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Once upon a time, PDF was PDF and SWF was SWF and never the twain would meet, but in today's brave new world, you can mix and match at least to some degree, letting you add some very cool elements to your interactive PDF files, and the key is to remember that SWF files are basically just animations, that is movies. So most of the things that you can do with movies in InDesign, you can do with the SWF, and just as with movies, you have to export it as a PDF file to see it work on the page. Even then it may not work in some situations, more on that in a minute, but first, here is how to import a SWF into your InDesign page.
I am going to go to the File menu, choose Place and then choose my SWF. In this case, I am going to choose Cocoa, click Open, and now I can either click, or click and drag, it places the SWF into a brand new frame, and now I could scale it or move it or whatever, but the first thing I am going to do is double-click on it to go to Movie Options. Double-clicking on it, is the same thing as going to Object, Interactive Movie Options, but double-clicking is a little bit faster. I am going to embed the SWG into my PDF and I am going to make it play on the page turn, that is as soon as the page appears in Acrobat, it will start playing.
When it comes to showing a poster that is which image Acrobat will show on the page when the movie isn't playing. I can either choose None, Standard, or Choose an Image from my computer as a poster, but I cannot choose a movie frame as a poster. I am not sure why, actually in earlier versions of InDesign, you could, but for some reason now you can't. Anyway, in this case I am going to be playing this movie as soon as soon as the page appears, so I don't even need a poster. I am going to choose None. I will click OK that little poster just disappears here and I now I am going to scale this image larger. I will just Command+Shift+drag or Ctrl+Shift+drag on Windows to get the size I want. To fit the frame to the new size of my SWF, I will press Command+Option+C or on Windows, Ctrl+Alt+C.
Now I will just drag it into position where I want it. Now why don't I gust it up a little bit. I am going to give it a white background, and why don't I give it a Drop Shadow while I am at it. Here we go. It looks a little bit smashed here. The animation is going to play inside here, but as I said earlier, I cannot play it inside InDesign, or can I? There is actually a free script, really cool script called PlaySWF, and if you download that from automatication.com, you can install it; there is a little readme file that shows you exactly where to install it.
Install it, relaunch InDesign, and all of a sudden, under the Window menu, you have a brand new feature called Play SWF. When you do that, it opens a window that shows you what the SWF looks like. To play it from the beginning, I have to deselect that frame and then select it again, and you can see there is the animation. Anyway I am going to go ahead and close this window and we are going to export this out as a PDF so we can see it in Acrobat. I will choose Export from the File menu and save this out to my computer. I am going to make sure the Interactive Element checkbox is turned-on in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box.
If that's not on, the SWF will not be included in the PDF. I will click Export, it saves it to disk and then opens it in Acrobat. Now because there is some interactive media inside this PDF, Acrobat's Trust Manager throws up this dialog box saying, are you sure you want to play this? So you could say yes, yes it's okay, go ahead and play, and when you do that, you will see the SWF playing inside Acrobat. Now there are two other significant things you need to know about SWF in InDesign. First, you cannot export SWFs into other SWFs. That's right. If you import a SWF into InDesign, you cannot export that out to a SWF file format. I know it's crazy but there you go, this is only a PDF trick, you can put SWFs into an InDesign document and export to PDF.
Now the second thing you need to know is that SWF files cannot be shown in some PDF viewers. For example, if you open this PDF in the built-in preview application on the Mac, it will not display the SWF animation. Preview is just much more limited than Acrobat, but even some versions of Acrobat will not be able to play the SWF. While it seems to generally work on Acrobat for Windows, Acrobat for the Mac sometimes has problems. For example, you may see a message that it is buffering the SWF and then it will never show anything. Fortunately, it appears that you can fix that problem simply by installing Safari 4 or the WebKit browser.
Another solution is to import the SWF into your PDF file using Acrobat instead of InDesign. Just leave a space for it, then use Acrobat's Multimedia Tools to import the SWF. When you do that, the SWF will be played by Acrobat 9's internal Flash player instead of relying on the operating system at all. Like any kind of interactive experience, it's worth testing your PDF documents on several different machines to make sure they are working properly, but the ability to add this cool SWF files to your PDFs makes that extra testing time totally worth it.
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