With Creative Suite 4, Adobe aims to make Flash easier for newbies to learn and less of a hassle for veteran users to use. Flash 4 offers a fundamentally different approach to animation with object-based tweening.
In addition, the workspace is more elegant and options expand to work with the latest video formats and web applications. And as with each new release, added design tools enable creative types to create more complicated-looking animation more quickly.
Adobe has reinvented the building blocks of Flash animation so you can get started in two steps. No longer must you create a symbol, then manually apply and adjust key frames and tweens; Adobe defines selected items as a symbol for you. It should be easier to control and tweak animation now that it applies to an object rather than to a Timeline key frame. Right-click on an object, select Create Motion Tween, and the time span is created automatically.
Workspace adjustments include a vertical Properties panel. Also found across Adobe Creative Suite 4, a drop-down menu makes it easier to switch among workspaces, while tabs let you hop among open documents. And panels are simpler to resize, open, and close. By default, the Timeline now lines up along the bottom of the Stage. Designers also should like hot-text editing, also found in Photoshop and After Effects.
The new XFL file format is supposed to help print designers or motion artists using InDesign or AfterEffects to dip their toes in Flash, as exported XFL content can be used in any of these programs. With this XML-based format, you can extract assets from work done in Flash. Adobe aims to phase in XFL gradually, rather than forcing saved content by default in this convention.
Content is supposed to render more quickly than in CS3, although we found this hard to measure with the rough-draft code.
The Adobe Media Encoder enables Flash developers to create H.264 content for web videos that stream quickly even on a narrow pipeline. Dropping video within Flash content is possible with several steps. You can save an MPEG4, say, rather than an FLV file, encoded as tkH.264, without needing to re-encode the video.
The capability to author Adobe AIR content lets you create web-based applications, including those with transparent backgrounds, on your desktop.
New design tools include 3D Translation and 3D Rotation, Bones, and Deco. With Bones, you can create inverse kinematics animation, ideal for, say, rotating the arm of a crane or Rube Goldberg contraption to set off a reaction among related mechanical parts. The Deco tool helps you create repetitive patterns, such as blinking stars in the sky, geometric wallpaper patterns, or intricate designs of vines, without monkeying with ActionScript.
A library of motion presets can get you started on more sophisticated animation that could be tricky to build from scratch.
We've been toying with beta rough-draft versions of Adobe CS4 applications for several weeks. We'll update these first takes with rated reviews once we check out the final code.
If the gold code proves to be stable, Flash CS4 looks far more attractive than CS3, namely for its less taxing approach to animation, and newbies might want to skip CS3 altogether. That said, newcomers still might need to pay for a how-to book or a class to learn the application in depth.