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Introducing Flash CS3 and ActionScript to Designers

Foundation Flash CS3 for Designers by Tom Green and David Stiller - Fall 2007,
570 pages from FriendsofEd/Apress - $40US

I have been saying it before but it bears repeating, Adobe has been uncharacteristically frugal in its printed and other documentation for Flash CS3 and ActionScript 3. But the trade press has taken up the slack and I have already reviewed here two very good books for ActionScript 3:
Essential ActionScript 3 by Colin Moock - O'Reilly Press
Actionscript 3 Bible by Braunstein and others- JWiley & Sons

But what I have failed to find up until now is a good book for Flash Designers and Animators who want to come up to speed with the artistic features of the new Flash CS3 before wading into its scripting side. Enter Foundation Flash CS3 for Designers.

Now this book does not ignore ActionScript 3 because after all that is the programming power behind Flash; but it does two things very well. First, it defers discussion of ActionScript 3 in the first third of the book, concentrating on getting users up to speed on the new interface for Flash CS3 (changed once again, but really integrated well into the general Adobe interface standards)and some of the basic design methods. The authors show how they have been improved. Second, the book shows how to use such design features as guides, motion guide layers, 9-slice scaling, and masking with very revealing Flash animation examples. By exploring in detail each of these features, readers get a better appreciation of their pros and cons.

I also appreciated the time spent on importing images from Adobe Fireworks, Illustrator, and Photoshop. There are pitfalls on what one normally would think should be straightforward. Finally the first two chapters set the style - lots of demo .fla files for testing out the various lessons are available at the book's website at Friendsofed.

Easing You into ActionScript

Chapters 3 is devoted to symbols and libraries - and this is one of the best ways to introduce designers to the advantages of ActionScript. Get designers used to the idea of reusing their various design and drawing assets. Also show the usefulness of layers Then get designers to think of going beyond frame by frame animations or automated tween animations and doing the movement, scaling and rotation of their symbols by means of programming - it is actually very straightforward.

Finally the book shows how complex images and animations can be built up from the animation of the parts - each part of the total figure onto its own layer. And then - here is the key part, each of those animations can then be done by using:
1)classic frame by frame animation;
2)Flash's automated motion or shape tweens;
3)ActionScripted animations.
So Designers can then choose the most effective way to animate based on seeing demos of all three different ways of doing animations. Chapter 4 then reveals all the new nuances(and the coding syntax has changed yet again in ActionScript 3 - quite dramatically between ActionScript 2 and 3) of programming in Flash.

For designers new to programming this will be the toughest chapter in the book. But the authors have been smart and pepper chapter4 with plenty of sample code and .fla exercises. The next two chapters on Audio and Text are then more palatable. Because both topics require some knowledge of ActionScript, the table has been laid in Chapter 4.

The authors continue with this carrot and stick approach showing the attraction of using tweens, components, video and CSS in Flash - and then showing how much more powerful these tools are when combined with ActionScript code and tricks.

Summary

This books succeeds because of its pedagogical approach - emphasize the various drafting and design tools available in Flash; then show how they are further enhanced using ActionScript. The authors are also not afraid to bring up the bear traps and lurking problems along the way - and steer you clear of difficulties. The over 440MB of example files (video eats up more than two thirds of that) certainly helps to promote understanding. So plan on "doing the exercises" to get maximum benefit from the book. Finally, if you are looking for guidance on AIR, Flex, database or Web Services integration with Flash , you have come to the wrong place. After all this is Flash CS3 for Designers.