Flash 5 ActionScript Studio / Edition 1

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Overview

The pressure on web designers using Flash has been seriously stepped up. Flash 5 is a major revision over Flash 4, and the difference between the two is most apparent in the broader, deeper scope of ActionScript. To use the features of Flash 5 effectively, therefore, a thorough understanding of ActionScript is required. The desire to learn ActionScript at the basic level is addressed in the friends of ED Foundation series. Flash 5 ActionScript Studio takes this basic level of knowledge up towards commercial best practices, thanks to the contributions of a range of leading talents who present abundant real-world examples of their techniques. This book is recommended for web designers who realize that coding is the way ahead at the top end of the industry, Flash movie creators who need urgently to get deeper into interactivity, and those who are competent in ActionScript but still need guidance from the experts.

The book is split broadly into three sections. The first of these serves as a quick lesson/refresher in ActionScript syntax and technique, focusing on the notation in Flash 5 ActionScript, and its relationship with object-oriented programming. Flash 5 ActionScript presents all of its functionality in the form of objects, and each of these is dissected with examples of its purpose and use. Section Two consists of a set of self-contained examples that each demonstrate a particular use of ActionScript, including topics such as interface design, real-time 3D processing, interaction with JavaScript, and using data in XML files. Finally, the third section comprises worked case studies that involve ideas from all the preceding chapters, along with insights into the design processes used by the authors as they put together their ActionScript-rich movies.

What you’ll learn

Who this book is for

Flash 5 ActionScript Studio assumes a readership that already has a reasonable understanding of ActionScript and some HTML. Readers will likely be existing web design professionals with 4 to 6 months of experience with Flash 5, or considerable experience with Flash 4.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781903450352
  • Publisher: Apress
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sham Bhangal�has worked on books in new media for�five years,�during which time he has authored and co-authored numerous friends of ED books, including critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling titles like Foundation Flash, New Masters of Flash, Flash MX Upgrade Essentials, Flash MX Most Wanted, and the Flash MX Designer's ActionScript Reference. He has considerable working experience with Macromedia and Adobe products, as well as other general web design technologies (such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.). In addition to speaking appearances at FlashForward, the biggest Macromedia Flash developer conference, Sham has also been a beta tester for Macromedia and Discreet products for a number of years.

Jamie Macdonald�works doing interface�design at Relevare in London, and maintains a site at NooFlat.nu.�Previously, Jamie I worked in a credit card factory and worked on a master's degree�in critical studies in the film department at the University of California, Los Angeles.�Jamie enjoys the challenge that Flash offers, and likes that it allows you to create systems with limits, combining motion and interaction.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 6: Project Structure

I remember my first Flash movie. It consisted of buttons that performed navigation between a few scenes, and within each scene there were more buttons that caused various animations and other rich media to start up. It was nice and simple –so simple, in fact, that I was able to build it more or less on the fly, with no forethought other than sketching out the graphics and the style beforehand. In those days, sideways scrolling and Flash games were no more than a pipedream. Flash had little scripting power beyond a few 'goto-type commands, and there were certainly no variables or advanced ActionScript structures.

Things have moved on since then. Flash has revolutionized web site creation with some much-needed interactivity. ActionScript has finally grown up into a fully object-based and structured language, opening up all sorts of new avenues in terms of web site navigation. The movie clip has now attained the heady status of an object , with a full set of properties for designers to use, rather than the old, limited, timeline-based animation methods.

With this increase in versatility, though, comes something else: complexity . We have gained the freedom to design that results from a richer environment, but to make the best of it we have to plan ahead. It's not uncommon for designers to get scared off when they start to see words like modular design and hierarchy (and all the other stuff that sounds a little too much like programming) being bandied about, but it's really not that bad, as you'll soon see.

In this chapter, we'll explore the fundamentals of planning (and building)a Flash 5 FLA. When the word 'structure'appears in a chapter title, it can mean reams of wholly theoretical text, and lists of instructions: do this;avoid that. But I don't think that kind of thing is practical enough to be useful to anyone. Instead, in the second part of this chapter, I will describe a brief introductory game plan, and then dive straight into the creation of a moderately complex, moderately creative Flash movie, showing how it was all planned and structured for fast and efficient coding. As a Flash professional who often needs to get things done in a hurry, the ability to do that reliably is an attractive proposition.

