My Flash CS4 review…

This is a long review. Continue reading below.  

So for anyone that is just stumbling onto this blog, I am the owner and longtime-instructor at CartoonSmart.com . Most of my tutorials have to do with Flash, and if I counted up all the hours of video instruction I’m somewhere between 200 and 300. Maybe even more. So I wouldn’t call myself an occasional user of the program. I’ve been using it almost-daily since about 1999-2000 (whenever Flash was in version 4).  But this is the first time I’ve posted up my thoughts on a new version of the program, so I do want to make it clear that I have some experience here. And I’ve been using the program for a few weeks now, which I think is a decent amount of time to spend before reviewing software. 

Italics off, review-on!…. Flash CS4 (Flash 10) is what I consider the first generation of the second generation of Flash. Versions 1 through 9 were what gave birth to this little baby called Flash 10:  the shape of things to come. And in 2018, I think Flash developers will look back at this version and think, “that was the crossroad,  where IK began, where 3D began, where real character animation started.” And those future Flashtronauts will also think, “gawd, how did we ever use the program like it was”.  But to say the current version will seem prehistoric compared to one 10 years from now is an obvious statement. Thats true of any software, but what I’m getting at is this. I really believe this version is a stepping stone for all future versions. Adobe has unleashed something that they really shouldn’t under-develop now. The IK tools and the psuedo 3D can’t be ignored now that we have them. Which is to say, they need work in my opinion. They are a teaser of something much better. And I’ll explain why, but let me first make this clear…

You should upgrade to this version.

You should ALWAYS upgrade. It is absurd not to. This is how Adobe keeps developing their software. With money. From YOU. Yes, specifically you! And this IS a great version. And I know some of my usual students skipped upgrading to Flash 9 because the big difference was Actionscript 3, and if you aren’t a programmer, then the upgrade was no big whoop. And if you were of that mindset, then consider upgrading from Flash 8 to Flash CS4 like a two-for-the-price-of-one type deal. So upgrade, trust me. 

Alright, so here’s my review of Flash CS4 specifics which might bleed into a wish list for Flash CS5 improvements…

 

Inverse Kinematics using Symbols (not shapes)…

– Its good. Just not perfect yet. Having IK in Flash at all is insanely cool. I can’t tell you how many forums I’ve been to where people were complaining about how every other “real”  animation program has IK except Flash. Well nuts to that. We got it now. It just needs to fulfill its destiny in the galaxy. Here’s how… 

Scale and Skew desperately need to be keyframe-able (or pose-able I guess is the correct term now) . Currently those properties can be adjusted once something is in the IK chain, but it will be modified for all other poses (past keyframes). So for example, a hand can’t appear to come forward by adjusting the size. For animation, just being about to pose the x, y, and rotation properties over time is very limiting. And I can understand not including the z axi, but to also not include Scale or Skew is rough.

Us character animators really need to be able to switch out symbols between poses. Just moving around the same symbols over time, and among only the x, y, and Rotation properties, won’t even work for most walk cycles. And I do realize this is probably the most difficult (or dreamy) thing to ask of Adobe, but its crucial. 

Moving or clearing pose 1 is VERY difficult. With all other posed frames you can slide them around the timeline or clear them, but not frame 1. You also can’t paste another frame in place of it. The “Paste Pose” option is even greyed out in the menu. My guess here is that pose 1 is pretty crucial in keeping the IK straight for all other poses, so thats why.  Although, I did notice that reversing all poses in the Armature layer works fine.

Rare gremlins need to be addressed. I don’t think Adobe can be blamed too much for this, because IK is so new its just bound to have some weirdness occur, but a couple times I lost all my poses (keyframes) for no reason. Each one just became the first pose. That would suck if I’d been working on a really long animation. 

 

Inverse Kinematics using Shapes, (not Symbols)…

Shape IK is great. Its hard to predict how often I’ll use it, probably not a ton, but when I need to use it, I think it’ll come in really handy. To make a comparison for past Flash users, think about all the times you needed to use Shape Tweening. Rare, but when you did use it, and it worked, it was great. Shape IK will probably take the place of all those times you couldn’t get Shape Tweening to act right. So what can be improved?…

Reappearing strokes. For example if I rig up a square fill shape with 3 strokes, (so 1 stroke has been deleted) the 4th stroke will come back on automatically. 

-Apply the shape IK to an image AND have the image distort with the shape. Then us animators could rig up dancing bottles of shampoo or cereal boxes bending or whatever. This would be an amazing addition.

