at graphic designers who need to build visual assets for new WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) applications. The goal of Exrpession Design is to bring artists into the process of building great user experiences. We've been getting feedback on CTPs for a while now under the codenames of Acrylic and Expression Graphic Designer. Now we have a shiny new name and a brand new interface.
Back in 2005, we released a preview of Acrylic, a graphics design program based off the venerable vector tool Creature House Expression. As the months passed, we realized that the UI just wasn’t clicking with our audience. The whole Expression suite is about bringing elegant and beautiful design to the process of application development. So why not create a UI that embodied our team’s core principles?
After many moons (and numerous late night dinners by our rock star team), we now have a stylish UI running in WPF on top of our C++ artboard. Stylistically, the UI matches Expression Blend so you’ll be comfortable in both applications. For now it comes in a soulful dark gray, but there is also a light theme in the works for all those folks that like a dash of sunshine in their lives. We still have quite a bit of polishing to do, but the foundation is in place. This is mad scientist stuff. I like working with mad scientists.
I’m a big believer that a good product is a collection of a lot of little things done right. This only happens when you ask good questions and get a ton of rapid feedback from your actual users. Taking this feedback philosophy to the extreme, we hired some very talented graphic designers to be part of our team. They slogged through our daily builds and attended the feature design meetings. When stupid decisions were made, they yelled. Along the way, the programmers listened and fixed hundreds of subtle workflow issues.
Expression Design has a long life ahead of it and we wanted designers to be part of the development process (and culture!) from the very beginning.
This release has dozens of small workflow improvements that add up to a much nicer experience. You can find the big list here:http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/expression-design/free-trial-faq.mspx
Here are some of my personal favorites.
· Fewer palettes: I’m constantly switching between various applications, which means inevitable resizing of the app. I must admit I tend to get a bit retentive when it comes to keeping my palettes so I waste a surprising amount of time lining the half dozen palettes straight again. With fewer palettes that you can dock with a click of a button, this isn’t an issue any longer.
· The color dropper on the color palette: When you select this color dropper you can pick a color anywhere on the screen, even if it is outside the current application. Quite the time saver.
· Pen tool: The Bezier pen tool is a subtle instrument. Most designers I know play the modifier keys like a piano when they are drawing vector shapes. Half the time, when you ask “What steps are you performing?” they honestly can’t say. It is all muscle memory stored up from years in the pit of production. But if you put change how the tool works, it is immediately obvious. The feel is wrong. We spent a lot of time getting the feel of our pen tool right.
· Updated XAML exporter: This is really the heart of why you would use Expression Design right now. It is currently the best way to get complex graphics into Expression Blend.
You can grab the December CTP of Expression Design here: http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/expression-design/free-trial.mspx
Expression Blend is an authoring system for professional designers to build user experiences that target the .NET 3.0 platform, and more specifically, WPF, or Windows Presentation Foundation.
WPF provides the platform to bring rich, animated, skin-able, UX envelope-pushing applications to the desktop. Applications that blend content, media and user interface into real user experiences. WPF provides sophisticated vector graphics and blurs the distinction between user interface and content. You can create applications with custom looks, and you’ll have more flexibility and ease than ever before. You are able to animate pretty much anything, and you can use data binding to create user interfaces from data. You can integrate images, video and 3D, and you get a set of text layout features well beyond what you would expect from a user interface platform. And WPF scales: Blend itself is not only entirely written in managed code, but it also is a WPF application head to toe.
We strongly believe that designers will have a dominant role in creating these envelope-pushing user experiences we are targeting with WPF. Alas, WPF is an SDK, a software development kit, and not particularly designer friendly. And this is where Expression Blend comes into play. Blend is a visual design tool for WPF, providing a designer-friendly look at all the power of WPF. You can draw and animate like in media authoring tools, but you also have access to components, controls and layout, data binding and all the other features of WPF that make user experiences come alive.
Rich client applications tend to have a lot of code and functionality. Because code is such an essential part of application development, we believe that Blend will often be used in teams of developers and designers. Blend plays very nicely in environments where design and coding are important – collaboration and interchange with Visual Studio is a big part of the solution.
If you are developing or designing WPF-based applications, we hope the Expression Blend will blend right in and allow your designers to take much more control and responsibility in the overall process!
Found a bug? Report it to us.
Have something to say about the beta? Join the discussion group:
Today we are going public with beta 1 of Expression Blend, and a new CTP for Expression Design. Before you ask – these are the new product names for what previously was known as Expression Interactive Designer and Expression Graphic Designer.
