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.
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)