As a student in a Multimedia Design course, learning new software can be as intimidating as it is exciting. Such is the case with Flash CS5.5 made by Adobe Systems, which is one of the core programs I use in my Digital Interface Media Design course, at Toronto’s Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.
After swallowing a tough pill in the form of a $120 price tag, I had no idea how to use Flash or even what sort of toolset it would contain. At first the layout of the workspace seemed cryptic, but slowly it became more intuitive. Eventually I was able to assemble a series of decent animations which would pass for an amateur’s first project.
However, within a few weeks I began to feel frustration with some of Flash’s more technical features. One of the most obvious annoyances of working with CS5 is its auto-save feature. Every few minutes a window appears, asking if you would like to “enable auto-recovery.” Its intention is to help you save your progress as you move along, but it just becomes a frustrating interruption.
Flash doesn’t always work the way you want it to, specifically when it comes to visual effects. The masking feature allows for use of shapes as a “window” to overlay on an image. But I was unable to get flash to use a shape I had imported from Photoshop, which was based on an outline of a unique shape that I had cut out of a static image. Instead the unique shape was just interpreted as a mere rectangle, making it impossible to use for its intended purpose.
It was a relief to find that there was no shortage of materials for learning Flash for beginners. Aside from a variety of textbooks, I was able to absorb a lot of good tips simply by watching episodes of Adobe TV and tutorials on Lynda.com. I also consulted the Help button inside of Flash itself, which had a comprehensive index of features.
At times I had to be more specific in my troubleshooting queries, and resorted to Google to find helpful forums. For one troublesome animation any shape I drew on the stage would have no fill or stroke colour. I found it was just a matter of resetting one of the View options, but it was puzzling as I had not changed this setting intentionally in any previous project. Flash could be improved by automatically resetting the workspace to be to a standard default with each new project.
Flash is mostly well designed and easy to use, even when it comes to tricky programming with Actionscript. Actionscript can be intimidating to learn, especially if you have no previous programming experience. It is highly sensitive to changes, so even a single typo can cause your animations to malfunction. Luckily, Flash includes a few features that assist those with less technical knowledge, such as the code snippets button and the toolbox in the actions panel.
Students should not treat Flash as if it is some sort of cryptic animation program that only professionals can use. Anyone can use it once they become familiar with the basics of the interface and know a little about what sort of animations Flash can create.
In many ways it is like a super-glorified version of PowerPoint. You can apply graphical changes a variety of objects such as text and shapes, and cue sounds to sync up with a presentation. The difference is that instead of having various slides, the user has to imagine all their events taking place on a single stage.
Brent Jackson is a first-year student at the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning studying Digital Interface Media Design. He also contributed to the ITBusiness.ca ‘Tech-O-Lantern’ slideshow with his Angry Birds carving.