-Same problem described above about moving or clearing out pose 1 in an armature layer.

 

The 3D…

Just today I got an email from someone asking which was a better 3D program, Flash CS4 or Blender …oh boy. I had to break the news to them that Flash CS4 is not a 3D program. At best, its what After Effects users refer to as 2.5D. You can adjust 2 Dimensional shapes in 3D space. So think about taking a piece of paper and rotating it while moving it backwards. But beggars can’t be choosers, and us Flash developers have been BEGGING for a z axis forever. And we have one!! This is an awesome improvement. For Flash 11, I’d love to see….

Keyframe properties for the Stage Perspective Angle / Vanishing Points. So basically a “Camera” that can move. And I get the feeling someone at Adobe could have whipped that out if they had another month to work on this update. It just doesn’t seem like that much more to ask, but what the heck do I know. Nothing.

Z depth arrangement within a layer doesn’t happen automatically. Here’s the issue. If two symbols are on the same layer, and I move one further back on the z axis, that symbol can still visually appear in front of the other symbol in the layer. So the Arrange to Back, Arrange to Front commands still need to be used to get the visual layering correct.  It isn’t a huge deal that this doesn’t happen automatically, since most symbols that are animated will be on their own layer anyway, so you’ll still have to fuss with their layer one way or another. But it would be great if symbols on same layers just re-evaluated who should be in front anytime the z-axis gets adjusted. 

 

Other Pros (and a few Cons) about Flash CS4…

Flash CS4 is back to being fast even with lots of symbols in the library. When I make my Flash webcomics I have over a thousand symbols in the library and I’ll use the Swap Symbol command to change out one mouth pose for another. In Flash CS3 this took incredibly long. 15 seconds sometimes vs maybe 3 seconds in Flash 8. So up until this latest version, I was still using Flash 8 to make my webcomics because it was just faster with massive libraries.  Now I’m using Flash CS4, which is even faster than Flash 8 for Symbol Swapping.

-The program does crash more than other recent versions. Flash 8 was more stable for me than Flash CS3, and now Flash CS4 is less stable than Flash CS3. And I have a rockin’ Mac that I check often for memory leaks…. Flash seems to crash most often at startup (odd, I know) or much worse, when I go to Save and Publish. Now keep in mind, I hit Save with a hotkey, and then almost always hit the hotkey for Publish a half-second later. So I’m probably at fault there. I should take a breath before rapid-firing to Publish. And even if it crashes, the Save went through properly. 

Previewing the Swf goes blank a lot when I test the movie. So the swf will play for a bit, then just blank out until I resize the window. I’ve noticed it does this more often when I have something changing 3D-wise. 

– I don’t like the Filters being stuck in the Properties window now. I find I’m constantly unfolding the entire Filter block, or one particular Filter effect to view another. This is a workflow slowdown. I want to just rip the Filters out into a separate floating window and expand it to the entire length of the monitor. Aside from that, I love the new interface. Its flexible and what more can you ask of a GUI.

– The Motion Editor is amazing. Excellent inclusion to the program, and smartly done too. You can kind of ignore it if you don’t want to micro-manage your keyframes, or you can get in there and hyper control like crazy. 

Motion Tweens are also incredibly well done. (I’m referring to the new ones, not what are now called Classic Tweens) This another one of those dreamy wish-list features that us long-time users have finally gotten, and Adobe has executed it perfectly. 

– Setting a default document size and frame rate aren’t working for me. Anyone else having this issue?

Deco Tool is great. I’ve played with it enough to know that when I need it, it’ll come in very handy. It isn’t an everyday type of tool though. But it would be fine by me if Adobe loaded up the program with more occasional-use tools like this. The PolyStar tool has been around for a few versions now, and this was one I laughed at initially. Like “ha, what a silly tool”. But its not so funny when you need to make a star, or starburst type shape. Then you have to apologize to the tool for mocking it earlier.  And lets face it, most of us developers have PLENTY of vertical space on their monitors. My toolbar has at least triple the amount ofempty space as it has tools in it. So any extra tools like the DecoTool are fine by me.

 

Okay, I just saw the clock so that’s all I can write for now. But if you want a conclusion: UPGRADE. Flash CS4 is well worth it. Especially if you are making your living off of Flash, the upgrade price is a small amount to pay to keep supporting your meal ticket. 


