Category Archives: Flash Process

Hooray for Re-Use!

I just burned through about five character-seconds of animation in about five days.  That feels really good.  It’s significantly faster than my general rate that I’ve been keeping up ever since I resumed keeping track in April.  When I finish a scene I get to mark it off in the spreadsheet I created for the task, which always feels great.  It’s all set up with color-changing fields that give me pleasant feedback when I finish a scene.  They say, “Hey David, you’re doing a great job!  Look how much you’ve done in the last five days!”

Part of what let me get through these two scenes so quickly was that I was able to re-use some stuff.  For the first scene the framing was very similar to an earlier one, so setup was fast (pretty much just copy the previous scene’s file and the new scene is set up).  For the second it was even better.  I was able to use a side-view walk cycle that I created a long time ago for another scene, with only slight modifications.

One of the great advantages of Flash animation is the ability to adapt old animation for new scenes.  That’s a major reason why it’s a good medium for television animation.  When I worked on Foster’s we tried our hardest to find reuse for as many scenes as we could.  We had libraries of walk cycles, character poses, hands, arms, legs, and endless gobs of uncategorized old scenes that the animation director was able to help us find if we needed them.  The thing that’s great about it is that it’s not carved in stone.  It’s pretty easy to make little tweaks to old animation in Flash.  Need that old walk cycle but with the head looking to the side?  No problem.  Different lip sync?  Easy.

Unfortunately reuse hasn’t been as helpful on Don’t Fear the Sitter, since it’s just this one episode.  If I could stretch it out into a series that would be great, since I wouldn’t have to build the character models again, and I would have a bunch of reusable animation from the first one.  I may some day try and figure out a way to adapt it into a series, particularly if the short ends up doing well on the festival circuit.  If it comes to that, I’ll definitely be glad I made this thing in Flash.

Flash JSFL Commands: The Autotweener

For the folks who aren’t Flash animators but would like to see a little bit of my process when animating, skip down and watch the movie that I link to below.  Starting at around 4 minutes in you can see an example of how I animate one of my characters in a simple motion.

Anyone who’s followed my blog so far and read the entries on Flash commands (not sure if there’s anyone like that yet – I have an admittedly small audience) will have seen me mention the Autotweener.  Well, today’s the day – I’m going to tell you all about it and post it for download.

The autotweener is a tool that does many of the same things as Flash’s built-in motion and shape tween functions, but it works in a fundamentally different way.  It’s incredibly useful, simplifying tasks that used to be difficult or impossible.  For my own animation process it was revolutionary – it totally changed how I do things.  I now rarely use motion tweens and even more rarely shape tweens – the autotweener has taken over almost all the tasks I used to use those for.

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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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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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Please Make Flash Rock

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!

Hot Hot Mom

mom front viewI’ve been working for the last few days on the Mom model and tonight I finished the front view. Mostly. I realized right at the end that I really should add in some jewelry — particularly some dangly diamond earrings. She’s supposed to be a classy trophy wife on her way to the opera or some other high-class function, so of course she’d have some diamonds. Now the next trick is to figure out how to make a diamond sparkle in Flash. I’ve got some ideas. We’ll see if they work.

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.