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Chapter 1: Flash OverviewIn this chapter, you'll find out what's new in Flash 5 and what it's all about. For new users, the chapter explains what Flash 5 does and why it is a valuable animation tool.
For new and experienced Flash users, the panel environment is explained.
What's New with Flash 5?First the good news. Flash 5 has many great new features that provide enhancements over previous versions. And now for more good news! Experienced Flash users will find the same general model for creating animation quickly and easily. The following sections spell out what you will find to be significantly different from Flash 4 and earlier versions.
If you have some experience with one of the earlier versions of Flash, you'll find plenty of differences in Flash 5. The new ActionScript has the most extensive changes. However, the user interface has changed a great deal as well. If you're familiar with other Macromedia products, like FreeHand and Fireworks, you'll recognize the panel interface. The user interface places many of the old dialog boxes and windows into the panels, and so you should take a look at where and how information is entered in the different panels. The Objects and Frame windows are both now in panels. The Info panel has the sizing information that used to be in the Objects window, and the Text Options panel handles the Text Field modification icon that was on the Toolbox.
I found that getting used to the differences between Flash 4 and Flash 5 took little time. Moreover, once I adjusted to the differences, I found that I liked using the panels better than fishing through menus and submenus for what I needed. Some of the old shortcuts have changed, but using the custom keyboards controls, you can modify Flash 5 to better fit the way you like to create movies. Managing the panels is going to require some adjustments, but for a quick tip, use the Tab key to quickly remove and recall them.
PanelsInstead of requiring that you fish through menus or memorize a set of keyboard strokes, Flash 5 makes extensive use of panels. A panel is a small window, usually with more than a single tab, that puts tools and settings right in front of you on your computer screen. What used to be a dialog box or a pop-up window now can sit on the desktop until you put it away, much like the Object and Frame controllers in Flash 4. Each tab on a panel is essentially another window that's clicked for easy access. Later in this chapter, I'll (formally) introduce all of the panels.
Customized Keyboard ShortcutsIf you want to use your own key combinations rather than the ones supplied, you can now do so. You can now customize the keyboard shortcuts that are easiest for you to work with and remember. (The last sections of this chapter will show you how.)
Bezier Pen ToolIf you are familiar with Macromedia FreeHand or Adobe Illustrator, you will welcome the Bezier tools to Flash. With the Bezier tools, not only can you draw Bezier curves with a familiar pen, but you can also edit existing artwork or art imported into Flash. The other drawing tools in Flash, such as the Brush, can be used to create drawings and then edited with the Bezier Pen.
Shared Symbol LibraryFor larger projects involving designers and developers working together, Flash now has shared symbol libraries. The library is external to the file under construction, and once the library has been downloaded, it doesn't have to be downloaded again. So in projects where many different people need the same shared assets, no time is wasted downloading an instance of a symbol every time you want to add another instance of a symbol to your movie. Other benefits include sharing a sound file across a site, sharing a font symbol over multiple sites, and having a single source for animation elements across multiple scenes or even movies and the ability to create a central resource for tracking and controlling revisions.
Web Native PrintingIf you have ever had trouble printing Web pages in the format you want, you're going to really like Web native printing. You can set up your page so that the Web viewer can issue a print-to-my-printer command and a printed-page format comes out of the printer rather than a Web-page format. If you're involved in e-commerce and you or your client wants portable output to take away from the Web site, this new feature makes the setup for printing very simple.
Movie ExplorerRemembering where everything is in a large, complex movie is made far easier with the Movie Explorer. The Movie Explorer provides an outline of your movie so that you can see at a glance where all of your graphics, symbols, and other materials are located in a structured hierarchy. You can now, without a great deal of frustration, drill down into a movie clip that contains another movie clip with a button containing a script that tells a movie clip in another hierarchy to turn blue. Figure 1.2 shows how Movie Explorer reveals the contents of a movie.
Improved Import and SupportFlash 5 now supports Extensible Markup Language (XML) transfer. XML is one of the primary languages for developing Web databases, and sites that use XML to transfer data between clients' browsers and their server can offer users a much more interactive and dynamic experience. XML objects in the new ActionScript help make the connection between XML and the Flash movie. Likewise, with HTML text support, you can incorporate HTML text formatting and links into a Flash movie. This means that HTML files can be dynamically loaded for contextual updates. Finally, FreeHand 7, 8, or 9 files can be directly imported and manipulated in Flash.
There's still more, and the features mentioned so far represent only the more dramatic and sought after. Flash 5 is a far more powerful tool than its predecessors. Experienced Flash 4 users will see the many subtle improvements as they work through the projects in this book. Users new to Flash will discover a powerful animation tool.