Oh and for anyone who read THIS far. Here’s some free Flash CS4 video tutorial links…

Video tutorial covering Inverse Kinematics in Flash CS4 (zipped file 67.1MB)

Video tutorial teaching some points about 3D space in Flash CS4 (zipped file 36MB)

Video lesson teaching Motion Tweens (and the Motion Editor) in Flash CS4 (zipped file 41MB)

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14 thoughts on “My Flash CS4 review…

  1. batatastudio says:

    I am a big fan of cartoonsmart.com and also i´m your apprentice for two and a half years, and I want to have Flash CS4.

    I take this opportunity to congratulate you for your great work as a mentor and teach in a more friendly ways, for the tutorials begin to expand to other programs, create the forum and this excellent blog that gives me more sources of learning, thanks for everything … You Rock!

  2. chequeredmaniac says:

    I am seriously lovin the expression Flashtronauts, and whether you came up with it or not thanks. Nice review. Any chance you could get mike to post a review of Illustrator at some stage. Like to see what he thinks of it.

  3. Justin says:

    Thanks. I could try to take credit for the term flashtronauts, but after your comment I did a google search and someone has not only used it already but has registered a domain for Flash games with it. Oh well.

  4. Nice review. Generally I agree with your conclusions — this is an excellent update that lays groundwork for future versions, even though in its current state many of its features leave plenty to be desired.

    In its current state, Flash CS4 should be beta or alpha. It is COMPLETELY unstable. It crashes several times a day, glitches like crazy (I constantly have to re-select my hotkey set, it automatically changes it back to the default set every once in a while). Here’s the biggest one I’ve found: For a while, when I used to move through frames, one single press of either key immediately crashed Flash, every single time, without fail. Right now, it’s not doing it, not sure what was causing it but… Ummm, yeah. Nice one Adobe.

    I’ve actually found this to be generally true of CS4 (what I’ve used of it anyway, which really only includes Photoshop, Flash, and Dreamweaver [I don’t really care, I’m getting Espresso as soon as it comes out and saying goodbye to the convoluted mess that is Dreamweaver]). It was released extremely prematurely. I don’t understand how they can publish something of this nature. It is glaringly unstable and glitchy.

    And here’s something that bugs me. Flash has adopted a fantastic new one-window way of doing things. It’s really good, I really like how it works. At first I balked at the “fat” title bar, but now that I’ve been using it I think it’s really nice. But here’s the thing: MOST OF THE OTHER APPS USE DON’T THIS! I mean, they create this brand new interface, that works great, but they only apply it to a few of the apps!!! This is the most ridiculous UI inconsistency, it just baffles me. They have the SAME STUFF up there: The app logo, a search bar, maybe some icons…

    Anyway, the point is, it’s perfect for Dreamweaver and Photoshop and everything else really. But they don’t use it. Instead, Dreamweaver employs an annoying “floating window” that serves the exact same purpose as the “fat titlebar”, and as a result either I work with the top left half of my window hidden by that floating panel, or else just have to move it down every single time I open the app.

    No, it’s not a big deal, but it wouldn’t be a big deal to fix it either! And it would make using the apps a MUCH BETTER EXPERIENCE!!!

    I’ve never understood how the company that makes all the best design software for the world can be such god-awful, TERRIBLE designers themselves (always have been…)

    Anyway. Done griping. All of this comes of course along with a lot of great new stuff that they’ve added.

  5. Justin says:

    Yeah what is up with the defaults/prefs not being saved. My hotkey set went back to the standard set a few times. Now it seems okay, knock on wood. But I definitely can’t save a default stage background or size.

    Flash 9 had an update a few months after it’s release, so hopefully we’ll see a Flash 10.1 sooner than later.

  6. theanimator2009 says:

    Great review JD. I don’t understand why we can’t swap symbols using the bones, what’s the purpose? That is the main reason why I purchased CS4. I have seen alot of animations like the stuff GreyKid Studios does and they use Anime Studio Pro, they always use bones even to make the characters talk, why wouldn’t adobe do this with CS4?

  7. Justin says:

    I’m sure the programming block behind doing that had something to do with the same reason you couldn’t switch out a symbol mid-motion tween. But considering IK in Flash is something totally new, and not supported in player versions below Flash 10, then it seems like the development team would have had a clean slate for programming this however they wanted. I’m still just amazed you can’t skew or scale among poses with IK.

