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Macromedia Flash MX 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, text, video, and sound. With robust support for complex interactivity and server-side communication, Flash is increasingly the solution for developing Internet applications as well. From designer to programmer, Flash has become the tool of choice 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, video, 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 designers, animators, and developers 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 integrate interactivity with your animations to create arcade-style games, to create complex user-interface elements like pull-down menus, and to learn how Flash communicates with outside applications such as Web browsers. If this description fits you, then this book is right for you.

This book explores the advanced features of Flash MX, 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 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: how to move from the Stage to symbol-editing mode to the Timeline, and how 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 MX: Visual QuickStart Guide by Katherine Ulrich.

Goals of This Book

The aim of this book is to demonstrate the advanced features of Flash MX through 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, event handlers, 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 most 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 digital 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 can respond to 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 changing conditions.

  • Appendixes

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

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 ActionScript, or use the ActionScript to do further experimentation. You’ll also find a trial version of Flash MX as well as a list of Web links to sites devoted to Flash and 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 free bulletin boards and mailing lists for all levels of Flash users. Begin your search for Flash resources with the list of Web sites on the accompanying CD and with the Answers panel in the Flash application, which provides links to the Flash developer community on the Web.

What’s New in Flash MX

Why “MX”? As its name suggests, Flash MX represents a generational, rather than an incremental, upgrade from Flash 5. Flash MX is now part of a larger family of MX products from Macromedia that can work together to help you develop and deliver rich, dynamic content. You can still use Flash MX by itself, but its potential for server-side integration is greatly expanded by being part of a suite of Web development tools.

Keep in mind that, while the name of the authoring application is Flash MX, the Web browser plug-in that plays Flash MX media is called the Flash 6 Player.

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced user, or a designer or a programmer, a number of new features in Flash MX will appeal to you. The following are just a few that make Flash MX even more powerful, flexible, and easy to use.

Improved Workflow

The user interface has been significantly reorganized to improve your workflow. A single context-sensitive Property Inspector replaces multiple panels, so options for common tasks are consolidated in one place. The remaining panels and windows are fully dockable, enabling you to customize a comfortable workspace. The Timeline supports new features like Layer folders, easier ways to interact with keyframes and tweens, and Distribute to Layers, which can quickly separate graphic elements on the Stage into separate layers on the Timeline.

New Drawing Aids

New features that help you draw include the Distort and Envelope tools to transform your shapes in new and flexible ways, a revamped Color Mixer, and the Snap-to-Pixel command which enables exact placement of objects at a pixel level.

Better Font Handling

Font handling is more sophisticated with the addition of vertical text formats and support for Unicode standards for displaying text in foreign languages. Font substitution during author-time now lets you choose different fonts when your computer doesn’t recognize a font in a FLA file.

Rich Media Support

You can now import and display digital video directly within Flash MX with full support for QuickTime, MPEG, AVI, and DV formats. Also, you can dynamically load MP3 sound files and JPG images into Flash during runtime, dramatically increasing flexibility while reducing file sizes.

Expanded Interactivity

The expansion of ActionScript treats buttons and text fields as objects, just like movie clips, so you have even more control over their properties and behavior. A new event model that incorporates a concept known as Listeners makes event handling more robust. And of course there is a host of new ActionScript actions, objects, properties, and methods that control elements such as masking, text formatting, and shapes, to name just a few. A new ActionScript panel makes scripting easier with code hinting and an easy-to-access ActionScript reference, and a new Debugger panel adds breakpoints for line-by-line inspection of your movie’s interactivity.

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