An Invitation to FlashFlash is an animation tool, and a Flash movie can be run on your desktop or on a CD-ROM using a Flash player. However, the important feature of Flash is that it gives you the ability to put together objects that normally have high bandwidth requirements and crunch them down into media that can quickly be transferred over the Web inside a Web page. When I first encountered Flash in an impressive format, it was sent from a site in Munich, Germany (www.eye4U.com). An animated flying saucer appeared, making flying saucer sounds over a landscape that slowly went from predawn to daylight. Then the flying saucer popped out four eyeballs that were to be used as navigation buttons. After dropping off the buttons, the flying saucer flew off. I was impressed because of the nice graphics, smooth animation, and sound. However, I was thinking that the little movie must have gobbled up a jillion megabytes of bandwidth. It was done with 74K. Now even on a slow modem, 74K is not going to take long.
What Flash Does WellFlash 5 does Web animation with sound, including music, in a more compact fashion than any other software tool available. After I stuffed a Flash movie with a 10MB music file, several graphics files, dancing baloney, lots of symbols, and ActionScript, it compressed to 141K. I know 141K is getting a bit weighty for the Web, so I revised the music down to an 884K loop, and the Flash file compressed to 16K. That'll do the job.
Don't use a hammer to saw a board, and don't use a saw to hammer a nail. Flash 5 is becoming a better drawing tool than previous versions were, and it has some range of text manipulation. However, if your primary goal is to draw, you're better off with Macromedia FreeHand or Adobe Illustrator. If you want to create text for the Web, you can probably make better use of Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign. For animation for CD-ROMs, you've got Director and AuthorWare from Macromedia. For developing Web sites, use Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive. But when you want to focus on animating rich media on the Web, Flash 5 does that better than any other tool available.
How Flash WorksFlash specializes in using vector graphics instead of bitmapped graphics, so instead of needing a piece of code for every single pixel on the screen, vector points suffice to provide the information necessary for getting an image where you want it. For example, a bitmapped graphic of a line between point A and point B needs data for each bit between points A and B. Flash just needs the points. What's more, no matter the distance between A and B, vector graphics only need the two points. Therefore, a long line and a short line take the same amount of bandwidth (information sent over the Internet) and the line looks the same.
Stable AppearanceA related advantage to using vector graphics in Flash is how the graphics look in different sizes. An enlarged bitmapped graphic looks "blocky" because the size of the bitmap is set to a certain number of pixels on the screen. If the pixels used for a one-square-inch image are enlarged to fit in a two-square-inch image, the same bitmap is spread over double the space, giving it the blocky appearance. Conversely, when a large bitmap is made smaller, the image can blur with too much information. It's like trying to move all the furniture from a five-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment. You've got a mess on your hands as five bedrooms' worth of furniture is crammed into a single bedroom.
Vectors, on the other hand, retain their appearance because the drawings are created by vector points and not bitmaps. That means a big vector is going to look the same as small one and vice versa. That in and of itself is important, but for animation, it is vital. In animation, as in all drawings, a larger object appears to be closer and a smaller object appears to be farther away. An object must be made progressively larger when it's animated moving from a distant point to a closer point. With bitmapped graphics, a lot of bitmapped images would need to be streamed into the movie sequentially or you would risk having blurry and blocky images. If you use vectors, though, the animation can move seamlessly from one size to another with a single set of graphic information sent over the Internet.
The plug-in is also compatible with older Flash movies (ones made with Flash 2, 3, or 4). However, a Flash 4 plug-in cannot read a Flash 5 movie unless the movie has been saved in Flash 4 format. When you publish a movie for the Web, Flash 5 places the necessary code in the HTML file so that if the wrong plug-in is present in the browser, a link to the Macromedia Web page appears; the Web page includes a link to the updated plug-in, which can be downloaded for free.
What Flash Can Do for YouWith Flash 5, you can make anything from compelling Web pages to a full-fledged game that can be played over the Internet. You can make your own cartoon show and present it over the Web if you want, or you can make an interactive classroom where students can learn anything from chemistry to psychology. In short, you can create a virtual reality for a Web environment. The Internet has become a superhighway of communication between people, and the Web is its biggest attraction. Flash has become the tool of choice for creating lively and interactive media for the Web. Flash is an application that brings together active elements that extend well beyond HTML, and it's far less complex and time-consuming to use than Java and related programming environments.
Flash 5 is also stratified in its complexity. By the end of the second chapter, you will have created an animation in Flash. However, Flash 5 has a very deep structure. On a basic level, it is a simple animation, drawing, and sound tool. By gradually using more and more of Flash's powerful tools, you will be able to put your ideas into a format that more closely approximates the virtual reality you intend. A seamless graduation from Flash 4 makes adding the new and more powerful Flash 5 elements intuitively simple. For Experienced Designers New to Flash
Flash 5 is quite robust and has many new features, but don't be intimidated by the more advanced features such as ActionScript. You can create great Flash pages without having to learn a bit of ActionScript. However, if this is the first time you've ever used Flash, you need to get into the right mindset and understand the workflow to effectively use Flash. Start off slowly and gradually add more and more Flash elements to your skill set. Pay attention to detail in organizing the parts and go over the concepts of the timeline, layers, keyframes, frames, and symbols. Don't try to learn it all at once; get one operation clearly under your belt before going on to the next level. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and you can't expect to master Flash overnight....