A Better System: A Lesson From The Flash Community

Justin | Animate/Flash,politics | Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I reluctantly began using Flash just over four years ago. I say “reluctantly” because at the time I was looking for a 2-D animation tool and the animation that I’d seen in Flash looked homogeneous. While this assumption is still somewhat true of Flash, there are plenty of talented animators out there who are happy to prove it wrong (see John K. and  Adam Phillips for starters). I also had no interest in doing any programming at the time, which is another one of Flash’s impressive capabilities.

Other than an aptitude for learning new software, I didn’t have any head start in learning Flash. I don’t have a degree in Computer Science and I didn’t take any special classes. The first time I opened the Flash application on a university computer, I had no idea what to do with it. Trying to become an animator in my free time happened to dovetail nicely with trying to become a career graphic designer, since much of the software and visual principles are shared across the two disciplines. So early on, my prescient wife, Amy, the other half of AJAR, bought me a copy of Macromedia Studio for my birthday, which included Flash Professional.

I immediately started playing around with Flash and looking for resources online. I found this animator, Chris Georgenes, who was doing some really polished animation in Flash. I looked into his resume and found out he had worked on two of my favorite animated shows, first as a video editor on Dr. Katz, then as an Art Director on Home Movies. Then I found that Chris was also maintaining another site, Keyframer, where he was posting tutorials. These tutorials were my most important introductions to Flash. They got me rolling in a hurry, and they got me excited about what I was producing.

On top of putting out these great tutorials, when I wrote Chris with a question, he graciously replied with a solution to my problem. This was one of my most important introductions to the community surrounding Flash. This giant of the Flash community, this person whose work I’d idolized, wrote me back and helped me out. And I’ve continued to have similar experiences within the Flash community ever since.

Now that my income directly involves Flash and I’m comfortable in all things Flash, I try to give back to a community that has given me so much. I try to follow the example set by Chris Georgenes and those like him. My early Flash community experiences are the primary reason that I release extensions for free and why I try to help answer questions on Flash forums. I think this atmosphere is a big part of what makes working in Flash so fun, not to mention what can be done with the tool itself.

It seems that my modest amount of “paying it forward” has already come back to benefit me. Chris Georgenes will be including a two-page spread of my extensions in his soon-to-released book, How to Cheat in Flash CS4. I highly recommend picking up a copy, not just because I’m in there, but because I’m a living example of how useful Chris’s instructional work can be.

I’ll make another pitch for the book when it’s released, but I felt compelled to write a note about it today, a day before the elections here in the United States. Particularly, I want talk about the McCain/Palin tactic of trying to brand Obama as a “socialist.” Forget for a moment that there’s little evidence to support such a claim about Obama: Why is socialism still a dirty word? Have we not grown up as a nation? Socialism and capitalism can coexist in one system. In fact, they coexist in all western democracies, including the US, and there’s certainly nothing incompatible with socialism and democracy. After all, it is “We the people…”, not “We the corporations…”, nor “We the oligarchs…”, etc. In fact, some of the best things we have in the US are socialist ideas: libraries, schools, hospitals, parks, roads…anything you tack the word “public” on to, not to mention police and fire departments. If we were pure capitalists we’d be paying a toll to cross each plot of land. Going to the grocery store would be prohibitively expensive!

The Flash community is a perfect working example of a healthy socialism-capitalism hybrid. Everybody can get free help, people are generally treated respectfully, it’s full of entrepreneurs, and there’s tons of money to be made. There’s no good reason why this community model can’t be emulated at larger levels. So for heaven’s sake, vote, but also, question everything you hear leveled as an attack. Especially the supposed evils of socialism. Visit a Flash forum or two and see what I’m talking about. It’s definitely been in my self-interest to share with my community. The payoffs have been far greater than they would have been if I’d acted with an expectation of direct returns, and I would not be where I am without the generosity of others in the community.

Thank you very much to Chris Georgenes for all he’s done for Flash community. I’ve benefited greatly from his sharing. Check out his sites, Mudbubble, Keyframer, and the Keyframer Forum. And don’t forget to check out How to Cheat in Flash CS4 when it comes out.

A special thank you to Lee Brimelow as well. Lee’s been releasing fantastic free video tutorials and sharing his knowledge with the Flash community for years, well before Adobe was paying him. I had a chance to meet him at FlashCamp and he’s super nice guy in person as well. Check out his sites, The Flash Blog, gotoAndLearn(), and the gotoAndLearn() Forums.

David Stiller’s blog is also an invaluable reference for Flash solutions and he’s got some fantastic books listed on the side of his blog page as well.

If you’re wanting to learn more Flash, lynda.com is also worth a look. There are a handful of free previews with each title to get your feet wet.

This is not an exhaustive list of resources, these are just a few that I’ve found extremely useful.

Feel free to post more resources that you’ve found useful in your own experience in the comments. And feel free to offer suggestions about how we can make the broader community more like the Flash community.

Flash Extension: Roughen Edges

Justin | Animate/Flash,extensions | Friday, October 31st, 2008

Sometimes I’m going for a slick, smooth look in Flash. Sometimes I want my drawings to look a little rougher. This extension adds a command that will roughen the edges of lines, fills, and drawing objects. It can be re-applied for more dramatic effects. It’s an imperfect implementation, so make sure to keep an eye on what you’re doing. There can be some unexpected results, especially when applying it to one element repeatedly.

(painstakingly compatible back to Flash MX 2004)
Roughen Edges.mxp

Flash Player Gets Color Management

Justin | Animate/Flash,design | Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Looks like there’s now a way to avoid that pesky color shift when bringing artwork into Flash. John Nack has the details.

Flash Extension and JSFL resource

Justin | Animate/Flash,extensions,jsfl,links | Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

I was doing some research/wandering and I found this great list of Flash extension sites and JSFL resources on the 5 1/2 blog.

How to Control Things with Actionscript

Justin | ActionScript,Animate/Flash,tips,Tutorials | Monday, October 20th, 2008

When working with other designers in Flash, I generally serve as the last line of defense for unsolved functionality mysteries. I often find that there’s a mishap that has resulted from changed or lost instance names, effectively decapitating pieces of code. So how do you control things with Actionscript?

The short answer: Instance Names.

For the detailed answer check out this video tutorial using Actionscript 3.

The Actionscript has to know “who” you’re wanting to talk to. Just as we know human beings by name, and talk about them and to them by name, Actionscript references objects by name. A teacher might tell “Timmy” to sit down. Accordingly, your script might tell “circle” to move 10 pixels to the left. If no symbol with the name, “circle” exists, nothing happens; just as no one sits down if there’s no “Timmy” in the classroom.

Referencing nested MovieClips works the same way, just add a dot inbetween:
var clipReference = grandparentClip.parentClip.childClip;

Remember that a symbol name is different than an instance name. You can have multiple instances of a symbol on stage, but each instance name has to be unique. Instance names are set in the Property Inspector, symbol names are set in the Library.

Keep this idea in mind when working with Actionscript and it will make your life a whole lot easier.

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