Lemieux Design

Flash | Interactive | Web | Graphics | Brand | Video

In Review: Flash CS5.5

Posted on: May 11th, 2011 by alemieux

Mobile/Table Development

So Adobe recently released CS5.5 without a lot of hoopla. This is a mid-cycle release which focuses primarily on mobile and tablet publishing. We all are familiar with the promise to publish to the iPhone from within Flash CS5 that quickly got crushed by Apple, then slyly approved of later. Well now the floodgates have opened and Adobe has zeroed in on making their apps capable of delivering content to the iPhone (IOS devices) and Android market.

Flash, despite the fact that SWF files cannot play on the iPhone still, can publish for the IOS platform now with a new template specifically for that platform.

AIR for IOS file type

Essentially, Adobe is wrapping the Flash content in an AIR application with all of the necessary Objective-C language to play well with an IOS device. The same is true for Android development. You can reliably test your applications in Device Central and port your content directly to connected devices. It’s much easier to do this now than it ever was before in Flash.

When you take a look at the Publish Settings dialog, you’ll notice an update in the look of this and some other similar touches to other panels, like the Properties panel:

New Publish Settings

If you click on the wrench next to the AIR for IOS player drop-down in the Properties panel, you’ll get the deployment settings for your application:

IOS Settings

As I mentioned before, you can test the application in Device Central by going to Control > Test Movie > In Device Central. You can also test directly on the USB connected device.

Another feature that’s been added is the ability to convert vector based clips into bitmaps. At first, I thought this was a feature that was only for improving the performance of complex vector graphics – which Cache as Bitmap already handles. In fact, this feature is for mobile devices that can’t handle vector graphics. I wonder if we’ll see SVG and canvas support in future versions, but I doubt it.

Layers

In applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, it’s easy to copy a layer. That functionality didn’t exist in Flash until this version. You can now Cut, Copy, Duplicate, and Paste layers. I for one, have been waiting a long time for this feature. Sure, you can copy and paste frames, but the ability to copy layers from one FLA file to another is great. Duplicating layers will be a huge time saver for animation.

Pinning Bones

If you tried the Bones tool in CS5, you probably got a little frustrated. OK, well maybe frustrated a lot. Chris Georgenes did an excellent job explaining the hidden reasons why the tool didn’t work the way most people thought it would in his book How to Cheat in Flash CS5. One of the techniques he used was to use an empty movie clip as a kind of global anchor to pivot the whole armature on. The other technique he mentions is creating sets of armatures in separate movie clips. In other words, you don’t necessarily want to create an entire skeletal armature system on a character, but maybe connect certain parts together that make sense when it comes to moving them.

New in CS5.5 is the ability to pin a bone down so that it doesn’t move, freeing up other appendages to move around on the axis of that bone. Sure, you could’ve done this before by constraining a bone, but I could never figure out the right degree angle settings for the kind of constraints needed for an elbow (as an example).

Pinning Bones

This will be a big help specifically with neck bones and other difficult armatures than require a bone, but not necessarily a motion on that bone, only the ones connected to it.

Snippets Panel Improvements
This
The code Snippets Panel has a new HUD on it for each snippet. There are also new snippets for mobile devices, like swipes and gestures. What’s annoying about the HUD is that after you open it, it doesn’t want to go away until you click on some other part of the interface. Still, it’s a nice reference and there are some code examples in there to get you started. Each snippet is heavily commented to show you what is static and what needs to be changed.

Snippet Panel HUD

ProLoader for TLF

TLF text on its own is great. Used in conjunction with external classes or with loading SWF files doesn’t work (as chronicled here), until now. The problem really wasn’t with the TLF engine, it was Flash’s Loader class and a little-know bug caused by its internal preloader. This has actually prevented me from using TLF in any of my projects.

Adobe put out a temporary fix called SafeLoader which worked for some people and not for others. The solution in CS5.5 is a new Loader class called ProLoader. I guess the name SafeLoader implied that the previous Loader wasn’t safe, so they went with ProLoader instead. You can actually see the ProLoader in action by using the Click to Load/Unload SWF or Image snippet in the Snippets panel.

I’m pleased to tell you all that ProLoader does indeed correct this major issue and now we can explore TLF, which has its own set of problems. Adobe did spend some time improving TLF for this release by adding a tab ruler and support for style sheets. There’s just other things that developers need dynamic text to do that TLF maybe isn’t built for.

The ProLoader class works and behaves just like it’s stepchild the Loader class, there are just some methods and properties in that class that specifically handle the preloader/TLF issue. Nicely done Adobe.

Other Features

Almost every Microsoft application has an auto save feature, which is a God send when you encounter a hardware or software crash and you have an auto-recovery pull in that autosaved version of the file. Flash finally gets an AutoSave, which is on by default. You can set this up in the Document Properties dialog:

Auto Save

Another small enhancement is Incremental Compilation, which caches parts of your SWF file every time you test the file so that you don’t have to wait forever for each incremental test. That will certainly save time.

Conclusion

Adobe’s push into the Mobile/Tablet market is smart and timely. It comes on the heels of the whole Steve Job’s open letter on Flash thing and it’s in line with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen’s vision of Publish once for multiple platforms. InDesign and Dreamweaver also have a lot to offer in these areas. The ProLoader is the fix that I’ve been waiting for the most and will have the most impact for me. The lingering question, of course, is still what will people use Flash for now that HTML5 and CSS3/jQuery can do a lot of its tricks. I, for one, strongly believe that it has its place on the web and now on the mobile/tablet space.

Adobe really needs to bolster the Flash platform and continue to improve it to show developers what’s possible with those tools. It will be an uphill battle, but if they can position Flash just right, it will be around for a long time.

