More to Come

I know it’s been a few days, but I just wanted to assure everyone that there’s more on the way.  I’ve actually been working on a huge blog post that involves a video that’s more than 20 minutes long, as well as 20 or so new (though related) Flash commands that are unlike anything you’ve seen before.  There’ll also be some footage in the video that’ll be of more general interest, showing some of how I work (in case you’re curious), and a few non-Flash-specific animation tips.

What have I encountered in the process of creating this upcoming monstrous blog post?  Well, video is a pain in the butt if you’re trying to make it look as good as possible.  And blogging takes a lot of time.  And I frickin’ love my home-made Flash tools, and I love sharing them with people.  Actually, I knew all of these things already, but this process has reinforced them.

Finally, I have a question for anyone reading this: How do you think I could get people to read this blog?  Specifically, I’d love to get some regular readers who are interested in Flash animation, Flash commands, and/or 2d animation in general.  Please give any suggestions you can think of in the comments or via email.

Bike paths in Google Maps

Slightly off-topic but it has a lot of significance to me: Google has added bicycle directions to Google Maps! It was a long time coming.  I’m glad they finally did it.  It’s a win for bicyclists everywhere.  Well, at least everywhere where they have bike paths mapped out.

Flash JSFL Commands: Classic Motion Tween Easing

I’d like to talk about the way I use tweens in Flash.  For one reason or another, I never use new-style motion tweens and I rarely use the easing editor.  I’ve found that the easing editor is rarely worth the trouble, and new motion tweens never end up working like I want them to and they frequently crash the program.  I’ll occasionally use the easing editor if I want a really strong ease in or out, or if there’s a very particular motion I want, but for the most part I stick with classic tweens and good old –100 to +100 easing.

Actually, though, I use very few motion tweens at all ever since I created my autotweener (which will be the subject of a later post).  Fully automated tweens like those produced by motion tweens rarely produce the results I need for good animation.  They usually look too linear and mechanical or they don’t work well when multiple pieces are involved.

That said, motion tweens do come in handy sometimes, and I almost always apply easing to them – usually either +100 (out) or –100 (in).  I’ve written several commands to help with setting and removing eases.  I’m going to show you some of them today.

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Flash JSFL Command: Motion Tweens and Sync

Anyone who’s worked with what are now called Classic Tweens will have run into the Sync Problem.  Not everyone will realize what was causing the problem, though.  It’s due to a feature that can actually be useful if you know how and when to use it.

For every motion tween there’s property called “sync”.  It’s a checkbox in the properties panel that you’ll see if you select a frame that has a motion tween applied to it.  Its function is a little arcane, and I’ve run into many Flash animators who have no idea of its existence, let alone its purpose. The gotcha is that it’s enabled by default with most methods of creating a motion tween, and it can cause unexpected and annoying behavior.

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Keyboard Shortcuts Are Your Friend

I have a piece of advice for beginning animators.  Heck, this really applies to anyone who uses any kind of computer program to do their work:

Customize the keyboard shortcuts.

I bring this up because when I was starting out I was hesitant to customize the keyboard shortcuts to my liking.  My theory was that someone made them the way they were for a reason, and I shouldn’t go messing with them before I even learn how to use them.  The theory doesn’t really end up panning out, though.

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Resolutions and Goals

I’m not generally big on new year’s resolutions but this year I kinda made one.  Well, I don’t really think of it as a resolution – more of a goal.  I set the goal for myself to do at least fifteen minutes of animation every day.  It’s a really short period of time, but I figured that if I could get myself to do that much, even if I’m busy, I’d at least be doing something.  And then once I’m actually sitting in front of the computer, I might as well work longer, right?  At least, that’s how it works out more often than not.

I haven’t been totally successful in my goal but I think it’s fulfilled its purpose so far.  For the most part, I sit down and work on Don’t Fear the Sitter every evening.  I usually try to do more than fifteen minutes, because that seems like such a limited period.  I can’t actually get much done in that amount of time.

And so, after kind of stagnating for most of last year, I’m working on my thesis again.  Now I think I’m back on track to finish the film by the summer of 2011, making it about a six-year project.  Yikes.  But it feels good to be chipping away at it again.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’m accomplishing.  I finished animating this scene a few days ago:

My JSFL Commands

So I’ve noticed a couple things.  First, most people who use Flash are either animators or programmers, but rarely both.  There are lots of animators who dabble in programming and lots of programmers who dabble in animation, but in my experience you’re likely to have much more passion about one than the other, leading to having much more skill and experience in that one as well.

The reason I mention this is that occasionally I think about how few people there are who produce decent JSFL commands.  I think it’s because the people who are really interested in Flash commands are the animators – particularly the professionals, who work in Flash every day.  It’s certainly true for me: I animate in Flash for 45 to 50 hours a week, and I frequently think of things that I wish Flash could do.  Earlier in my career, before I Knew the Way of the JSFL, I would just grumble to myself and go on working around that lack-of-feature or bug.  Unfortunately I think that’s what most Flash animators do, many of them not even being aware of the purpose of the Commands menu.

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What is Flash?

Someone asked me recently if I could describe what exactly Flash animation is, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do that here.

Flash is a program used mostly for creating interactive web sites and animation on the internet.  It’s different from most other graphics programs in that it’s based on vectors, not pixels.  What that means is that when the graphics data is stored in memory or on disk, it’s saved as a description of lines, curves, and boundaries of filled areas.  In most programs (such as, for instance, Photoshop and Windows Paint) graphics information is stored as an array of dots called a raster.

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Fried Ham

Allow me to introduce you to one of the films I made while I was a student at UCLA: Fried Ham.

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Secondary Animation Brings Life

There’s a lot of animation out there on the internet and, honestly, most of it is terrible.  Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, though, so I don’t begrudge people their learning process.  I just hope that it is, in fact, a learning process.  If you really enjoy making animation then you should make an effort to get better at it.  Animation (and art in general) is one of the most demanding fields in terms of how much you have to learn and practice in order to break into it professionally.  Most people will spend many years practicing their drawing and learning the principles of animation before they’ll be able to do it well enough for someone to pay them.

So, in my fantasy that you, the reader, are an aspiring animator, I’d like to give you something to consider: Secondary animation.

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