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    Resource types



    BMP and PNG are the most commonly used file types when creating Aston Themes.
    If you're already familiar with computer graphics you must know enough about them. If not, making Themes is definitely not the first thing you should learn.

    Although you can convert BMP files to PNG and use them in many places of the GUI we'd recommend following these basic rules to avoid possible problems:

    • Use BMP anywhere when you don't need transparency at all or 1 bit transparency is enough to meet your needs. Don't cripple ordinary 24 bit RGB bitmaps without need and use; no need to "overoptimize" them to 8 bit, 16 bit, etc...

    • Use 32 bit PNG where they're supported. For 24 and 8 bit (recall what you've just read about 8 bits? ;)) images use BMP instead. So if a certain GUI component accepts PNG files this means that it must accept 32 bit PNGs. Just keep it in mind.

    ICO files are commonly used in Windows. Nevertheless for Aston Theme creation we recommend replacing them with PNGs if only you're not making a custom icon pack.

    Even though it's theoretically possible to use JPEG files for the "Start" button and some other GUI parts we do not recommend using them anywhere but on the Desktop (for wallpapers only). Really. JPEG compression is nice and can greatly reduce the Theme size but you should use it only for wallpapers and nothing else: otherwise it just makes no sence.

    Note: use PNG for alpha transparency, BMP everywhere when you don't need transparency or 1 bit transparency is enough and JPEG for wallpapers only.


    3PICs have been implemented in Aston 1.9.2 in order to add support for rounded bevels on certain elements:

    3PIC sample illustration
    Elements, created with 3PICs.

    3PIC is actually the left flank, the tiled center part plus the right flank. 3 PICtures ;). Well, actually 3 more as one may add "glass" for all the parts of the 3PIC. So, instead of 6 files you need just one.

    Here's a more detailed file format description:
    3PIC is actually a ZIP archive with the extension changed to *.3PIC. The archive content is the following:

    • left.* - the left flank in BMP or PNG format

    • right.* - same for the right flank

    • tiled.* - the centered tiled part

    • glass-left.png - the left glass skin (32 bit PNG! although you're free to play with it)

    • glass-right.png - the right glass

    • glass-tiled.png - the center part glass

    That's generally all. The format is new, so feel free to experiment with it. At present you can freely use 3PICs on the Taskbar and Main Menu. Just don't forget about transparency limitations.

    Note: in 3PICs text (like the one on task buttons, Tray clock, etc...) is always displayed on the central part! If necessary, use offsets to align it.
    Note: even though 3PICs have no "width", their minimum width is often limited by the size of their flanks.

    And the final note:

    Note: When compiling 3PIC files don't put folders into the archive, otherwise they would not be identified correctly. I.e. even if zipping a folder with your 3PIC files might sound attractive you should not do this.

    ANI animation, ANK objects

    As you already know, almost any Aston Shell element has three states: normal, highlighted (mouseover) and pressed. Mostly, each state is associated with a single image. The first versions of the program allowed you to make so-called ANI animation. ANI format is actually a format of animated cursors, but ANI images used in Aston can be way larger: up to 255x255 px. By using ANI file format you can create simple animation for buttons, Desktop icons, etc... Nevertheless later (1.8.0+) versions of Aston allow to make much more complicated animation with very simple scripting.

    Note: as ANI file format is inferior to the new ANKs we recommend avoiding it unless necessary.

    ANK file represents a single animated object which can react on mouseover and clicking; it also supports animation for each state. So, generally, with the help of it you are able to easily create animated objects which can change their look on mouse pointing and clicking.

    Typical ANK file looks like that (comments are marked this way):

    [Normal] normal state object
    File=ANK_amp.bmp frame list file for normal ANK state
    Frames=0 frame sequence; here only the first frame is shown
    Count=6 number of frames in the frame list image
    Interval=1 time in milliseconds between the frames change; as normal state here is static, it doesn't matter

    [MouseOver] mouseover state: mouse is hovering the object.
    File=ANK_amp.bmp frame list for the "mouse over" state: the same bitmap is used
    Frames=0-5 frame sequence: plays all the frames from 0 to 5
    Count=6 number of frames: as we have used the same image for the whole ANK it must be the same for all the states
    Interval=2 2ms frame change time is really fast

    [MouseLeave] mouse leaves the object area
    Frames=5-0 frames are displayed in the reversed order (compared to the "mouse over" state)

    [Click] user clicks the object
    Frames=5-0-5 frames are played from 0 to 5 and then in the reversed order, thus creating "pulsing" animation

    So, in brief:

    • Each ANK has 4 states: Normal, MouseOver, MouseLeave and Click. Each of them can be animated separately.

