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Macromedia Flash is one of the hottest technologies on the Web today. Leading corporate Web sites use its streamlined graphics to communicate their brands, major motion picture studios promote theatrical releases with Flash animations, and online gaming and educational sites provide rich user experiences with Flash interactivity. As a vector-based animation and authoring application, Flash is ideal for creating high-impact, low-bandwidth Web sites incorporating animation, interactivity, and sound. In fact, this tool is becoming the standard for delivering dynamic content across various browsers and platforms.

As the popularity of Flash increases, so does the demand for animators and developers who know how to tap its power. This book is designed to help you meet that challenge. Learn how to build complex animations; integrate sophisticated interfaces and navigation schemes; and dynamically control graphics, sound, and text. Experiment with the techniques discussed in this book to create the compelling media that Flash makes possible. It's not an exaggeration to say that Flash is revolutionizing the Web. This book will help you be a part of that revolution. So boot up your computer and get started.

Who Should Use This Book

This book is for the designer, animator, and developer who want to take their Flash skills to the next level. You've mastered the basics of tweening and are ready to move on to more complex tasks involving video, masking, dynamic sound control, or movie-clip collision detection. You may not be a hard-core programmer, but you're ready to learn how ActionScript can control graphics, sounds, and text. You're ready to combine buttons and movie clips to create complex pull-down menus, to integrate interactivity with your animations to create arcade-style games, and to learn how Flash communicates with outside applications such as Web browsers and Macromedia Generator. If this description fits you, then this book is right for you.

This book explores the advanced features of Flash 5, so you should already be comfortable with the basic tools and commands for creating simple Flash movies. You should know how to create and modify shapes and text with the drawing tools, and be able to create graphic and button symbols. You should also know how to apply motion and shape tweens, and how to work with frame-by-frame animation. You should know your way around the Flash interface—moving from the Stage to symbol-editing mode to the Timeline, to manipulate layers and frames. You should also be familiar with importing and using bitmaps and sounds and assigning basic actions to frames and buttons for navigation. Review the tutorials that come with the software or pick up a copy of Macromedia Flash 5: Visual QuickStart Guide, by Katherine Ulrich.

Goals of This Book

Many books present material in one of two ways: Either they list every command one-by-one and explain its function in an encyclopedic fashion, or they provide specific case studies for you to look at and copy. This book does neither. Its aim is to demonstrate the advanced features of Flash 5 in a logical approach emphasizing how techniques are applied. You will learn how techniques build on each other, and how groups of techniques can be combined to solve a particular problem. Each example you work through puts another skill under your belt, so by the end of this book you'll be able to create sophisticated interactive Flash projects.

For example, creating a pull-down menu illustrates how simple elements—invisible buttons, mouse events, button-tracking options, and movie clips—come together to make more complex behaviors. Examples illustrate the practical application of techniques, and additional tips explain how to apply these techniques in other contexts.

How to Use This Book

The concepts in this book build on each other, so the material at the end is more complex than that at the beginning. If you're familiar with some of the material, you can skip around to the subjects that interest you, but you'll find it more useful to learn the techniques in the order in which they appear.

As with other books in the Visual QuickPro Guide series, tasks are presented for you to do as you read about them so that you can see how a technique is applied. Follow the step-by-step instructions, look at the figures, and try them on your computer. You'll learn more by doing and by taking an active role in experimenting with these exercises.

Tips follow the specific tasks to give you hints on how to use a shortcut, warnings on common mistakes, and suggestions on how the technique can be extended.

Occasionally, you'll see sidebars in gray boxes. Sidebars discuss related matters that are not directly task-oriented. You'll find interesting and useful concepts that can help you understand how Flash works.

What's in This Book

This book is organized into five parts:

  • Part I: Approaching Advanced Animation

    This part covers advanced techniques for graphics and animation, including strategies for motion tweening, shape tweening, masking, and using QuickTime video and 3D graphics.

  • Part II: Understanding ActionScript

    This part introduces ActionScript, the scripting language Flash uses to add interactivity to a movie. You'll learn the basic components of the language and how to use the Actions panel to construct meaningful code.

  • Part III: Navigating Timelines and Communicating

    This part teaches you the ways in which Flash accepts input from the viewer and how complex navigation schemes can be created with multiple Timelines. You'll also see how Flash communicates with external files and applications such as Web browsers.

  • Part IV: Transforming Graphics and Sound

    This part demonstrates how to dynamically control the basic elements of any Flash movie—its graphics and sound—through ActionScript.

  • Part V: Working with Information

    The last part focuses on how to retrieve, store, modify, and test information to create complex Flash environments that can respond to interactions with the viewer.

  • Appendixes

    Three appendixes give you quick access to the essential ActionScript objects, actions, and key code values.

What's on the CD

Accompanying this book is a CD-ROM that contains nearly all the Flash source files for the tasks. You can see how each task was created, study the ActionScripts, or use the ActionScripts to do further experimentation. You'll also find a demo copy of Flash 5 as well as a list of Web links to sites devoted to Flash, showcasing the latest Flash examples, with tutorials, articles, and advice.

Additional Resources

Use the Web to your advantage. There is a thriving, international community of Flash developers; within it you can share your frustrations, seek help, and show off your latest Flash masterpiece. There are bulletin boards and mailing lists for all levels of Flash users that are free to everyone. Begin your search for Flash resources with the list of Web sites on the accompanying CD and with the Macromedia Dashboard, a panel within the Flash application that provides links to the Flash developer community on the Web.

What's New in Flash 5

A number of new features in Flash 5 will appeal to both beginners and advanced users. The following are just a few that make Flash 5 even more powerful, flexible, and easy to use.

Improved Interface

Many of the tools and commands are now accessible through panels—small windows that you can rearrange to suit your work environment. The Movie Explorer, a new panel, displays a hierarchical overview of your movie, letting you search for and modify particular elements. Flash 5 also provides customizable keyboard shortcuts and a new look to the Timeline, which makes it easier to see and edit frames and keyframes.

New Drawing Aids

New tools that help you draw include a Bézier pen tool to define more accurate curves, draggable guides, enhanced color controls, and new selection highlights that make it easier to identify fill colors.

Shared Libraries and SmartClips

New features such as shared Libraries and SmartClips make it easier to work on large projects. Shared Libraries allow multiple movies to share common assets, while SmartClips give you a way to make templates for specialized movie clips.

Increased Integration

Flash 5 recognizes more file formats such as MP3 sound files, and can import FreeHand and Fireworks PNG files directly into Flash while preserving layers, text, and other elements. Flash also supports basic HTML text formatting and XML objects.

Expanded Interactivity

The expansion of ActionScript adds objects, methods, and properties, as well as new actions and functions such as printing and collision detection. A new ActionScript panel makes scripting easy, and a Debugger panel helps you troubleshoot your movie by letting you watch and modify variables and properties during playback.

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