Introduction to Flash - What is Flash?

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Introduction to Flash - What is Flash?
Hi! I've been getting a lot of questions about how I learned to do Flash animation, so I've decided to write tutorials to share my knowledge about how to learn Flash animation on your own! These are mostly guides to help people find the resources to learn Flash, Actionscript (the coding syntax for Flash), and everything you need to know to get started creating your own fully-flash integrated site! This tutorial in particular is to get people familiar with what Flash actually is, and is key to understanding why Flash is such a powerful tool in any designer's pocket.

About Flash and Vectors
Adobe Macromedia Flash - or just "Flash" for short - is a vector-based graphics and animation multiplatform that can be used to create images, movies, and websites. The great advantage that Flash has as a graphic medium and why it is such a popular online tool is that it is vector-based platform. As a vector-based multiplatform, Flash allows you to animate your graphics, retain high-quality images, and countless other things that you simply cannot do with other, more "traditional" graphics platforms. But what does this "vector-based" stuff mean?

Vectors vs. Pixels/Bitmap
As many of might already know, most of the images that we see on the web and digitally are made up many many dots, called pixels, that blend together to create an image. These images, usually in .jpeg, .gif, .png, .bmp, &c file formats, are what we call "pixel-based" images or bitmap images, because - well - they're made of pixels! The thing about bitmap images and graphics, however, is that they contain very little information when it comes to doing other things besides "mapping pixels." You won't see many bitmap images moving around, and you will probably have horrible quality with certain formats and resolutions, especially zooming in and out of these graphics. However, with Flash, we can store a lot more information in the images and graphics that we create so that our graphics can do much more than just be static, single-resolution images. Unlike regular, pixel-based bitmap images that you usually see on the web, graphics made in Flash (known as Flash objects) usually with a .swf (short for ShockWave Flash) file extension are what we call vector-based objects. In other words, objects in Flash are not made up pixels, per se, but vectors that contain the information to produce pixels and tell them how to be arranged, resulting in a vast number of capabilities that are superior in many ways to the pixel-based bitmap images that we are used to. But what are some of these capabilities?

Hyper-Resolution and Image Quality
For example, consider image quality. When you zoom in on a pixel-based images, like a JPEG or a Bitmap image, you'll find that your computer will simply make the pixels that make up your pixel-based images bigger, resulting in a massive loss of quality with each zoom. This is because most pixel-based images do not have the information encoded into them to retain the quality you might get when an image is at a regular size, so when you do zoom into an image that is pixel-based, your computer does the next best thing, which is to crudely make the pixels that make up the image larger.

With Flash objects, however, you won't see this happening. You will never lose quality with objects that are made with Flash because the information that is encoded into them are the base "formulas" that will produce the pixels and arrange them in the first place. So when you zoom into an object that is created with Flash, you will never lose the image quality that you started with.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

However, Flash takes an obvious step above from creating simple images that are static. There are, of course, many advantages to having infinite resolution for your images in Flash, but this isn't what most people think of when they want to learn how to use it. Most people think of something else entirely different: movement and interactivity.

Movement and Interactivity
This is what most people think of when they want to learn Flash. Perhaps the greatest advantage of being a vector-based platform is that you can animate the graphics that you create using Flash, as well as make them interactive to communicate user-side and server-side information. With bitmap images, you can't create buttons without applying HTML, you can't make the images change to a great extent without supplemental coding, and you can't make images do cool things like move around on the browser without Javascript or other equivalent languages. In other words, raw bitmap images, on their own without the extra programming, are static, isolated objects.

With Flash, all this changes. You can do an infinite number of things with images and objects made in Flash that allow you to change the actual form of your images, allow them interact with users, send information to and from servers, send e-mails, create movies, and countless other things! With Flash, the possibilities are endless as a file format that works independently on its own and combines all the information in one bundle, without much need for supplemental programming for basic functionality.

However, there is a catch: Actionscript.

Actionscript and Learning Flash
The other thing that is different about Flash, and what makes Flash seem somewhat overwhelming at first, is that it isn't created solely by paintbrushes and pen strokes. Flash is a fully integrated platform that combines image objects and the syntax that is used. You can create your hyper-resolution images with the traditional tools that you are used to, without any animation or interactivity; but to get the really juicy stuff, you need to learn Actionscript. The thing is that Flash has a fully integrated syntax, like HTML, Javascript, or PHP, known as Actionscript. This is the language that is used to code the information that you will need to make your images move, interact, and send information. Learning Actionscript is like learning any other language, it takes time, dedication, and lots of practice. One of the greatest criticisms of Flash, as you many of you must know to seek information on this tutorial, is that it is very complicated and somewhat difficult to learn, mostly because of the language used. I won't lie to you, it can seem absolutely overwhelming, as many of you, as designers, must have felt when you were just starting to learn other syntaxes like HTML, Javascript, CSS, or PHP. But I hope that I can make that process for you easier (or maybe skip the difficulty of it altogether) in the next few tutorials that I will write.

Tutorial Comments

Showing latest 6 of 6 comments

thank you :)

By emmijane on Mar 19, 2010 9:27 pm

im tuned in.

By kentucky on Apr 26, 2009 3:36 am

nice thanks

By emmasawr on Jan 19, 2009 1:04 pm

sweet man very cool

By CountessIsobelTheroux on Jan 17, 2009 8:57 pm

omgomg I love this, cant wait for the others

By sunniede82 on Jan 7, 2009 12:24 am

very cool. (:

By futura on Jan 1, 2009 8:53 pm

Tutorial Details

Author JonHMChan View profile
Submitted on Dec 30, 2008
Page views 8,791
Favorites 3
Comments 6
Reviewer manny-the-dino View profile
Approved on Dec 31, 2008