Flash CS4 Professional review

Flash has always relied on frame-based animation – until CS4. The model is now object based, meaning objects can be animated individually and in relation to each other, as opposed to animating by layers or frames as Flash animators will be used to.

As the object-based model is relative, it has given rise to Inverse Kinematics (IK) in Flash. This is basically a way to take a symbol and animate it in relation to another symbol. To join the symbols in the chain together, the new Bones tool is used, overlaying linked ‘bones’ on them and creating a rig or armature. Once the chain is complete, any of the individual bones can be used to manipulate the rest of the rig. This can then be animated using keyframes as usual. IK works with symbols only – Flash has to work in real time and can’t handle bitmap manipulation. In the Property Inspector, you can set a runtime option that will export a rigged object as a SWF file, which can be manipulated in real time.

Flash in motion

The object-oriented method is a bit of a paradigm shift, but you’ll probably find it streamlines a lot of the tasks in Flash. Creating motion tweens, for example, can now be carried out in two steps, rather than five or six. You just drag an object to the stage, right click and select CreateMotionTween. Flash will define the object as a symbol and provide it with a motion path, as well as a corresponding one-second span in the timeline. Then all you need to do to create a Flash animation and a motion path is to drag the object across the stage. It really simplifies the various animation tasks.

More importantly, keyframes are added automatically for any changes you make. Each single frame in a tween can track multiple keyframe attributes individually. For example, you can make adjustments to transparency or rotation independently of each other. You can also just drag the end of the span in the timeline to change the duration, and so the speed, of the animation.

Flash CS4 also supports Motion Presets for animations, storing all the data the animation is built on. The new Motion Editor offers granular control of properties and keyframes, allowing them to be modified on an individual basis. By right-clicking on specific keyframes you’re able to smooth the rate of the animation around them, so giving an easing effect. There’s also an Eases section, with ease presets for applying different effects, such as bounce in, or ‘spring’ ease. Custom eases can be built and added to the preset library.

There are two new tools in the Flash toolbar, the 3D Rotation Tool and 3D Translation (move) tools. Clicking the 3D rotation tool changes the interface to display a crosshair on the stage, which allows you to manipulate objects in the X, Y and Z axes. To animate objects in 3D, you right-click as before to choose Create Motion Tween, then use the 3D Rotation tool to manipulate the object. You can’t add lighting and shading as you can when rendering 3D in After Effects, but Flash can now create real-time interactive 3D output.

Other new features include the Deco tool, which uses the principle of procedural drawing, to extrapolate a symmetry or pattern from a single symbol based on mathematical calculations. Not just simple symbols are supported – anything that Flash can handle or is present in the Library, such as graphics or animated objects, can be used as the base object.

If you click on Import video, a wizard starts the Adobe Media Encoder, which now supports formats like MPEG-4. CS4 also introduces XFL, the XML-based version of the FLA file format. Set to replace FLA, XFL has been made open to third-party developers, so will allow other applications to output it. InDesign CS4 and After Effects CS4 already do so, which is great for cross-media publishing workflows. Flash can also now publish AIR applications directly from Flash projects, bundling the project with a standalone installer.

OUR VERDICT

The most revolutionary update across Web Premium is to be found in Flash Professional’s object-based animation. If you’re doing anything with interactive web experiences, you will need to investigate this. The 3D and Deco tools are interesting, but the enhanced MPEG-4 support will probably be of more instant commercial value.

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