Thoughts on Flash CS4: IK, 3D, and the like

Adobe has a press conference about CS4 the other week, including (of course) the newest version of Flash. Some of the exciting new features are the IK tool and native 3D. I’ve been playing around with the beta version for some time now, and I’m sorry to say I’m a little disappointed. However, there are things that I do like about it. The first is the interface, which looks more like After Effects. It will take a little time to get used to, but that’s no biggie and I don’t spend that much time in the Flash IDE anyways. The second nice feature is the new way of applying tweens. You can tween motion, rotation, scale, filters, etc all independently (and actually control, not just apply easing independently, as you could in previous versions). But even better is that you can scale the timeline and the tweens, so if a tween is too short, you can stretch it out, and it applies to keyframes in between as well – very useful. You also get path guides when you apply tweens like you do in After Effects, so applying curves is easy.

Now about the IK tool. Yeah, it’s cool – but that’s it.  I’ve had to make puppets in Flash before, and it’s a bitch, so it is nice to have this feature, but I’ve only had to make puppets once. It’s not like every day I am making IK people. And now that it’s available, I have a feeling we’ll see a lot of puppets just for the heck of it.  I think the true potential of it will being used in an abstract way, such as in a way to link elements together and snake around. Adobe themselves said it best back at FITC: Just because we have the IK tool doesn’t mean you need to make everything into a puppet. Struck recently released a project for Mario Super Sluggers where they used the Puppet Tool in AE to add little animations to the stars which is a nice touch. This sort of thing is where I hope the IK/Puppet tool will be used, for adding that extra little detail, not for just creating puppets of people. (You can read a little more about the site on Jonathan Minori’s blog, who was the Art Director on the project.) I guess it is more useful to the animation side of Flash as opposed to development.

The 3D element seems like a nice idea. For simple stuff like parallax or just doing some simple transitions, it’s a pretty nice idea. I guess if you are doing bitmap transitions, then it’s probably beneficial. The drawbacks seem that there are not many customizable features (I could be missing them) such as the perspective.  If you’re doing simple vector shapes in 3D, it’s still better to use FIVe3D, which is the 3D tool I am most comfortable with. I did a few test comparing the two and it still runs faster. Of course, as I’ve mentioned in earlier post, FIVe3D is specialized for vector content, so using it to handle bitmaps is not it’s original intention (although it still works great).  Here are the test, and I just want to make it clear: I’m not here to say “FIVe3D is great and Player 10 can suck it” – just that each one has it’s own strength and weaknesses, and that you use each one when necessary.

Multiple Objects: Drawing a bunch of squares and then simply rotating them on an EnterFrame. FIVeD keeps them as vectors (the outline is always the same) and flash must translate them into a bitmap, as you can see the outline on those squares getting lost as each sprite rotates.

FIVe3D | Flash Player 10 

Large Object: Drawing one very large object, and then pushing it back in z-space and rotating it on an EnterFrame. Since FIVe3D is vector based, it’s not a problem, but player 10 seems to struggle with it, as it must be handling it as a giant bitmap.

FIVe3D Flash Player 10

I guess what I am upset about is that there were some issues I wish Adobe had worked on to improve rather than creating new ones. Did we really need 3D native inFlash? No, because there are countless other engines out there such as PaperVision, Away3D, Five3D, Sandy3D, and others.  The IK tool? Yeah, a nice feature that will come in handy and be worth it’s weight in gold when the time comes to make another puppet, but there are other things that I could use more.  Personally, I’d like to see better audio control, which unfortunately means a pretty big overhaul of the entire player. I’d also like to see a way to remove all listeners from a given EventDispatcher, and I’m not quite sure why that hasn’t been implemented yet. (For all I know, there might be a very good reason.)  It was easy enough to write my own class that manages the adding and removing of event listeners, but the downfall there is that you’re using a 3rd party to mange your events, so it’s just seems more cumbersome and doesn’t really seem worth it.

In closing, just so it’s not all a rant, I would like to congratulate Adobe on their upcoming release. I’ve been tinkering around in Flash for 5 or so years now (since Flash 5 back in 2002/3 when I was introduced to it in High School)  and I’ve been excited every time Macromedia/Adobe launched a new version, as it is always exciting to see the product grow and add new features. Photoshop has some nice little features too, the content-aware scaling seems pretty cool and is fun to play with. It has a little feature on the color picker too that is “copy color as html” which is nice since it just adds it to your clipboard. Except it adds it as “color=#FFFFFF” and as far as I can tell you can’t edit that anywhere to make it so it would be ready for Flash (so instead it would be “0xFFFFFF”).

Note: Seems like when witting a post in Google Chrome, line breaks don’t save for some reason. You also loose the instant spell check that Firefox has.

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