In January 1993, Jonathan Gay, Charlie Jackson and Michelle Welsh founded FutureWave Software with the vision of creating an application that allowed people to bypass the mouse and draw with a pen directly onto a computer screen. The software was called SmartSketch. It was built on the pen computing operating system PenPoint, which was scrapped by AT&T in January ’94, just as SmartSketch was about to launch. FutureWave had no choice but to port their software to Windows and the Mac OS, which meant suddenly they were competing with the big boys, Illustrator and Freehand. In 1995, they decided to focus more on its web animation capabilities and changed the name to FutureSplash Animator, which eventually shipped in May ’96.
FutureSplash caught the attention of Microsoft, which was about to relaunch MSN as a web portal in its attempts to gain ground on Netscape. Microsoft was looking to create the online equivalent of a TV network and adopted FutureSplash animated content as a central part of the portal. Disney Online followed suit and then Fox launched The Simpson’s using their software. The six-person team that made up FutureWave Software were now major players. By the end of ’96 FutureSplash had been purchased by Macromedia and renamed Macromedia Flash.
The Design Director at Macromedia was David Hillman Curtis, who redesigned the Macromedia website using the newly acquired software and in doing so created the first Flash website. Hillman Curtis went on to found a legendary design studio and continued to pioneer interactive content, blurring the line between film, motion graphics and web design until his untimely death in April this year.
Many websites followed in the creative footsteps of Hillman Curtis but two of the sites from ’97 that stand out are Gabo Mendoza‘s Gabocorp and Spumco’s The Goddamn George Liquor Program. Featuring two minor characters from Ren & Stimpy, George Liquor and his nephew Idiot Boy, Spumco’s Flash animations were the first cartoon series made exclusively for the web.
Doing for animators and illustrators what Mosaic had done for the very first web designers four years earlier, the release of Flash 2.0 in June ’97 was a defining moment. Flash enabled non-programmers, myself and my partner in crime Lars Hemming Jorgensen included, to enter the world of web design. Sure, there were some dodgy moments along the way but by and large, Flash made the web a more interesting place.