You know you're part of something exciting when a room full of artsy geeks bursts into applause and oohs and ahs during a stuffy, elbow-to-elbow lecture on a computer program. Sure you felt the buzz when you entered an energy-packed auditorium blasting beats from Jamiroquoi to the Chemical Brothers. You saw the creativity ooze from the shiny blue, green, and leopard-spotted hair that walked by. But you weren't truly impressed until the giant display screen came to life and all 3,000 of you settled into your seats with a collective oooooh....

Why the Flash Buzz?

"It's not too late to leave. Save yourself. Walk away. There's still time."
Some of you might not buy into this Flash hype. That's understandable. The Web is a source of information and Flash seems like more glitter and noise that gets in the way of what you're looking for. Fortunately the pros in the business are aware of these concerns and are preaching to the converted to embrace these concerns when designing their projects. It might take a while to get cozy with the new standards, but the Web will soon be transformed into an even more exciting place to visit.

At the conference, lectures and tutorials took place in two different places and I was not able to see everything they had to offer. But I did get to see a good cross section of what the fancy Flashers are creating-- and boy was I impressed.

"It's not too late to leave. Save yourself. Walk away. There's still time." This is how we were greeted by Jason Coleman on the first day. Jason was joining Robert Reinhardt, author of the Flash 4 Bible to teach us about advanced scripting in Flash. He was trying to warn us, to let us know that once we started, we might never stop. Our loved ones might leave us red-eyed and starved, new slaves to Flash. He was right. I went home each night and tried the tricks they taught us until my eyes dried out.

Now I've calmed a bit, but can't help thinking up new schemes on how to use Flash 4's scripting capabilities. With the use of a few variables, a loop or two, and a thing called ActionScripting, you can add amazing functionality to your site.

A site called Rampt uses Flash to create a dynamic search engine. Search terms are assigned to variables which then pull content from text files that exist on the server. This way, any time something is changed, or added to the content, only the text files need to be changed. This can be incredibly useful for businesses that need to change product information such as descriptions and prices.

Flash 4 is also a great tool for creating order forms. Not only do you have more control of the appearance of the form than you would in HTML, but the process can be quicker and more user friendly. Take a look at Turntable's site. Click on the arrow in the upper left, choose Play, Dr. Octagon, then click on Order Now.

Not Necessary but Fun

Representatives of Shockwave.com, Mondo Media, and Stan Lee Media showed us clips of their work. You simply must visit Shockwave.com (if you haven't already) and watch their cartoons. We were lucky enough to have several of these presented on the big screen by the designers and producers themselves.

Flash is also being used to create games. The Serengeti Photo Safari, for example has you drive about in a little car taking pictures of the animals. Unfortunately, I ran out of daylight before I could snap all the animals, so I don't know what you win, but it occupied me for a good while.

You will also start to see a lot of other interactive sites such as 415 Production's Holiday Card. You can build your own Santa out of parts and can even control scale, rotation, background, and the little elf helper. Swankytown.com includes an all-knowing swami, a horse puppet you can control, and a pink elephant game.

Designers are also using user input to make their sites more interesting and fun. Visit MONO*crafts and try moving your mouse around. The whole navigation zooms in and out and whizzes about. Click on the Typospace link and watch letters fly while you type. You can then see what others have written. Like I said, not terribly useful, but an impressive way to procrastinate.

A new program called Swift 3D lets you import 3D images into Flash as vector graphics. You can create your own 3D images, or import them from other programs. At about 1K per frame, a 3D animation can be a bit chunky for Flash, but 32K for a great 40 frame animation is worth it.

The following sites were listed in the FlashForward2000 book for inspiration:

What I Learned

When I graduated from college, many moons ago, the president of the university based his speech on what he considered our future-- doomed. That's right-- his entire two hours was spent telling us how there were no jobs, life would be tough, and maybe he offered us a "good luck," but I doubt it. Obviously Mr. University President had no vision of the future.

At the end of the Flash conference, representatives from some of the hottest design and Web companies sent out verbal pleas for resumes. They almost looked desperate. The demand is huge and is only getting bigger. Moral? If you are at all interested in Flash, or animation, pursue it.

I also had the pleasure of watching Chris Casady, a traditional Hollywood animator. He had only been using Flash for three months, but blew us all away with his work (he was the one that drew the oohs and ahhs). He proved to us that no matter how swanky you are with the new tools, a solid foundation in tradition is what you need to beat the competition.

So study motion, learn to draw, and go back to the basics before you move forward. It will show.

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