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Tips, Tips, and More Tips

Okay—enough about panel management. Let's talk about the really cool stuff. Let's talk about all the little, oft-undocumented tricks you can use to beat Flash 8 into submission.

Output Panel

First, long-time Flash nerds might have noticed that the Output panel is a little strange. If you want to clear the Output panel, you can right-click and choose Clear, but what if you want to select all the text and copy it? Pressing Ctrl/Cmd+A does not select all the text as it does in other applications, so it looks as if you have to click and drag to select everything you want to copy. Fortunately, that's not true. Although it might not appear that all the text in the panel is selected, it actually is. Just click once inside the panel and press Ctrl/Cmd+A; then press Ctrl/Cmd+C to copy the text. The text is not highlighted, but it is in fact selected. Pasting the copied text into another application proves it.

The Output panel now has a second option for clearing text. Instead of right-clicking and choosing Clear from the contextual menu, click inside the panel and press Backspace or Delete. All the text is immediately cleared from the panel.

Finally, the Ctrl/Cmd+F keyboard shortcut, which means Find in most applications, now works in the Output panel. It also works in the Help panel, which definitely helps cut down on the time it takes to find particular words or phrases in the Help documentation. Much easier than scanning the text yourself!

Help Panel

And speaking of the Help panel, which has been known for quite awhile as being the least helpful thing in the authoring tool, you should be aware that it's been almost completely overhauled. Topics are still organized into "books," but you can now filter which books you want to view by choosing a topic from a drop-down menu. By doing so, you see only the books associated with that topic. This is especially helpful when performing a search within the Help panel because it limits the search results, making the information you want easier to locate.

After you choose a page to view from the search results (which are much better than they used to be), the term you searched for is highlighted within the page, so you can easily find the section within the content that mentions your search term. See Figure 4 for an example of the new Help panel.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Help! For once, I can actually find what I'm looking for, and it's freaking me out.

Filters

The Filters panel, grouped with the Properties panel in Flash 8 Professional, has a great purpose: It allows you to add various filters to MovieClips and Buttons in your movie to create visual effects such as drop shadows and blur effects. But did you know that you can save your settings for any filter as a custom filter?

To do this, apply a filter (via the Add Filter button in the Filters panel) to a MovieClip or Button and customize the settings for the filter. Next, click the Add Filter button again and choose Presets > Save As (see Figure 5). Give your filter a name and click OK. To access the filter later on, simply choose it from the Presets menu.

Figure 5

Figure 5 Saving presets for filters can save you all sorts of time later.

In no time at all, you'll have an arsenal of custom filters.

Undo Options

Flash versions up through Flash MX handled Undo actions at the object level. For example, if you edited something on the main Timeline, then edited something inside of a MovieClip, and then performed a series of Undo actions, only the MovieClip would be affected. You had to manually return to the main Timeline to undo steps that you performed there. But in Flash MX 2004, Macromedia changed this behavior, so that Undo actions are at the document level, as they are in other applications. This upset some people who were used to the old way. So now, in Flash 8, Undo actions can function either way, depending on your personal preferences.

To make your choice, open the Preferences dialog box and choose either Object-level Undo or Document-level Undo from the Undo dropdown menu in the General section.

Object Drawing

With Object Drawing enabled, you can draw shapes that are already "grouped" instead of producing raw artwork that must be grouped or converted to a symbol. (Object Drawing can be enabled by activating the Rectangle, Oval, Pen, Pencil, or Brush tools, and then toggling the Object Drawing button in the Options section of the toolbar.) This makes new shapes easier to work with in many cases. But what Macromedia didn't tell anyone is that you can leverage Object Drawing to create shapes with more precision.

Try this out: Create a new Flash 8 document, activate the Rectangle tool, and enable Object Drawing in the Options section of the toolbar. Next, press the Alt key and click on the stage. A Rectangle Settings dialog box is produced (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6 At last, I don't even have to draw shapes.

In the Rectangle Settings dialog bog, you can set exact dimensions for your rectangle by simply entering new values into the Width and Height fields. You can also set the corner radius for your rectangle via the Corner Radius field. A low number in the Corner Radius field results in more square corners, and higher numbers result in more rounded corners (generally, you don't want to use a value higher than, say, 5 or 10). Finally, you can choose whether or not to draw the shape from its center point. Unchecking the Draw From Center option means that the shape is drawn from its top-left corner.

Clicking OK adds the new object to the stage, using the dimensions you set. In other words, you no longer have to actually draw anything. You can fill out a form, and Flash draws it for you. You can go back to being lazy.

Another cool thing you can do with drawn objects is avoid using the Ink Bottle tool. With Object Drawing enabled, draw a rectangle with no stroke. After you create the shape, use the Color picker in the Properties panel to set a stroke color. A stroke is automatically added to the shape, and the Ink Bottle isn't necessary.

Custom Easing

This is a documented feature, so you could learn about it somewhere else. But it's really cool, and you might have missed it while reading the overwhelming amount of information out there about Flash 8, so I thought I'd mention it.

In the old days of Flash MX 2004, you had the option to either Ease In or Ease Out when creating motion tweens, so your animated object could either slow down or speed up as it neared the end of the tween. In Flash 8, the possibilities are limitless. Object properties such as position, rotation, and scale can all be eased in wildly different ways by using the Custom Ease In/Ease Out dialog box, shown in Figure 7.

After you create a motion tween for a symbol instance, select a frame within the motion tween, and then click the Edit button in the Properties panel to open the Custom Ease In/Ease Out dialog box. Simply click at any point on the graphed line and drag to adjust how the object in your animation should ease. From the Property drop-down menu in the dialog box, you can choose which property to ease.

With this one dialog box, you can suddenly create complicated movements with two keyframes and one motion tween that previously took many keyframes—each with its own easing setting. This is definitely one of the coolest new features for animators.

Quicker Animation

Another trick you might not have noticed is that although you cannot select an object in the middle of a tween, you can drag an object, and doing so creates a new keyframe for you. This can really speed up the act of creating multistep animations.

To see this in action, create a simple two-frame motion tween, perhaps sliding a box from left to right. Next, select a frame in the middle of the motion tween in the Timeline and then click the object you're animating. The object cannot be selected, but you can drag it. Drag the object to a new position. As soon as you let go of the mouse button, the frame you selected in the motion tween is converted to a keyframe. So, instead of creating animations one section at a time, set the position of your object at its start frame and end frame, and then add all the in-between positions by simply selecting frames in the tween and moving the object. This trick easily cuts your animation time in half.

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