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Flash 8 Review (Exclusive Article)

Reiven Articles May 23, 2006

As a reward to the impatient anticipations fueled by the hints at Macromedia site, we've recently laid eyes on the latest version of Flash 8, one of the most popular applications for creating animation. But Flash has long stopped being just an animation tool. It has revolutionized into a highly effective multimedia solution that can integrate various multimedia formats. The flash software has impacted and penetrated all the forms of visual information and propaganda and has become a de facto standard in the world wide web.

The majority of the new Flash capabilities require the new Flash Player 8 for demonstration.

So, at first glance the program might seem unchanged to the new user. But half an hour spent in playing with the application and perusing the menus will leave you pleasantly surprised! The highly user-friendly interface characteristic of almost all the Macromedia applications has become even better! The first thing, which catches the eye, is the ability to group several panels into one creating the so-called tabs. This reminds of Photoshop, though the solution was clearly missing in Flash MX 2004 compared to most other complex applications.

The next feature to be mentioned is the improved Library panel. Now it has really become easier to switch libraries when working with a large number of fla.files at the same time. With a simple click on the icon, you can create as many floating widows as you need. All these features add convenience and reduce the disorder.

A few abilities removed from the Flash MX 2004 have found their way back into Flash 8. Among them is the system of cancelling the operations, i.e. Object-level undo joined the Document-level undo. For some mysterious reason Macromedia decided to omit this option in Flash MX 2004. Most users including myself were not satisfied with it back then. Now there is a choice. Another come-back is the Normal Mode in Action Panel, which is now called Script Assist. I prefer to write the scripts manually, though, but many users, who need only the basic scenarios of animation control, might find this assistant handy.

All the drawing instruments have acquired the new button "Object Drawing" that allows to draw superimposing shapes in the same layer without the risk of one form being "eaten" by the other while editing. The users of such vector programs as Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand will now find it easier to adapt to drawing in flash. Honestly, on my first acquaintance with Flash, I was shocked by the application's behaviour while drawing and editing shapes.

The new item in the Modify menu called Combine Objects will let you carry out boolean operations with shapes just as in other vector applications (Freehand, Illustrator, CorelDraw).

Using the gradient has become more effective. Now you can use up to 15 color hues in the gradient; you can control the focal point of the radial gradient and you can also indicate how the gradient has to behave beyond its limits (repeat itself or reflect as a mirror image).

Designers creating vector images directly in flash are sure to like the new ability to apply the gradient to strokes.

Text. The use of the new FlashType technology has made it possible to significantly improve the small font representation both in FlashPlayer and the program itself. Finally! This had created a multitude of problems before. Of course, the final solution to this problem is far from now because of the quality of the medium of representation - the monitor, more precisely because of its resolution (around 72 ppi). So far, it has a long way to go to match the printing standards (300 dpi). However, credit is due to the Macromedia developers for achieving impressive results in this process. The newly available options for all the three text fields are Alias for Readability and Custom Anti-Alias (Flash Professional only). Here's the example of using different ways of anti-aliasing:

image 1

Yes, the text fields acquired the new manipulators. No more do you have to click on the field to change its size.

Cashing the vector movies such as bitmaps (Bitmap Caching). Used correctly, caching can help you achieve a much faster animation performance. A vector movie is cached as a bitmap saving the resources needed before for continuous redrawing of the vector image. It's important to note, though, that this function shouldn't be switched on for the movies with the changing content, or the performance would be reduced. This option will be useful, for example, if there is a complicated vector background and you have to animate the object on top of this background. Or, for instance, you might be creating an application, which uses windows that may cover each other. In this case, the vector windows can be cached, improving the interactivity.

A couple of final words about bitmaps. The rendering of bitmaps during scaling and rotation has considerably improved in the Flash 8 player. Numerous effects that are widely used in photo galleries will be played even more smoothly now. Well, try and see for yourself.

