Flash CS3 Review

Flash CS3, the first version of Flash released under Adobe’s banner, is arguably the most dramatically enhanced program in the new CS3 suite. Flash has two interacting components: ActionScript, Flash’s powerful programming language, and the timeline-based stage, Flash’s unique design environment for generating vector-based (scalable) animation.

In Flash CS3, Adobe unveils a revamped interface, with features such as object alignment, colour, swatches, and scaling, all accessed using Photoshop-style panels and shortcuts. Other interface improvements include the ability to use your mouse’s scroll wheel to scan through sets of layers in the timeline, and the ability to create tabbed panels.

Perhaps the most radical innovation in Flash CS3 is its vastly improved integration with Illustrator CS3. When competitors Macromedia and Adobe published Illustrator and Flash, they were estranged cousins, sharing the ability to create scalable, vector-based graphics, but not communicating with each other very well. Importing vector drawings from Illustrator into Flash was a clunky chore, with many elements of Illustrator artwork getting lost in the process. Now that Illustrator and Flash are part of the same family, Flash CS3 incorporates Illustrator’s powerful Pen tool for drawing and editing curves. Even better, you can copy and paste directly from Illustrator into Flash and open Illustrator files in Flash.

Now, when Flash imports Illustrator artwork, it recognizes and preserves an impressive set of attributes including layers, groups, symbols, anchor point placements, gradients, and some effects (such as drop shadows). Clipping masks from Illustrator CS3 are maintained in Flash CS3, along with opacity settings. The most advanced implementation of Illustrator-to-Flash workflow is the ability to create a symbol in Illustrator (such as a button), and save it as a Flash movie clip.

With CS3, Adobe has introduced the ability to preview nine-slice scaling for vector graphics in Flash and to define nine-slice scaling in Illustrator CS3 and Fireworks CS3. The nine-slices refers to a grid that you can superimpose over an object (a button, for example) that regulates how the object is scaled. The nine-slice scaling that you define in Illustrator or Fireworks is now preserved when you copy and paste a symbol into Flash.


Device central
For several years now, designers have assumed that nearly everyone’s web browser supports Flash movies and scripting. What’s new is the rapidly growing support for Flash Lite, the version of the Flash player created for mobile devices.

Flash CS3 includes Adobe’s new Device Central preview and testing environment, which facilitates development for Flash Lite devices. Device Central is also packaged with other CS3 applications – we’ve found it helpful in previewing Dreamweaver CS3 HTML – and CSS-based websites. But testing Flash interfaces for mobile devices is really amazing. Device Central provides an interactive testing environment that allows designers to identify glitches, bugs, and aesthetic problems early in the design process.

The Flash CS3 basket of goodies includes some improvements for programmers. Among the minor enhancements for coders are improved features in the ActionScript editor for selecting and collapsing chunks of code. And programmers can now copy properties that define a Flash motion tween (or animation) as ActionScript 3.0 code. This allows developers to store and apply the motion properties (like position, size, rotation, colour, blending properties, and animation motion guides) to other symbols. And Flash now allows more flexibility in exporting movies to QuickTime format, such as the ability to preserve filters such as drop shadows, as well as other effects that previously required the Flash Player. Flash also supports more programmed effects created using ActionScript coding as opposed to just supporting graphics and animation created in the Timeline stage.

The Flash Video Encoder, packaged with Flash CS3, allows developers to convert video from Apple’s QuickTime format to FLV (Flash Video). The Flash Video Encoder has a handy set of video editing tools built-in, including the ability to crop and resize video during the conversion process. And digital video developers using Apple’s Final Cut Pro can encode to Flash’s FLV format directly from that program.

OUR VERDICT

Flash CS3 Professional includes dramatic new features for designers, particularly its integration with Illustrator CS3. The ability to import (or paste) Illustrator vector graphics into Flash is a major event in the evolution of animation design, and the ability to import Illustrator graphic symbols has the potential to radically improve animation workflow. Flash CS3’s adoption of the Illustrator Pen tool (similar to the Pen tool in InDesign and Photoshop) will help designers jump easily back and forth between Flash and the rest of the CS3 suite. The coding enhancements are less radical, but even developers using Flash strictly as a programming tool will appreciate the previewing abilities of Device Central.

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