Flash 4 Review

Flash 4

Betty Travis
Flash creates vector, scalable, interactive animations for the Web. Flash movies are compact, download and scale to various screens, FAST! You can create animated logos, site navigation buttons/controls, interactive forms or entire web sites with Flash.

The screen interface is made up of a Scenes Frame, a Timeline (displays timing of scenes) a Stage (work bench area with editing, formatting, selection tools.) and the Library ( for media storage). You have standard layers interface allowing you to turn them off/on, move with drag and drop, hide, view or delete for position and design.

Set the Stage by choosing Modify > Movie from the drop down menu and size your background. A web page screen setting would be 550 x 400 pixels. Choose your color or background image. You are now ready for Scene 1, add a layer and create, drag from the library or import symbols (objects is a more familiar word to me).

Layers allow you to build starting with the bottom background, static object. Your actions, sound and symbols on separate layers make for easy editing and changes. Layers can be locked, duplicated, hidden or viewed, one and all. Reflective light and masking can be done in any layer.

Creating Symbols (graphic buttons or movie clips) is a flash! You may create an instance (repeat of a symbol) anytime throughout the movie. Movie clips need placed in only a single keyframe to play. Graphic instances must be placed in every keyframe you want the graphic to play. Be sure you are on the layer desired in your timeline and select the exact keyframe you want the graphic to appear. Otherwise it will go in the first keyframe to the left of the current frame.

The Timeline allows frame by frame animation and, with the limitless possibilities of objects, sounds and animations stored in the Library, movie making is only limited to your imagination.

Flash Publish feature publishes your movie for the web, creates an HTML file that opens the page in the browser and runs the flash movie and graphics (an .swf file). Flash can test the download performance of a single frame or an entire movie. You can run a preview of your movie at any time during creation, rewind and replay. (You may want to create an animated .gif for those browsers not supporting flash.) You have complete control and choice of property settings for every movie symbol (object), action and sound. Sound was the most fascinating to me.

Some Flash Lingo and program capabilities are:

Onion Skin This allows you to see several frames on an animated stage with the object superimposed from start to end.

Keyframe A frame where you define changes in animation. You can clear the keyframe at any time and create blank frames.

Inspectors View, organize and change elements in a Flash movie.

Motion Tweening is when you have a certain size, position, etc. at one end, and you change those at another point in time.

Shape Tweening is when you draw a shape at one point and draw another shape, at another place in time. Flash then performs and creates the animation. It is very easy to create motion of any object. You can even draw a path for the object to follow.

There are multiple frame and tweening methods for animation. (Frames by frame animation creates a larger file than tweening the object.)

I found Flash to be a combination of many programs aiding in faster project completion.

Drawing and Painting capabilities in Flash are again combined program features:

1.You have your common line and draw tools, but artist brush tools and stroke capabilities as well.

2. Import color palettes or create your own

3. Alpha slide for hue and saturation with scalable percentage RGB- HEX value modes

4. Complete gradient control

Common Graphic Selection Tools as in lasso, rotate, transfer, etc.

Rulers, Alignment, Grouping and Movement with common keyboard strokes.

Multiple Undo feature.

Printing of frames.

Text Editing and transfer typing in scaling, skewing, flipping quickly.

Easy Duplication of transformed objects using the Inspector. You may also update an imported file in the library you have worked on, such as a bitmap or sound, without importing it again.

Complex Vector Images can be imported from Freehand. Flash also supports Adobe Illustrator Files 88, 3.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0 formats.

Many File Extensions are supported in the Windows Version; for example .EPS, .DXF (AutoCad), .BMP, .CMF, .SPL, .GIF, .JPG, .PNG, .SWF, .WMF, .MOV.

An Expression Builder is available or you can write your own script.

You can create Pop-up Windows and Forms with Flash.

Sound can be added by just inserting a sound layer. You can have event sounds, or you can stream sound through the entire movie. Sounds can fade in and out.

The accompanying manual gives step by step instructions with a written tutorial, as well as a list of keyboard shortcuts. Many are the same as numerous, well-known programs, making Flash very user friendly for those familiar with graphic and video programs. The manual stressed the importance of understanding frame rate (frames per second). Twelve (12) is best for the Web. Motion Picture rate is twenty-four (24). Too slow will make your animation stop.

Install was quick, clean and uneventful, a real positive. The built-in program tutorial was very easy to understand with an explicit reference manual. It walked you through eight (8) lessons: Introduction, Drawing, Symbols, Layers, Buttons, Type, Animation and Sound. There were 24 samples in the initial install to view. I did not need to use tech support, but it is available. Windows System Requirements: Intel Pentium 133 or above. 20 MB Disk Space, 24 MB RAM recommended on 95-98 and 32 on NT, Color Monitor and CD-ROM, Microsoft 4.0 or Netscape 4.0 or higher.

For you former Flash users, Flash 4.0 New Features Include:

  1. Editable text fields for audience interaction and participation (sophisticated games, surveys, password entry fields and forms).
  2. Improved library window uses number tracking of images, displays symbol type and last modification with column item sort capabilities.
  3. Able to create folders to organize hundreds of assets for larger projects.
  4. MP 3 Streaming Audio for efficient low-bandwidth delivery.
  5. One step publish exporting of your movies in multiple format as well as supporting HTML file.
  6. Imports and exports color palettes for consistency.
  7. Redesigned timeline, motion tween in one step and updated layer controls resulting in more production of animation in a shorter time.

A regularly updated Web Site with latest news, examples, etc. can be found at:

www.macromedia.com/support/flash

Flash may be purchased at www.macromedia.com separately or packaged with other Dynamic Macromedia Programs. Flash 5 has just been released with an approximate price of $130.00 at www.buy.com.

As strictly a personal note, I was both pleased and impressed with the program. Visit the reviews section often. I will be updating my skills and expertise in Web Development with Flash Movies.

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