Animation. The developers have done a magnificent job in this field! The change of animation speed can now be controlled not only by setting the percentage for acceleration and deceleration (slowing down). In this version, you can build the whole graph to correlating the animation with speed and time, i.e. the current frame. For example, the falling effect for each item in this menu (Flash Player 8 had to be used)

was created using motion tween and this graph for each item:

image 2
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But the most wonderful thing is that different graphs can be used for moving, rotating, scaling the movie, and also for the filters applied to it. However, working with the curve is not completely convenient. Ideally, you'd want it to be a full spline, i.e. so that you could create the sharp points and smooth points for a given point of a curve the way it's done in Illustrator or CorelDraw.

Filters and blend modes. I'm not sure whether this feature has been down the road for a long time, or the integration with Adobe helped, but filters and blend modes are a find for designers! Considering that these filters can be controlled with ActionScript, the range of effects to be created in design and games is almost unimaginable. So, the following filters are available at the moment:

  • drop shadow
  • blur
  • glow
  • bevel
  • gradient bevel
  • gradient glow
  • color adjustments

It's safe to say, tough, that it's only the beginning and a lot of new filters are on the way - to be created by independent developers (the same way they were created for Photoshop) or by the advanced users, with the help of ActionScript.

image 3
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image 4
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image 5
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Using blend modes, you can blend movies (buttons) that cover each other by varying the degree of transparency of the top movie. This process in called compositing by pros. The following blending modes are available.

  • normal
  • layer
  • darken
  • multiply
  • lighten
  • screen
  • overlay
  • hard light
  • difference
  • invert
  • alpha

Experiment is the best way to understand the workings of each mode. I think most will like these blends. I remember experimenting with these blends myself in Photoshop. It's a really great thing that lets you create amazing collages. There are fewer modes in Flash than in Photoshop, of course, but the ability to animate all this is very attractive.

image 6
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The new Flash version lets you upload a file to server directly from the program. In the past, this could be done only using the HTML, which spoiled Flash as a full-fledged client in client-server applications. Now forms can be created with the help of FileUpload using two new classes, FileReference and FileReferenceList, and the browse method.

Meta information. Each swf. file can be filled with some info for the Internet search engines. For this purpose, there are 2 fields in the Document Properties window: "Title" and "Description". These files are supposed to be indexed by search engines, but we can't be quite sure yet whether they have the appropriate algorithms. If this metainfo really proves to be recognizable in practice, Flash is sure to expand its conquests of the Internet.

Flash 8 Review (Exclusive Article)

Just a few words about video, as I'm not a frequent user of Video in flash. In the previous version, the video import-export options were very limited. If fact, only the Sorenson Squeeze codec could be used. The new Import Video Wizard allows you to adjust the quality, and consequently the weight, of a given video. You can change the video size (cropping) and set the initial and final points of playing (trimming). The wizard includes a perfect video playback interface where you can choose layouts starting from a very simple one (with a Play button and a volume slider) to full-fledged video control elements. Another good feature is the ability to work with video using alpha channels, i.e. vary the transparency of video tracks.

As a final thought, I'd like to thank the Macromedia team for their Flash technology including the new version of one of the most popular animation programs Macromedia Flash 8. Although this version can't boast such a long list of newly added feature as its previous counterparts, I would stress the special importance and relevance of these features both for the flash designers and flash programmers. In the context of the recent Adobe-Macromedia' merger, we can soon expect something like "Adobe Flash". At this moment, casting a glance over all the software products released by this acquired company, I would like to note the huge contributions of this company into developing the Internet, the interactive media of communication and education, and into the multimedia filed as whole. I hope Adobe uses this momentum to advance this development even further.


Dustin Kein

Dustin Kein is an editor at Web Design Library. He's in charge of selecting materials for the PhotoShop and HTML sections of this site. From time to time Dustin contributes some of his tutorials to WDL in order to cover the most actual topics for WDL visitors. Besides this, he's an active forum member whose posts are always helpful, concise and timely.

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