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Software Review: Adobe Master Collection – Flash CS4 from Adobe Systems

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This is the fifth in a series of reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) Master Collection. When Adobe released CS4 this past fall, they not only released single version products, but also six separate suites of products. They are Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium, and Master Collection. You can go online to compare what is contained in each version. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table.

What do you need to run Adobe Flash CS4? On PC you need an 1GHz or faster processor, Windows XP SP2 or Vista, and Mac users will need a PowerPC G5 or multicore Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.4.11 – 10.5.4 (Leopard).  Both will need 1GB RAM, 1280×800 display with 16-bit video card, 4GB hard drive space for installation and DVD-ROM drive.

 Flash CS4Adobe Flash CS4 Professional is the multimedia authoring program that can be used to create Web applications, games, movies, as well as content for mobile phones and other embedded devices. Originally developed and distributed by Macromedia and acquired by Adobe in 2005, Flash has a player client that is available in most common Web browsers. It features support for raster as well as vector graphics, a scripting language known as ActionScript, and the ability of bi-directional streaming of both audio and video.

Flash was first introduced in 1996 and since then Flash technology has become popular for adding animation and interactivity to Web pages. Flash files, often called movies, have a .swf extension and can exist as an object in a Web page or played in a Flash Player. Flash video files have a .flv extension and are utilized from within a .swf file.

Now Adobe Flash CS4 Professional is touted to contain a completely renewed focus on ease of use. By using an object-based animation model, Adobe wants to make working with Flash more approachable, as well as more productive. Adding more powerful design tools, Flash CS4 is attempting to remain unrivaled as an interactive design tool.

So what is new with Flash CS4?

• Object-based animation model means that motion tweens are applied directly to objects instead of keyframes. In previous versions, creating an animation on the Timeline involved a myriad of keystrokes and commands involving symbol creation, manual placement of keyframes, and manual tween adjustments on the Timeline itself. Add to this the time consuming editing process when you had to modify your animation. By using the object-based approach, Flash CS4 becomes more approachable for new users while making advanced users more productive as well as being in greater control of individual attributes. Now all you have to do is right-click on an object, choose "Create Motion Tween," and then move the object and you have created the animation. You can then click on the motion path and drag it to change the path of the curve.

• 3D Transformations will bring perspective and dimension to your design. Previously the ability to create 3D motion was available only to expert users through ActionScript or other sophisticated tools. Now you can animate 2D objects in 3D Space using the 3D Transformation tool. You can apply local or global rotations to move an object, and a global vanishing point enables you to define the location at which your animation disappears.

• Inverse kinematics with the Bone tool will now let you create chain like effects with a series of linked objects or to quickly distort single objects. Much like the bones in the human body form a skeleton that moves and behaves in a definitive way, the new Bones tool in Flash CS4 allows you to link a series of symbols together with “bones” that can be quickly and easily animated and then controlled relative to one another. All you have to do is to click and drag between separate symbols that have already been created.

• Procedural modeling with Deco tool is geared for the designer in you. It will allow you to turn any symbol into an instant design element. You can create patterns as well as kaleidoscope effects by using either single or multiple symbols. All that you have to do is select your symbol(s) and set the settings, and Flash, using procedural modeling, will  Flash CS4apply the algorithmic calculations.

• Motion Editor panel will give you much more granular, more independent control over every keyframe parameter. You now have more control with rotation, size, scale, position, filters, and more. Because it behaves much like the keyframe editor in After Effects, it will make it much more consistent between products.

• Motion Presets Panel now gives you a library of prebuilt animations to jumpstart your project as well as being a huge timesaver.

• Authoring for AIR will let you make your Flash animations on the desktop a reality. By making Flash available from beyond the browser, you can create custom desktop experiences as well as providing you with new branding opportunities.

• XFL support allows for improved integration across the CS4 family. Users can now easily export content from InDesign and After Effects into Flash. This will allow users of InDesign to create one set of content for print and use it on the Web via Flash via XFL.

• Metadata support eases the workflow by allowing you to make your files smarter about the content that they contain. By using the Extensible Metadata Protocol (XMP) standard, Flash now joins its CS4 family in being better able to manage assets using Adobe Bridge.

• Adobe Media Encoder with H.264 now supports the standard in high-quality/low-bandwidth video content. You will be able to deliver higher quality video faster and more reliable than ever before.

Obviously the huge feature is the object-based animation model. This is something that not only will save time and frustration, but I believe that it will be the feature that does separate Flash CS4 from other products and will keep it unrivaled as a design application tool. Many more will be able to create better Flash animations, and hence, make it more approachable to new users.

 Flash CS4The 3D tools are a good start and I hope that Adobe will continue down this path in the future by adding more 3D abilities. The Bones tool is also a welcomed addition and while they take a little bit to get the hang of, they are well worth your time. The Adobe AIR is cool in that it lets you create and test AIR applications with no hassle or complications. And the rest of the features, while not as big as these, certainly add to an already powerful upgrade.

While there may be some who are not thrilled with learning a new way of doing things in Flash, there will be many more that Flash will become much more accessible to. In my review of the prior version I said, "The downside is still the fact that it is a complex program to learn and it will still be frustrating to new users." Well this version has taken a huge step to correct this and I think that we are beginning to see the benefit of Adobe taking over this product. If you use Adobe Flash, or are considering learning Flash, now is the time to do it. I very highly recommend this product.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.