Animation Tip: Flash Basics


Flash is a fairly easy program to learn. If you're not familiar with the animation tool at all, a good place to start is the tutorial that comes with Flash. Most of this won't make sense before you've finished that tutorial.

The basic components of Flash

The Toolbar -- the drawing and painting tools that allow you to build the art for your movie. Make yourself very familiar with this component. Artwork generated in Flash is vector based. You can also import bitmap-based images, such as jpegs.

The Stage -- where all the animation occurs. It's like an artist's canvas or a writer's blank sheet of paper. Any movement outside the stage will be cropped out. Think of this like an actual dramatic stage. You can have symbols entering or exiting the stage.

The Timeline -- the order in which the animated action will take place. This is the most difficult concept to get used to, and it's also the most powerful.

Timing is everything. Bad art with good timing can still captivate a viewer and sell a story, but good art with bad timing is just bad, game over. The Flash timeline works with layers. Like animation cell order, the top layer is the artwork you see. So, if want a person behind a table, the person's layer must be the below the table layer.

The Library -- turns any artwork you build into a symbol that goes in the library for later use. The library is where you can import sounds, jpegs, bitmaps, and so on.

If your artwork appears again and again, you can go to the library and reuse it rather than downloading it again. The more you reuse the artwork the more you save in file size. This allows viewers to download complicated imagery with ease and speed.

A good file size goal is 1MB for a three-minutes show. Of course, the more objects in the show, the bigger the file will be. Our library size can be anywhere from 600 items to 1,500 items.

Flash Animation: Getting Started

As mentioned before, it's best to start by reviewing the tutorial that comes with Flash. Here are a few more hints to get you started.


Most artists generally do all their conceptualizing with a pencil. For simple things, however, you can draw directly into the computer. A wacom tablet makes for a more comfortable drawing experience, but a mouse will work too. The smaller the tablet, the faster your movements are.

Scan your images

If have a sketch you want to trace, scan it at 72dpi. Save it as a jpeg and import it into your Flash movie. Place this image in its own layer in the timeline. Lock this layer so that you can't draw on that image.

Learn to layer

Create a layer above your image and trace the sketch with the pencil or brush tool, depending on your style. When you're done, throw away the layer with the jpeg.

You can also auto-vectorize existing art either in Flash or Adobe Streamline, but this technique can be messy for the less experienced.

Symbolize the artwork

As you symbolize, keep in mind what kind of movement the art will do. It's very important to anticipate the symbols needed to animate your movie.

Start Animating in Flash

First start dragging symbols on to the stage.

Start at frame 1 of the timeline. A person is composed of several -- arms, head, mouth, and so forth. Let's say you want to make the person wave and say hello one second after you start the movie. Start the movement on frame 12.

You'll want to keyframe on frame 12. Keyframing allows you to copy all the symbols on frame 1. If you don't know how to keyframe, you probably skipped the Flash tutorial and you should go back to it.

Now you have two instances of the man at the same position on the stage. Make sure you're on frame 12 to start the arm movement. Using the arrow tool, move the symbols that make up his right arm, including the hand. Also, use the arrow tool with the rotation tool to change the orientation of the symbols. You'll want to make it look as if he starts to pick up his arm slightly.

Repeat this process on the next frame for several frames to make it move fluidly.

Add Sound to Your Flash Movie

Your character's audio "hello" should start on frame 17. Create a new layer, keyframe on 17, and drag the sound from the library onto the stage, while on frame 17 and the new layer.

Make a person say hello

Prep the audio as an aiff file for Macs and wav for PCs at 44 kHz, 16-bit stereo, or mono.

You'll notice that a waveform appeared in your timeline. Double-click on the timeline with the waveform.

Go to the sound window and set the sync for the stream. Stream allows you to preview sound in sections while scrubbing the playhead. It also ensures that animation stays in sync with audio.

Now let's start placing the appropriate mouth shapes on the keyframe to animate the man saying hello. Remember to keep keyframing forward.

Test your playback often to ensure good timing.

We use MP3 compression for sounds. We start at 24-kbps mono (fast) and go down to 16-kbps mono (fast). The lower the number the lower the quality of the sound.

Now you're on your way to making a Flash animation show.

More Flash Animation Resources

There's no trade secret to animating in Flash. Of course, the more traditional art background you have, the better your Flash experience. If you're already good at pencil sketching, composition, and perspective, you're way ahead of the pack.

For general animation tips, I recommend the classic book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life. Preston Blair's Cartoon Animation also has a great explanation of a mouth chart.

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