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Twenty legendary Flash artists and designers, including Yugo Nakamura, Brendan Dawes, Todd Purgason, Joshua Davis, Irene Chan, Tomato's Joel Baumann, Manny Tan, Tony Ke and more, who between them have won an amazing haul of prestigious design awards. Cool Site of the Year, Macromedia SSOD, FlashForward, Clio etc etc, they've won them all.
Flash is one of the hottest content-creation technologies on the web. From its origins as an animation package, Flash has grown stronger and grown deep roots. Now Flash 5 has consolidated the multimedia capabilities that made Flash 4 so popular and buttressed them with a powerful programming engine that lets you create interactive, visually stunning, sound and feature-rich web sites. Flash is poised to make another leap and become a full web application development tool, allowing you to create any kind of site, from a home page to a corporate e-commerce site.
Flash is now used to create all kinds of site content, such as games, cartoons, adverts and jukeboxes. Perhaps its most significant role, however, is for creating interfaces for all those different types of sites. Its ability to present a clean, friendly and functional front end to the user is coupled with its power behind the scenes. Flash is loved by designers for its speed, quality, ease of use and clearly structured functionality, while at the same time, programmers and designers can use its programming language ActionScript - to produce even more phenomenal results. Whatever kind of interface you want tobuild for a web site, Flash has the answer. If you've never used Flash before, you're in for a real treat.
This book will take you, step by step, through every aspect of designing your own Flash interface, gradually building up your knowledge and skills with each chapter. We'll also look at the pitfalls and practicalities that every web designer faces and teach you how to make your designs `web friendly', and ensure that you know how to get your hard work up on the net. But before we dive into these complex issues, let's make sure we know the basics of how Flash works, and why it's such a capable authoring tool.
Flash - the big Picture
When you create a Flash movie for the web, you're pulling together images, sound, text and animation, and bundling them up in a file that gets posted up on a web site.
The Flash software you install on your machine is the authoring environment in which you create your masterpiece. The `work in progress' is stored in a file with the extension .FLA. Once you're happy with your movie and you want to publish it, Flash will convert the .FLA file into a playable file with the extension .SWF - usually pronounced `swift in the Flash community. The .SWF file is then embedded in an HTML file on the server that hosts your site:
When a user visits your site, the .SWF file is downloaded into their browser and your movie is played back. All the viewer needs is the Flash Player plug-in installed on their machine: this plug-in is a reasonably compact download, and the vast majority of the world's browsers are equipped to play back Flash content.
One of the reasons that Flash is such a popular tool is that it uses vector graphics technology. There are two main graphic standards on the Internet: raster (bitmaps), and vector. The majority of static images that you see on the web are raster images, composed of files in formats such as .BMPs, .GlFs and JPGs. Raster images do a good job, but a big raster image usually requires a large file size, and a large file size means a long download time. And on the web, download time is everything. Internet users are fickle creatures: if a site's packed with raster images and is taking too long to load, they'll just skip it and go somewhere else. This is where vectors come in. They're small, fast, and funky.
Vector graphic files are much more compact and efficient compared to rasters, and Flash is the main tool for delivering vector graphics and vector-based animations on the web. The files that Flash creates are therefore comparatively small, which is one of the factors behind Flash's success. A well-constructed Flash file will also stream onto the user's computer: this means that it will load the first part of the animation and start playing it back while the rest of the animation loads in the background. Streaming a file correctly is an important technique for a Flash designer, as it means that a visitor to their site is presented with something visual and enticing as soon as they enter it removing the danger that they'll get bored and go elsewhere as they wait for the site to download.
Another disadvantage of raster images is that they're display dependent, meaning that if you create them to look just right on one particular display, your image could come out significantly altered if someone is using a different display resolution to you. Another factor is that if you zoom in on a raster image, the pixels just get bigger and bigger until you end up with a screen full of squares of color that are completely unrecognizable as the source image. Vector images though, can work independently of display because they just say 'I want a line from this point on the screen to that point on the screen' and the line will always be the same relative length and clarity, no matter what resolution you view the picture at. No matter how far you zoom into a vector, the image will still stay crisp and at full resolution.
So why would you ever want to use a raster? Well, raster formats are good for images with thousands of different colors. Can you imagine trying to describe a photograph in terms of vectors? It would be horribly complicated, and have a far bigger file size than the raster equivalent. Luckily Flash makes the most of both worlds: the vast majority of its drawings and animations are vector based, but when that extra richness that you can only get with a raster is needed, Flash will allow you to import a bitmap and use it in conjunction with the dominant vectors.
What's Significant about Flash 5?
If you've used a previous version of Flash, the first thing that you'll notice when you open up the program is that the basic interface has changed. Macromedia has implemented a new common interface across its product line to help users seamlessly move between applications, and to make learning a new application that little bit easier...
So is it a book to read from cover-to-cover or a volume of reference and inspiration for dipping in and out of? Well naturally it's both. But there's also a third way you can juice the material within these covers.
Enter Sham Bhangal, household god at friends of ED, and consultant throughout this project. He's written a topic map (see opposite) of the New Masters of Flash, grouping chapters thematically and explaining how you can carry on with a particular subject thread by jumping across to related chapters. It could almost be a case-study in how hypertext can't be made to work in print but Deborah has also laid the book out so that the tutorial sections follow a uniform pattern and color-scheme, making it easier to move from one technical section to another.
One last thing. Extending and souping up Flash design to yet higher realms of fantasy and wild interactivity seems to be accelerating by the day. If you want to nominate yourself or someone else for consideration as a writer/contributoron the next volume of New Masters of Flash, please get in touch with us through the website. We'd also like to say here that for reasons of space and time (i.e. pagecount and deadlines) some of our favourite New Masters had to be iced at unforeseen stages in the edit process.
We're looking forward to them flashing brighter still in the next edition.
Posted December 17, 2000
This is truly one of the most inspirational books I've ever read. If you're a web developer and you're looking for new ideas, or just want to see some cool stuff, this book has it all. The best of the best reveal their own inspirations as well as tutorials on how to achieve some of the hottest flash effects. The companion CD-ROM includes .fla files and downloads as well as video interviews with some of the book's authors.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2000
This book is amazing. I really enjoyed reading the essays written by the designer's themselves, and all of the tutorials. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to raise their skill level in Flash.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.