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Flash Animation

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When you navigate to a web page, and all of a sudden it springs to life in vibrant, animated color and sound, chances are that the web designer has incorporated some Flash content into the site. Flash is a technology created by the company Macromedia, and it is used primarily to create animation for web games, DVDs, and independent applications. Flash has the lucky distinction of being both incredibly easy-to-use and tremendously versatile.

At its most basic core, Flash works like any video editing software. Pictures and objects are placed in a frame on a timeline. In later frames, the objects are changed or moved. Then, a user can create transitions between the frames, making an object appear to smoothly change location or morph into a different shape.

The Terminology of Flash

It is necessary to learn some terminology in order to get the most out of Flash and to fully understand its concepts. First of all, Flash content, in its most compact and contained form, is called a Flash movie. Flash movies are incorporated into web pages, DVD menus, and just about anywhere interactive animation is wanted.

The frames in which objects are anchored are called keyframes. If you know where you want a particular object to "begin" and "end," you can place it in a given frame of time and designate it as a keyframe. Then, you can choose how you want the object to behave between these keyframes. The motion or morphing that transpires between frames is called a tween.

Fortunately for the novice, there is a wealth of resources available to learn these new concepts and terms. Flash's onboard help is only the beginning of the excellent documentation on the application. Macromedia's website (a one-click link from the application itself) is chock-full of forums, tutorials, and other assistance. Of course, third-party books and CD-ROMs (often containing Flash tutorials written in Flash) can aid a budding designer even further.

Using Flash Player

Flash is obviously useful and easy to program. But how can an end user view these detailed and well-crafted animations? Most browsers don't natively support the animation style, and if left to their own devices, they would show a question mark or empty box where a flashy Flash animation was supposed to be.

The answer lies with the Flash player. The Flash player is a small program or plug-in that works in conjunction with most web browsers or as a standalone application. It allows the Flash movie and video files to be displayed on a computer, regardless of operating system. The Flash plug-in functions from within a browser, so much of the time you may not realize it is even running.

The Flash player is a free download from the Macromedia website. A user can download and install it quickly and easily, and it will work on both Mac and PC platforms. If you plan to incorporate Flash content on your website, it may behoove you to include a small link to the Macromedia website, instructing users how to best take advantage of the Flash features. It is even possible to write a small action script that can determine whether or not your user has the Flash player, and if so, which version is installed.

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