Creative Suite (5.5) (6) (Enter version number here)

Posted on: March 26th, 2011 by alemieux

So recently Adobe announced at the end of their 1st quarter, that the next version of the Creative Suite will be rolled out in April (April 11) ref: InDesing Secrets. Of course, they are being tight-lipped about it and no one’s certain if this will be a minimal upgrade or something more substantial, since it doesn’t fall into line with their normal production cycle (ref: InDesign Secrets).

CS?

CS What?

PC magazine recently ran an article about it in January talking about:

…a new tool, dubbed Helium, that will enable designers to create content using HTML5 and CSS3

– emphasis added.

Seems odd that they would have to add a tool for HTML5 and CSS3 when Dreamweaver already does all of that. I’m sure that’s not what they are talking about though. Since HTML5 came out, there really isn’t a good toolset out there for working with the Canvas object or to create CSS3-based animations with a tool, other than just hand coding it (correct me if I’m wrong).

I’m pretty happy with CS5, but it’s still buggy and I do experience limited, yet frustrating, crashes and odd behaviors. At the most, we can hope for more bug fixes mixed in with some extra web trickery in all of the applications. I’m personally hoping for better font performance in Flash. Since Adobe prides itself on it’s own font technologies and has a good footing with them in Illustrator and InDesign, it’s so different in Flash. The inclusion of TLF (Text Layout Framework) in CS5 was supposed to be the answer to so many issues, but it falls short when it comes to actually using it with Actionscript.

I’d also love to see improvements in the 3D filter in Illustrator. There’s so much potential to really boost that part of the application to develop rich product renderings and such, but the interface is pretty limited. Live Trace, while a good tool for refined images, really needs an overhaul too.

I’m sure on the InDesign side, we’ll see more of the features that Quark has been rolling into it’s latest release, with advanced ways to publish to portable devices of various kinds.

Of course, we’ll probably have to shell out a few hundred dollars more and it will probably come in different packages, but it’s something to look forward to. What are you hoping for?

My Blog has moved home

Posted on: March 17th, 2011 by alemieux

Installing a wordpress blog on your local domain may be easier than you think. My site is hosted with MediaTemple.net and they have some 1-click applications that make it easy to do just such a thing. In a few minutes, I was able to install my wordpress blog on my own domain. I was able to import my blogs posts from Blogger and it was really easy.

GoDaddy has a similar way of transferring a WordPress blog to your own domain. Now I need to get some juicy content up here.

Stay tuned.

InDesign CS5 > InDesign CS4

Posted on: March 7th, 2011 by alemieux

In an earlier post, I mentioned ways in which you could save an InDesign CS4 file down to CS3. There is no option to save down to CS4 from CS5, but you can Export your file to the IDML format.

An IDML file is an XML format (InDesign Markup Language) and the files in it describe the InDesign file it came from. You can use it to make your InDesign CS5 files backward compatible. This is what happens when you export to the IDML format:

When you export a document as IDML, InDesign creates a Zip archive containing multiple XML files.

The InDesign document is split into separate files representing different aspects of an InDesign document so that you can more easily identify and perform operations on the objects and properties you need. Document resources, spreads (page geometries), and stories are stored in different XML files within the zipped package.

INX, the previous backward compatibility solution, still exists and can be used in older versions of InDesign, but IDML is what you should use moving forward.

By the way, is anyone still using InDesign CS2 out there?

ActionScript Editing in Flash Builder 4

Posted on: March 7th, 2011 by alemieux

I’ve been developing ActionScript for a long time now and have done most of my editing inside the Flash IDE. I’ve tried other ActionScript editors such as SEPY, but was never satisfied with anything else. Surely, the code hinting, code completion, and overall performance of the ActionScript editor in Flash CS5 is much better than any other version. When writing code that would require a class file, the Flash ActionScript panel now imports the appropriate classes, which is nice.

Recently however, I’ve been playing around with Flash Builder’s ActionScript editor, and I have to say, it’s pretty amazing. Not only is there code hinting, but it’s almost like coding with the ActionScript library in your hands. Available assets and their definitions appear side-by-side in an expandable view. Classes get imported when needed here too. When you start developing an ActionScript class in Flash, you have the option of developing it in the Flash IDE or in Flash Builder. I’m pretty sure I’ll be building them in Flash Builder from now on.

The code coloring in both apps (you think they would be) are not the same though, so for an average Flash user, it takes a while to get used to the code coloring in Flash Builder. Another thing that’s a little aggravating about Flash Builder is the way it manages class structure and packaging. I’m sure in time, I’ll get used to it.

So out of curiosity, what editor do you use? Can you recommend anything else?

Function with Return values

Posted on: March 5th, 2011 by alemieux

One of the questions I get most often from students about functions is “What is the :void for?” Indeed, most functions, especialy functions that are derivative of an event listener will have this form:

function someThing(e:MouseEvent):void { }

This is only when a function is not returning a value. Yes, functions can return values and if you think about it, it’s kind of a cool way to use functions. We can return numeric or string data from a function. In this quick example, we’ll use a function to assemble an address and then trace it out:

function address():String {
var street:String = "156 Primrose Hill Rd";
var cityState:String = "Dracut, MA";
var zip:String = "01826";

var fullAddress:String = street + cityState + zip;
return fullAddress;
}
trace(address());

Notice here that we use :String instead of :void. This indicates to the compiler what type of data is going to be returned by the function.

Next, we set up a few variables to hold the information for street, city, and zip. We use another variable to pull all of that info together. Then w use the return statement to return the fullAddress variable.

In our trace statement, we actually call on the function to return the value we want. We could also set up the function to return numeric data by datatyping the function to :Number or :int or :uint for that matter.