  8. Yeah, I do hope they fix some stuff in an update soon. But then they came out with another update for CS3 that cost money! What’s up with that?! I couldn’t find anyone saying it had anything more than bug fixes, and for them to charge for bug fixes is outrageous. Maybe I’m wrong though and it did have new features… *shrug* Still, a 9.x update should be free 😦

    Sorry, didn’t realize my last comment was so long!!! 😛

    Dude I just got done with your AS3 video tutorial, it was a fantastic way for me to get introed to AS3, and using XML in conjunction with Flash. Opens up a world of possibilities! It leaves me with a question though: How could I make it so that the little playlist to the right, if a particular video is playing, it is highlighted (ie, its invisible button is at frame 2)?

  9. Justin says:

    Jeff G. just pointed this out to me….

    http://theflashblog.com/?p=470

    Its a class that does Z-depth sorting. Here’s some more deets…

    “You simply call the SimpleZSorter.sortClips() static method and pass in the container clip that holds your 3D objects. This will need to be called repetitively inside an enter frame event if doing animation.”

  10. It’s nice to see a more honest review for Flash CS4 from an actual animator. Although I don’t agree with everything in your review, it is certainly more accurate than most of the reviews that sound like they are written by Adobe.

    You said that “Motion Tweens are also incredibly well done” but also point out that they are not very useful for animators that need to change the frame or symbol in the tween. This seems like a huge conflict to me and makes the new tweening very unusable.

    I purchased a copy two days after launch and noticed that any large CS3 projects (lots of frames and library items) I opened were about 10-20 times slower. Basically I couldn’t use the software. For instance, just clicking on a symbol on the stage would take about 10 seconds to register the click.

    I also noticed other weird bugs like I couldn’t copy a motion from a traditional tween like in CS3. When I went to paste the motion, the paste motion option was grayed out.

    I noticed other annoying bugs that are not worth mentioning but the point is, I am in the process of trying to return to product for the first time since version 4 (and I have upgraded every time) because I feel like it is so unstable and unready for release.

    It really makes me sad because I think the corporate size of Adobe and the merger of Adobe and Macromedia has negatively effected the quality of their products, especially Macromedia’s products. I also think the focus on releasing all of their products at one time every 1-2 years puts the emphasis on the investors and not the customers than ultimately create value in the stock. It is short sited and unfortunately typical of large publicly traded companies.

    There, I feel a little better now.

  11. Justin says:

    Right on, I think venting actually helps a lot. Adobe does listen to their customers. And who knows, the right person might read the right post and note something for the next version. So list those bugs, why not. Even the small ones.

    Now about the “new” Motion Tweens…. Even with what are now called “classic tweens” (tweens in past versions of Flash) we could never swap out a symbol midtween anyway. The rule is and was always one symbol, per layer, per tween. So nothing has changed there. With the new Tweens though, it does feel like Adobe has made them a little less comfortable in terms of adjusting things without the Motion Editor. You have to ctrl click now to select an individual frame(s) in the tween span. Otherwise you’ll end selecting the whole chunk.

    Once nice thing though about the new tween spans is scaling them. Go to the far edge of your span and drag left or right. They will proportionately lengthen or shorten. So if you have a 10 frame tween, with keyframes on 2, 5, and 7 you can scale that tweenspan out to frame 100, and those keyframes will be at 20, 50, and 70. Very nice for adjusting a long animation.

    About swapping out symbols, I was referring to them in an IK armature, and that is very frustrating. Imagine animating a walk cycle approaching the viewer and not being able to change the appearance of the foot the entire time. When that leg goes forward and back the foot appearance should change drastically. So in a case like this, using inverse kinematics becomes pointless. And I’m still AMAZED you can’t scale between poses in an IK animation.

  12. banjobilly says:

    Thanks to Justin and all you other animation freaks for your comments. Yep, you-all did it. You scared me away from upgrading to CS4. Guess I’ll wait to see what Justin does with Toon Boom Animation before I spend any more money for software. I want to animate cartoons for video, not wrestle with a darned batch of software glitches. And all that action script is a pain in the AS.

    Just little bouncing balls and Mickey Mouse cartoons with camera moves and perspective depth layers, software that does that without a masters degree in ergonomic mind-twisting, is that too much to ask?

    I guess I’ll stay with CS3 and let you guys find the bugs and glitches. Yep, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. How about you? 🙂

    Meanwhile, Justin, how is Toon Boom Animate working out? I see that you were able to figure out how to use the paint brush. 🙂

  13. banjobilly says:

    Hope I don’t sound too cynical. But an amateur-level animator like me depends on guys like Justin and all you professional-level animators for guidance and advice. So, I take your word for it.

    Thanks for the comments and the insight. And Happy Holidays.

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