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Understanding the Capabilities of Flash

Komail A. Noori

The Macromedia Flash authoring tool was originally an animation tool, but it is so much more than that today. From the early days when it was known as FutureSplash to the Flash 8 version today, Flash has always excelled as a vector-drawing and animation tool. Even though animation is still a large part of what Flash does, now it is only a fraction of the Flash toolset. Here are the broad categories available in Flash 8 authoring:

Vector graphics – Vector drawings are made up of many lines and curves and fills, each defined by a set of coordinates and the paths along them. These paths-vectors-are described via mathematical functions. Because mathematical formulas are used to store and create the image, they are resolution independent and can be resized arbitrarily smaller or larger with no loss of quality. Also, images based on calculations are generally smaller in file size than bitmap images, which is an advantage for bandwidth-limited Web delivery.

Bitmap graphics – Bitmap (a.k.a. raster) images are made up of a grid of pixels. Every pixel’s color and location in the grid must be stored individually, which usually (but not always) means larger file sizes than images made of vector calculations. Although Flash handles bitmap graphics, the program is not built for direct image manipulation on a pixel level; rather, Flash is primarily an image handler. Flash can retain JPEG compression of imported JPEG files, as well as apply lossless or custom lossy compression to imported bitmap images.

Animation – Flash is an excellent tool for vector animation, given that the native file format is vector-based. Color and alpha effects can be applied over time by using Flash’s built-in tweening, by using a series of manually modified keyframes, or by controlling symbols with ActionScript. Time-based animations can also be streamed so that playback can begin before the entire Flash movie has downloaded into the Flash Player.

Multimedia authoring – Flash can import a wide range of media formats in addition to standard vector and bitmap image formats. For example, Flash is capable of importing video directly into the authoring environment. Flash can also import audio files in most common formats at author-time or dynamically stream MP3 audio at runtime. Both of these can be used to enhance your productions and animations. You can manipulate these assets with ActionScript and add interactive functionality to them.

Dynamic content – Flash can incorporate dynamically loaded information into your productions. Text, images, and MP3s can be loaded into the movie at runtime, and information can also be sent from the movie to a server or database.

Rich Internet Applications – Since the release of Flash MX, Macromedia has coined the term Rich Internet Applications, or RIAs, to refer to a new breed of Web applications that use Flash Player technology to access sophisticated enterprise-level server applications. Several technologies have been developed by Macromedia, including Flash Remoting and Flash Communication Server (also known as FlashCom, or FCS), to add enterprise-level features to Flash content. Flash Remoting is the fastest means of sending and receiving data from a Flash movie to server-side applications, whereas Flash Communication Server can enable simultaneous interaction among several users in real time. FlashCom can also deliver live or prerecorded audio/video to Flash movies as well. The preceding list is only a general overview of some of the capabilities of Flash. Don’t think that you have to be limited by that list. Flash can be a great tool for rapid prototyping of applications, it’s often an easy way to build simple utility applications (data viewers/parsers, slideshow presentations, etc.), and you’ll likely find more unusual ways to use Flash as well.

Back to more Flash and Photoshop Help

About the Author:

Written by: Komail Noori, a freelance Web Designing Guru and SEO Expert.


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