Initial considerations

There are two driving forces that define what the structure of a Flash movie will be: its content, and its audience.

Content

Web sites exist to provide content to their viewers. They may be factual resources, part of a retail front end, or for entertainment purposes. The needs of the user define the type of content, which in turn largely defines the layout of the site.

For example, a factual resource needs to allow the user to get to information quickly, perhaps giving the latest news and updates the greatest priority. An entertainment site is able to deliver the information in a very different way, because the content and interface are one and the same. The interface itself provides part of the site's entertainment value, and is therefore actually part of the content in its own right.

A related consideration is the demand on bandwidth imposed by the content. A web site advertising an upcoming movie would tend to be very visual, and animation intensive. If the user is not to be faced with long pauses, methods of managing long download times need to be formulated and embedded into the site's structure. If they're not addressed, issues like these are highly likely to cause users to click away.

Sometimes, the content you're provided with by your client may simply be unsuitable for a web audience. Web surfers are notoriously resistant to any form of hard sell, and will quickly go elsewhere if all they see is a re-run of the TV commercial for Brand X soap. The average surfer is used to having something interactive to play with. In fact, this may be one of the reasons that Brand X chose to go with a Flash designer, and the structure of your final site needs to reflect this level of expectation: a simple, scene-based Flash site, with a few navigation buttons, could be commercial suicide for the professional designer. We would need to create web-based content that was different from (but complemented)the TV commercials.

Audience

The expectations and abilities of the audience you are going for need to be considered too. A high-bandwidth showcase site aimed at other designers is somewhere you can really go to town, but if you try the same trick on a site aimed at the typical user on the end of a 56K modem line, the initial download time may cause almost all your visitors to go elsewhere at the preloading screen. Again, the movie's basic structure can help reduce this problem, via intelligent use of the streaming facilities available to Flash.

Overall site structure

An early choice to make is what the overall structure of the site will be. It's important to get this right, because some of the simpler structures make it difficult to implement complex designs, while some of the more involved ones may be overkill for basic sites, resulting in unnecessarily long development times. To begin with, then, I will introduce all the site structures commonly used within Flash sites.

Although the first few designs listed here are likely to come as nothing new to you, some of the later structures might be. Therefore, I'll treat the former fairly quickly, and concentrate in more depth on the new structures that can be useful to the advanced Flash movie creator.

Movies based on a single timeline

A single movie with a single timeline is the structure adopted by most Flash beginners, and consists of content attached directly to the main timeline. In the example timeline shown below, frames 1 to 28 make up the first 'page'of the movie: the movie will run from frame 1 to frame 28 (stopping only because frame 28 has a stop command attached to it), and further pages can be accessed by jumping to labels such as main and about usually via buttons with goto actions attached.
It's possible to clean up a timeline like this somewhat by using scenes;the one above could, for example, be split across at least three scenes called start about and main

This structure is not just for beginners though, because it has at least one very big benefit: the lack of any subsidiary movie clips means that each frame will play as soon as it streams in (movie clips don't start playing until the whole movie clip timeline has loaded). Even for the Flash expert, this has particular advantages in applications such as banner adverts, where you want a slim download that starts running as soon as possible. It's also useful as a component of movies that use multiple levels, which we'll examine in more detail shortly.

Otherwise, however, the single timeline structure is fairly limiting to the ActionScript programmer, simply because ActionScript and streaming are two things that don't go together very well. The trouble is that attempting to jump to a frame that hasn't yet loaded causes the Flash player to go to the last loaded frame, which can be anywhere –and that kind of behavior would normally be fatal to an ActionScript movie.

Movies based on movie clips

Rather than placing motion tweens directly on the main timeline, it's usually better to create animations and other media content as movie clips. Doing so has three major advantages:
  • It tidies up the timeline significantly, making it much more compact:
In this timeline, the tweened animations are now in movie clips sitting on the main timeline at frames 1, 10, and 20, so there is no need for any tween keyframes.
  • The second advantage becomes apparent when you start using ActionScript: the movie clip timelines can run independently of the main timeline, and they can be stopped or made to play from the main timeline via commands such as i nstancename. play, instancename. gotoAndPlay or instancename. stop.
  • Movie clips can themselves be animated -that is, as well as having animations within the movie clip, you can animate the movie clip itself (moving it around the stage, for example). This is done by controlling movie clip properties from ActionScript, as we touched on in Chapter 2, and will expand upon in Chapter 9.
This structure is more conducive to the implementation of page-based sites (the 'pages'in this example are start, main, and about ).

