Flash multimedia software
Adobe Flash was created in 1996 as a way to display rich media on a webpage. In the mid-90s, most websites were a collection of static pages that displayed only text and images. When Flash was introduced, it opened a new world of animation and interactivity to the Web. People were able to create moving animations and clickable interactive graphics that went beyond the capabilities of standard HTML and CSS.
Flash was – and still is – owned by a single company, which is now Adobe. This means that Flash is proprietary software, and is not an open standard on the Web.
Journalists wishing to use Flash for adding interactivity to a website must weigh the pros and cons and decide the best tool to use for telling a story.
Here are some of the pros for using Flash on a website:
- Quickly create rich interactive graphics using a timeline-based software tool.
- Utilize a number of pre-built libraries and classes to build sophisticated projects that might otherwise take longer to build from scratch.
- A cross-browser compatible tool that works the same on Internet Explore, Firefox, Mozilla, Opera and Chrome.
- Good for construction of data-intense animated data visualizations that need to access an online database.
Here are some of the cons when using Flash:
- Does not work on a multitude of mobile smartphone devices.
- Many touch-screen devices (i.e. tablet computers) require different types of interaction that aren’t often supported by most Flash projects. For example, the difference between a mouse roll-over, and a tap, touch or swipe.
- Issues regarding accessibility of content for persons using special tools like screen readers.
- In some cases, intensive use of Flash graphics can drain the battery life on many laptops and mobile devices.
- Not as optimized for search engines (SEO). Flash is a closed multimedia construct on most webpages making it difficult for some search engines to properly index.
When deciding to build Flash project, we dissuade journalists from creating entire websites in Flash. Instead, think of Flash as a single embedable element on a webpage surrounded by text and navigation that is coded in HTML, like a video embeded on the YouTube page. Creating entire websites in Flash contradicts a lot of the standards of webpages, like a common navigation or the back button in the browser. While some of these can be mitigated, in most cases creating entire websites in Flash are often frowned upon by many web experts.
Vector vs. Raster
Image via Flickr creative commons:
It is important to understand the difference between vector graphics and raster (Bitmap) images. Vectors are color-shape-based line art, while bitmaps are photographic images made up of pixels.
Vectors are made up of lines called paths. These lines are connected by dots called anchor points. Vectors are not made up of pixels, and thus their size can be changed without losing any quality. Vectors don’t take up much memory, but they can be taxing on a computer’s processor the more complex they become. Vectors are designed to be simple shapes, graphics or animations.
Bitmaps are photographic images that are comprised of tiny squares called pixels. Bitmaps lose quality when they are resized, especially when their size is increased from their native size. Newer algorithms in the way Adobe resizes bitmaps have allowed quality loss to be minimal in many cases where the percentage change in size is a small. Bitmaps take up much more memory (and increase loading time on a webpage) however, they are not as taxing on processing.
There are dozens of tools in Flash that one can use for many various purposes in creating art. We will go over a few essential tools to start with.
The first are the two arrow tools; the Selection Tool (black arrow) and the Sub-selection Tool (white arrow). The Selection Tool is used for selecting and moving elements on the stage. It can also be used to bend and modify vector shapes. The Sub-selection Tool (white arrow) is only used for selecting drawing paths in shapes. The Selection Tool is generally used much more often and is the default tool for most tasks. The Sub-selection Tool is only used in specific cases when drawing or modifying vector shapes.
The Free Transform tool is used to change the size of an object on the stage. When using the Free Transform tool, you must first click on an object on the stage to select it, and then use the eight black handle points that appear around the box to change the shape of your object. When selecting objects with the Free Transform Tool, a small white circle will appear, usually in the center of the object. This is called the reference point, and can be moved with the mouse. This reference point will determine how the tool rotates and scales the object. It is also possible to skew an object by moving the cursor just outside the bound of the box.
The Lasso Tool is used for selecting object on the stage. It is done by drawing a circle around the objects you wish to be selected. It can also be used for selecting portions of a shape.
The Text Tool is used to create text boxes for entering text. The tool can be used by simply clicking the stage once to create a default text box (which can be resized later) or by clicking and drawing a text box to a desired shape. Static text boxes can only be drawn to a specified width and always start out as one line of text. This means you won’t be able to give your text box a height. As you type, you can press return to create additional lines of text. Dynamic text boxes can be given a height.