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Flash Essentials for After Effects Users

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Flash baffles After Effects users as often as it makes them feel comfortable. This chapter from Rich Harrington's After Effects for Flash | Flash for After Effects: Dynamic Animation and Video with Adobe After Effects CS4 and Adobe Flash CS4 Professional introduces you to Flash’s interface and core animation techniques.
Like this article? We recommend Creating a New Flash File

You can download lesson files for this chapter here.

Flash baffles After Effects users as often as it makes them feel comfortable. It’s timeline based, so in that sense it feels familiar, but its quirky way of handling tweens leaves many After Effects users puzzled. Flash is also eccentric from an After Effects point of view when it comes to rendering (publishing in Flash) and pre-composing (nesting). This chapter introduces you to Flash’s interface and core animation techniques.

Creating a New Flash File

You’ll start (where else?) by launching Flash CS4 and will immediately be stymied by the myriad options for creating a new file. You want to create a new Flash animation, but of which type: Flash File (ActionScript 3.0), Flash File (ActionScript 2.0), Flash File (Adobe AIR), and so on?

Generally, you’ll choose the top option, Flash File (ActionScript 3.0). ActionScript is a programming language (similar to JavaScript) that has two major versions: ActionScript 2.0 and 3.0. Since Flash is an animation and a programming tool, some users will need to consider which version of the language they’ll be using.

As an animator, you probably won’t be using ActionScript. But just in case one of your collaborators wants to add script later, you might as well choose the file format that supports the most recent version of the language, ActionScript 3.0.

This book focuses on the animation features of Flash. If you’re interested in ActionScript, which is mostly used for adding interactivity to Flash movies (buttons, forms, games, etc.), there’s a wealth of material available to help you. Be sure to read ActionScript 3.0: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit, 2008).

The other format choices include Flash File (Adobe AIR), which is for Flash movies intended to run on the desktop as opposed to in a Web browser; Flash File (Mobile) for mobile-phone applications; ActionScript File for content that is pure programming code; and a few other, rarely-chosen formats.

Let’s create a Flash file. You’ll create a bumper for a TV news show, which can also be used on the station’s Web site. You’ll start by creating a file, adjusting its dimensions, and saving it to your hard drive.

  1. At the splash screen, choose Flash File (ActionScript 3.0) in the Create New column.
  2. Flash’s interface appears, including the Stage (which is similar to After Effects’ Composition panel), the Timeline, and some support panels. To follow along with the steps in this book, choose Window > Workspace > Classic. After you’ve worked with Flash for a while, you might want to try some of the other workspace options; each of which sets up the interface in a different way.

  3. Choose the Selection tool (the black arrow) and then click the Stage to select it and reveal its properties. The Properties panel allows you to adjust most objects in Flash. It is context sensitive, displaying options for whatever object is currently selected. You want to change the width and height of the Stage, which is why you started by clicking the Stage.
  4. Click the Edit button in the Size portion of the Properties panel. The Document properties dialog opens.
  5. In the Document Properties dialog, set the Stage Dimensions to 1280 x 720. Leave the background color unchanged but set the frame rate to 30 since this is a video project intended for output to After Effects. Click OK.
  6. Choose File > Save. Name the file map.fla and save it to your hard drive.

File Types

Flash’s source format is the FLA (rhymes with spa) file. The FLA is similar to the AEP: It’s the file you edit, but it’s not the final rendered file. Like After Effects, Flash can render out in multiple formats. In other words, from a single FLA file you can output QuickTime videos, animated GIFs, and other movie formats. You can export files in these formats via the Export command (File > Export).

But the most common format is the SWF (pronounced swiff) file, which is exported via the Publish command (File > Publish). SWF files are the Flash files that run in Web browsers. So when you’re online and you’re watching a Flash movie, you’re actually watching a SWF file. SWF is such a common output format that most people think of SWF files and Flash files as the same thing. So if someone asks you for a Flash file, it’s important for them to specify whether they mean a SWF (the final output) or a FLA (the editable source file). As with the QuickTime movies you make in After Effects, SWFs aren’t editable. If you want to make changes, you must go back to the source file—the FLA.

A FLA file is an editable animation (and programming) source-file format that can only be generated and edited in Adobe Flash. From a FLA you can output a SWF file, but you can also output SWFs from other source formats, such as AEP or AI. Although you can generate SWFs in many applications, if you start making one in Flash, you have to finish making it in Flash. This is because Flash’s FLA source format is only editable in Flash. Similarly, you can generate QuickTime videos from many applications, but if your source format is AEP, you can only edit it in After Effects.

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