    • File field points the frame sequence list.

    • Frames field lists animation sequence.

    • Count points the total number of frames in the frame list.

    • Interval is a playback (image update) interval.

    While defining the animation frame sequence you can use the following characters:

    • 0-9 numbers define frame numbers, starting from 0

    • , (comma) separates standalone frames (example: 0, 25, 27,3)

    • - (minus) defines continuous frames (example: 0-3 is the same as 0,1,2,3)

    Note: you can create "pause" effect by repeating the same frame several times.

    The ANK sample above is taken from SacRat's "Duality" Theme and represents one of the most basic uses of ANKs.
    Here's a more advanced sample by Roman Osadchy from his popular "(Techno Dream) No escape" Theme:

    Count=40 note, that the animation here is relatively long and smooth, consisting of 40 frames
    Loop=0 sets the loop start frame; here the animation is played once and then repeated again from the first (0) frame
    Interval=1 the playback goes with the maximum possible speed
    File=home_mouseover.bmp attention! Different frame file is used!
    Loop=41 animation is looped from the frame 41 and thus object displays frames 0-47,41-47 and then continuously 41-47
    File=click.bmp relatively simple animation on clicking; unlike MouseLeave it can be looped

    What you've learned from this sample:

    • Loop defines the starting loop frame

    • You can use a separate frame list for each state

    • No one limits you with just a couple of frames ;)

    A few more things you need to know about ANK files:

    • ANK files are ordinary text files renamed to *.ANK.

    • Frame list is a continuous file of frames; each frame must be of the same size

    • As a frame list there can be defined BMP, PNG and even ANI files (this way timing data inside ANIs is ignored)

    • Never use complex looped multilayer ANKs with 32 bit graphics as this may require certain CPU resources. When possible, use BMP animation on top of wallpaper (i.e. no additional semi-transparent layers above or below): this demands much less processing power.

    • You can edit ANK files with any Notepad-like application or by using Aston GUI (click the plus button when editing object properties)

    editing ANK properties in Aston
    Editing ANK object in Aston

    Note, that even though Aston can use ANK objects almost anywhere, you can use their full power only on the Desktop and with the Start button.

    Here're a few sample frame lists from several popular Themes:

    ANK frame list
    Frame list fragments from Smanic's "My Corona" mockup. When pointing the object, the "mediaplayer" icon turns into an EP disc with a virtual EQ and on clicking the disc rotates.

    ANK frame list
    ANK frame list from mrbiotech's "Singularity" Theme. When pointing the object it plays interesting "laser" animation.

    A few words about ANKz

    Taking into acount that ANK object can consist of quite a large set of files (up to 5) in Aston 1.9.2 Gladiators Software implemented so-called ANKz. ANKz is actually an ANK file plus all the required files. All files are zipped and then ZIP is renamed to have *.ANKz extension. Just dealing with a single file is easier than having five. Especially if you're using a set of ANKs.

    Note: you should not put folders into the archive just like in 3PIC case.

    Dealing with frame lists

    While basic ANK files might have a few frames of animation, combining them is relatively simple: you can easily do it in Photoshop, GIMP or any other editor. Larger images are harder to edit and manipulating frame lists with 20 or more images becomes a serious problem.

    ANK sample frame list
    Simple ANK frame list from the "Aston 1.9.1 Desktop" Theme by Dmitry Prosvirnin.

    In order to ease your work you might need some tool, like Aniutil which you can just feed a set of separate BMP/PNG frames as a set of files (better name them 001.png, 002.png and so on) to and get the result as a frame list which you can later use for making ANK animation.

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