Much more importantly, these new versions are not just about new names. If you have seen the previous evolutions of these Expression applications, a single look will show you that we've been working hard on more than new features:
Expression Blend and Design are the first Expression applications to show off a new user interface design for the entire Expression product line. We want to offer friendlier, easier, more elegant and beautiful tools to enable designers to build great user experiences – and our UX is a big step in this journey.
We can’t wait for you to give our new family a spin and to let us know what you think.
We are pleased to announce that the Beta 1 release of Expression Web (formerly Expression Web Designer) is now available! For more insight into Expression Web Beta 1, please see the Expression Web team blog.
Additionally, September CTPs of Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer are available and target the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) of .NET Framework 3.0.
Have something to say about the Betas and CTPs? Join a discussion group:
This webcast describes the powerful features and capabilities of Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer, Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer, and Microsoft Expression Web Designer, and includes a 40 minute demonstration of Expression Web Designer.
The first twenty minutes cover concepts of user experience, the .NET 3.0 and WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) platforms and how they enable the next generation of user experience, and designer and developer collaboration using XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language). The discussion about Expression products and CSS begins around minute 21, and the Expression Web Designer demo begins around minute 27.
Register now to replay this session:
The July CTPs of Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer are now available. Both of these CTPs target the July CTP of .NET Framework 3.0 (formerly known as WinFX).
Download Expression Graphic Designer July 2006 CTPDownload Expression Interactive Designer July 2006 CTP
For more late-breaking changes in Expression Interactive Designer, please see the Readme.
Have something to say about the CTPs? Join a discussion group.
After overcoming some obstacles with our publishing tools these past few days, we finally are able to share with you the June 2006 CTPs for both Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer. Our latest CTPs target the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 June 2006 CTP (formerly known as WinFX). For more information about the name change of WinFX to .NET Framework 3.0, please read this.
.NET Framework 3.0 June 2006 CTP can be installed on any of the following systems:
Those who are using Windows Vista Beta 2—the current public pre-release version of Windows Vista—are strongly encouraged to use our May CTPs to avoid compatibility issues. If you are only installing Expression Graphic Designer on Windows Vista Beta 2 and do not plan to use the XAML Export feature, then you will not encounter any compatibility issues.
Install on Windows Vista Beta 2
Install on Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista June 2006 CTP (build 5456 - limited release)
For more late-breaking changes and information in Expression Interactive Designer, please see the Readme.
Five (5) new Expression Web Designer training videos are now available for viewing and download at http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/demos.mspx. Simply click the Web Designer tab near the bottom of the page, and then click one of the video links under Training Videos.
Software Test Engineer, Dante Gagne, takes us through a tutorial of how to bind media to playback controls in Expression Interactive Designer.
For more tips and tricks like this, check out Dante's blog.
After you've completed Dante's tutorial, try using Expression Graphic Designer to style your PlayPause button just like the cool new gel buttons in Windows Media Player 11 Beta.
Martin Grayson also has a 3-part tutorial on making Vista-like gel buttons using WPF.
Test Lead Jen Rowe shows you how you can theme your applications using Resource Dictionaries in Expression Interactive Designer. The application can switch the theme at run time by loading and unloading respective resource dictionaries. This allows you to give your apps custom looks or to simply enable users to select their own themes while using your apps.
We are pleased to present new CTPs of Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer that target Microsoft WinFX Runtime Components Beta 2--the latest release of WinFX.
Follow the links below to start downloading the May CTPs...
Remember, you will need to install WinFX Beta 2 first before installing Expression Interactive Designer May CTP.
Also, before installing the latest CTPs of WinFX and Expression Interactive Designer, please be sure to uninstall previous CTPs of these 2 products to prevent compatibility issues.
Download for free the first-ever Expression Web Designer CTP now via the Microsoft Expression Web site.
Also, you can discuss Expression Web Designer in the forums as well as send feedback or report a bug to help us make a better product!
Missed the action at MIX06? Check out Virtual MIX to catch up on the keynote speeches, video recaps, streamed sessions (forthcoming), and more from this year's conference.
Just a quick post to let you know 5 new training videos are now available for viewing and download at http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/demos.mspx. Simply click the Interactive Designer tab near the bottom of the page, and then click one of the video links under Training Videos.
ZAM 3D ™ from Electric Rain is a new 3D XAML Tool for Microsoft Windows Vista application development, and the March CTP is available for download .
ZAM 3D fits into the designer-side workflow by complementing Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer. The idea is that a designer uses ZAM 3D to easily create 3D interface elements, models, controls, styles or layouts. Then the designer exports the 3D assets to XAML markup with a single click without any need to write, or even understand, the complex markup that goes into building a WPF 3D scene. Now the 3D assets are easily added to an Expression Interactive Designer project using the Project > Add Item... command.