Allow me to introduce you to one of the films I made while I was a student at UCLA: Fried Ham.
I’m looking forward to Flash CS5. Let me rephrase that. I’m hopeful for what CS5 could be. On the other hand, that’s been true of every release of Flash since MX 2004. They promise these great new features, but rarely do they address the real nagging problems.
CS4 introduced quite a few bugs and annoyances, though the UI rewrite also fixed a bunch of issues that have bugged me ever since I started using Flash. You should see the list of bugs and feature requests I’ve assembled. I’ve submitted them all to Adobe’s bug report / feature request web form, but I have real doubts about how much they pay attention to that.
There was a feature that I used fairly often when I worked on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends that disappeared in version 8: copying vector art from Flash to Illustrator. I have no idea why they would have taken that out, since it was so useful to us on Foster’s. The most common thing we would use it for would be to take some art that we had in Flash, bring it into illustrator, and either create an art brush out of it or apply an art brush to it. This would make things like animating a complex striped tiger tail as easy as animating a standard Flash line. Translation: very easy. It was even used once (before I came onto the show) to animate an entire character – a particularly gangly and clumsy one.
Here’s my dream, though: make it so I don’t even need Illustrator. Add art brushes to Flash. Wouldn’t that rock? It would potentially create very high vertex counts but it would be amazing in terms of versatility. And, having my foundation firmly in TV animation, what do I care about vertex counts? As long as the renderer can handle it without crashing I’m good.
And while you’re at it, add trapezoidal transformation of symbols, smarter shape tweens, and any number of other things that Illustrator does so much better but belong in an animation program like Flash. Make my wish come true, Adobe: make Flash rock for animators!
I discovered recently that the fine folks at Macromedia introduced a rather annoying bug into Flash 8. When copying from Flash 8 to (apparently) any other vector-based drawing program some or all of the control points are lost. The practical upshot is that copying from Flash into Illustrator is impossible. This is a major problem, since one of the tricks I use when animating in Flash is to copy an object into Illustrator and then apply an art brush to give it a nice variable-thickness line. If you watch Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends closely you’ll see that we do that all the time. Virtually all the lines on the characters were done with art brushes. We also do it a little more overtly sometimes, even using a charater’s whole boy as a brush so we can really control them. You can see an example of this on the episode “Frankie My Dear,” which has a whole sequence where a tall pillar-like character is wobbling all over the place.
So what am I to do? I was kicking myself for having made the move to Flash 8 without fully testing my process in the new software. Then, on a whim, I looked at the “save as” dialog box. Oh! It turns out I can save my Flash 8 files back to Flash MX 2004 (the previous version) as long as I didn’t use any of the new features (which I didn’t on my turnarounds, the most important files when it comes to creating new scenes). So I’ve officially downgraded back to Flash MX 2004. That’s what we use at work anyway, so maybe this’ll provide more of a consistent experience for me.
Lately I’ve been working on the turnaround for Sarah, the other main character in Don’t Fear the Sitter. Since I finished that one scene with Jenny I figured it would be a good idea to move on to the next character. I get more of a kick out of animating, but this is definitely a required step of the process. I figure it’s a good idea to spread out the production process so I’m not always working on the same sort of thing.
The way I’m creating this animation, as I’ve said before, is very similar to how we do it on Foster’s. I’m making a basic set of models that will be what I use for most of the animation. That’s what the turnaround is for — it’s the artwork that I’ll turn into the models in Flash.
Actually, I just recently saw a demonstration of this software called Toon Boom Solo. Oh. My. God. It rocks. But, of course, that’s based on what I saw in the demo, which was a presentation designed to make the program look good. But based on what I saw, it will do almost everything I’ve wanted in an animation program for years. Anyone who’s ever heard me rant about the state of 2D animation software can attest that it hasn’t been up to my standards, at least in a reachable price range. And even out of my price range it probably wasn’t — I just never got to try those programs out, so I couldn’t decide if they were up to snuff.
Anyway, as I said, Solo seems to have almost all the features I’ve been crying for all these years. It’s got two big counts against it, though: price and ease of use.
Price: $3000. Well, if it really works like I want it to, I’d be willing to pay that much…. Plus, I might be able to get an academic copy after all this film I’m working on is probably going to end up being my MFA thesis. That would knock the price down to about $500, I think.
User interface: The user interface looks like it’s really hard to learn. Anyone who’s ever heard me rant about user interfaces can attest that I have high standards, so it’s frustrating that this cool program should have a bad one. On the other hand, I also recognize that some of the most powerful software is only powerful once you learn to use it. Maya, anyone? EMACS? Vi?
All that said, I have no way of testing Solo to know if it’s really worth my time and money. Enter Cartoon Network. It seems that the higher-ups of the Foster’s team are considering switching to Toon Boom Harmony (the multi-user collaborative version of Solo) for the whole production cycle of the show. They’re probably going to do some tests to see if it lives up to everyone’s hopes and dreams, and then… who knows? We’ll see, I guess. Anyway, if my work switches to Toon Boom then I’ll probably end up getting a copy for myself at home. I just don’t know if I want to switch over DFtS. It would make a lot of things a lot easier, but at some point you just have to go ahead and make your film. There’s always doing to be something better on the horizon. I’m already in the process of going through one software/process change. Do I really want to change again? Yeah, probably not.