Movies based on multiple timelines

A movie that uses multiple timelines has movie clips sitting on the main timeline in just the same way as the movie clip based movie above, but it doesn't necessarily stop there: you can have further levels of embedded movie clips. This allows you to use advanced structures in which tasks are broken down into a number of different functional blocks, and then to implement those blocks as separate embedded movie clips.

Most developers of ActionScript-heavy movies (the author included)use this method in preference to the previous ones we've discussed, because it creates a more compact and efficient movie. In particular, it allows you to create modular code, which is more reusable and allows the use of common function routines.

(Although the movie can no longer stream in, this isn't a problem because ActionScript-based movies are not generally built with streaming in mind. )

This design forms the basis of all Flash movies that are ActionScript monsters –the games and sideways scrolling types that I mentioned at the start of the chapter, for example. Because it's the most versatile, it's also the one I will illustrate in the later example. Once you get your head round it, you'll find that it's actually the easiest to code up when you're writing ActionScript-heavy movies.

To make this kind of movie work well, there is a subtle twist you can use, which is to arrange (where possible)for each movie clip to control its parent. This is a major advance over a structure based only on movie clips, because you don't need to know the instance name (you instead refer to the _parent).

The next three types of movie structure are really just modifications of what we've already covered: they are ways of addressing bandwidth or content issues, and are typically employed to make use of Flash's streaming abilities to reduce download times, or to split up the overall content into separate chunks that are downloaded on demand.

Movies based on multiple windows

Movies that use multiple windows were a favorite of early Flash developers, but a cynical public is now quite likely to find them annoying, especially if the technique is overused. Examples of this design type are made up of a series of SWF movies, each of which is loaded on request into a new browser window (sometimes called a pop-up window ). They are frequently found in Flash- based web advertising (in place of the more traditional animated GIF banner), because they allow the ad to stream in the background, without causing annoying pauses in the main browser window.

As suggested above, it's a good idea only to use this effect once or twice in a Flash web site, because you can quickly cover the desktop with open windows. Some Flash designers have started to use a single pop-up that's called from a HTML page and then hosts the whole Flash site. This is perhaps the best way to use a pop-up, particularly if the Flash site takes a while to load –surfers can busy themselves with whatever's going in the original window while they wait for the pop-up to fill with a multimedia extravaganza. You may need to make it obvious that the pop-up is the main movie, so that the user doesn't close it, thinking it to be another commercial.

To create a pop-up window, you need to set up a bit of JavaScript in the HTML file that hosts your Flash movie. Don't worry: it's really only one line, which uses the open method of the JavaScript window object. The simplest function you could write, which needs to be placed inside the HTML document's <HEAD> element, looks like this...

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Table of Contents

Core Skills
1: Introduction
2: Animation Techniques
3: Classic ActionScript Structures
4: Objects, Methods and Properties
5: Using Predefined Objects
6: Project Structure
Specialization
7: Advanced Interface Design
8: Sound Chapter
9: 3D Flash
10: Writing Flash Games
11: The XML Object
12: ActionScript and Generator
13: Creativity in Practice
Case Studies
14: A Web Site from Scratch
15: XML for Data and Design
Index
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2001

    Amazing!

    This book is 600+ pages of straight-to-the-point lessons. It deals nothing with the boring basics that everyother flash book does. The authors assume you're smart enough to draw a line, unlike other books that spend chapters on it. Here's a section from the book which sort of sums up the books worth. 'in this book, we're assuming that you know your way around the flash interface, and that you know what the basc building blocks of a flash movie are. what you won't konw all about is flash 5 actionscript. maybe youve dabbled with the basic functions before, or you're still coming to terms with the transition from flash 4, but you wont have looked into the more advanced aspects of the language.' great, right?

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