I have been working quite intensely in Adobe Flash for the last 3 months, so I am by no means going to call myself a pro or expert. I can however offer some advice to a newbie who is busy trying to wrap their heads around the bizarre world of Flash. I won’t lie, its a terrible program, with archaic methods for animation and all the standard crappy bezier handles that adobe love to dish up in their CS Suite. However flash certain has its place in the world… I have honestly taken a step back at shock when it just does something thats freaking amazing. It certainly is going to be around for a while. Anyway, I have kept a list of small tips that might just help you get up and running a little quicker.
Take some Shortcuts
So lets assume you have used a few other Adobe apps before. I would hazard a guess and assume you have used Photoshop? Great, so ‘Cntl+0′ right? Super useful shortcut… well lets set that up in Flash quick. Sadly flash doesn’t have the exact same functionality and so you will actually need to set two shortcuts to achieve the same result. Start by going to Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts:
- Zoom to All, otherwise known as ‘Show Frame‘… set that to Cntl +9
- Zoom to 100%… and set that to Cntl +0
Now if you hit those both right after each other, you will have effectively centered the Frame to the work area, and then zoomed to 100%. I find this super useful, coz I keep popping back to 100% to check my drawing & line thickness etc.
- Create ‘New Layer‘… set that to Cntl+Shift+N
I couldn’t believe there was no predefined shortcut for creating a new layer… anyway this was a simple solution to that one. Sadly there is no way to easily rename a layer and so you will need to either click to rename or get smart using the Distribute to Layers option (see below)
You’ll be stop();’ing alot
I found that most animations by default looped, there are some options with in a Graphic Symbol to make animations only play once, or loop a set number of times. The simplest method for quickly stopping the playback of an animation at any desired point would be to simply create a layer for action scripts throw in a key frame where you want the animation to stop, hit F9 and simply type in stop(); This is going to become your newest best friend so learn to love it because you’re going be typing it a lot. :p
Put on your Mask
If you’ve ever worked in Corel Draw then flash treats masking just like a powerclip (just across layers). If you haven’t then don’t stress, you just need to imagine that your ‘mask’ (which can be any vector shape) is just a window to another world. It like sitting in your house and looking outside, you know there is more garden out there however you can only see through the ‘glass’ or mask area.
To create a mask, start by making a new layer and drawing a simple object/shape onto it. Next right click on that layer and hit ‘Mask’. It will automatically mask the layers below it.
Fill the Gap
Probably the single most useful feature when it comes to filling outlines with colour. I was so often frustrated that no matter how hard I tried a line would often never be accurately ‘closed’ and thus the fill tool would never let me fill an object with colour. Well finally when I discovered the ‘Close Gaps’ options it changed my feelings towards flash forever. Very exciting and very useful indeed… use it!
Gradients need the Transformers
Not exactly Michael Bay style Transformers… but you are going to find that Gradients are not entirely controlled inside the ‘Color Pallete’ they instead have an entire tool to themselves (Shortcut = F). Yup, this enables the Gradient Transform Tool which lets you do everything you would expect of a gradient fill, move, rotate and scale it to your hearts desire.
Distribute to Layers
Oh Yes! This one rocks I would often find myself getting lost simply drawing out my objects on my set. I would be careful enough creating symbols for each object or item, but might find myself forgetting to create layers. The ‘Distribute to Layers’ command, found by right clicking on a selection of symbols will automatically go ahead and create a new layer for every symbol. What makes this part of my everyday workflow now is that it names each layer for me to the name of the symbol! Oh yes, now we’re cooking on gas! Just as a word of warning, I did find this tool a little unstable on large numbers of items. Save your file before distributing.
Ooooh yes, must remember these! Colour effects, only offered on symbols can be ridiculously useful. Just being able to key the ‘Alpha’ value of an object via a classic tween is super handy… not to mention tinting standard items of one colour to another to be reused somewhere else. Often the ‘Advanced’ option was my first port of call, allowing colour tinting and alpha all in one keyable feature. Just watch, you’ll start using this one a lot.
No no, not Alpha Males… just alpha masks! So you thought the mask tool was super handy, eh? Well meet the Alpha Mask… finally something that lets you fade off your masking for a vignetted style fade! Oh YES! It gets a little more complicated but ultimately its pretty straight forward. In my example below I have a vector symbol named ‘fade’ and in that symbol I have a standard black to white vignette. Well this code below then converts that vector image to a bitmap and this is then set in code to only mask the object ‘lightBeams’. Go ahead an copy the code from below onto your Action Script layer. I would generally initialise these sorts of effects on frame one.
Sadly these effects don’t preview in the workspace, but once published they work just perfectly.
fade.cacheAsBitmap = true;
lightBeams.cacheAsBitmap = true;
Just my final thoughts. I had never heard an extremely positive comment about Flash, these past 3 months certainly have shown me some of the hidden powers of Flash. So easy to publish to Android for example! WOW! Its a strange beast, very strange indeed… however it has a unique place and nothing else is able to fill the shoes that flash suits just perfectly. I am glad to have learnt it, yet equally glad to be moving back to my first love of 3D Animation. Next up time to learn Houdini