Foundation Flash 8

4 comments | Posted: 18 January 06 in Books, by Nathan Smith

Foundation Flash 8 I just finishing reading Foundation Flash 8, co-authored by Sham Bhangal and Kristian Besley. The technical reviewer was Todd Yard, a role that he has played in 11 other Friends of ED books. I was checking out Todd’s company website, and was very impressed. He works for Jeremy Allaire, former CTO of Macromedia. You might recognize him as the creator of the product that made Dreamweaver so great – Allaire Homesite. I digress, back to the book review.

First of all, let me specify who this book is for: Those looking to get a handle on Flash, starting from square one. Over on, one fellow gave it a really harsh review, probably expecting it to be something along the lines of Flash 8 Essentials. That being said, Foundation Flash 8 is a very good book in its own right. Sure, the first few chapters are elementary, but considering that this text is supposed to take you from beginner to intermediate in your skill-level, it’s right on target. It takes you step by step through each part of the interface, and then builds from there. By the end, you’re making simple video games.

Even seasoned veterans could benefit from reading through the introductory chapters, because of some of the significant changes to the way Flash works. For instance, object drawing used to cut out shapes that overlapped each other, which was an annoyance those who were used to a different graphics program.

This was always confusing to me, being a big fan of Macromedia Adobe Fireworks, the interface of which looks very similar to Flash. Now that this has been tweaked, the two cousin programs behave more similarly. This book does a good job of pointing out things like this, that while simple, could possibly prove confusing for those already used to the previous behavior. You could say that before, Flash was in “quirks” mode, and now it’s more streamlined.

One of my favorite section of the book was chapter 12, which covers sound and video optimization. Flash 8 goes leaps and bounds beyond where its MX 2004 predecessor had been. I like that fact that the authors emphasize that you should tweak, listen to, and watch your projects as you work on them. While Flash has some heavy-duty compression by default, you would do well to choose specific settings for each media file you use, as this will help you get the best sound / picture clarity, while keeping your file size as low as possible. As is the case with most things in digital / physical art, practice makes perfect.

Another thing I appreciate about this book is its emphasis on learning real code. Some of the Flash books I’ve read in the past tend to gloss over this as too difficult for newer users. This may be true, but it does them a disservice not to teach it. Thankfully, these guys encourage the reader to delve in further, and draw the line between beginner or expert at the point of ActionScript…

You can use a drag-and-drop behavior. It’s fast and efficient, but at the expense of reducing your understanding of the problem, and it offers a solution that addresses problems that may not be part of your particular task. It’s also a “one size fits all” solution – and how many times have you bought a one-size-fits all shirt and thought “Mmm, fits perfectly, almost as if it was tailor-made for me?” Me neither. – Page 302

The above quote pretty much sums up the jist of all web-based design. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got an email or been asked in person, even by experienced visual designers: “What program do you use to make your CSS websites?” What they mean is: How can I point-and-click my way through it? The short answer is: You can’t, not if you intend on learning anything. Most people are disappointed to find out I use Araneae for all of my hand-coding.

Likewise, if you want to really harness the power of dynamic animations in Flash, you need to get comfortable with ActionScript. For those of you who are familiar with JavaScript already, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up because AS syntax is modeled after JS. If you’re new to both, fear not, because Flash comes in with a built-in code assistant, similar to that in Dreamweaver.

The authors start out the ActionScript chapters using the code assistant, and then gradually steer the reader towards typing out code by hand. You could think of it this way: at the beginning of the book, you’re riding a tricycle, but by the end you’re handling a Harley Davidson.

My advice is this: as you’re reading this book, take it all with a small grain of salt. They tend to hail Flash as the final point in web evolution, and sort of treat HTML as a necessary step for embedding your SWF file. I would swing the pendelum back towards the center, treating Flash as part of a wholistic approach to the web, using the most logical solutions where appropriate. Sometimes we over-complicate things, and lose the beauty of simplicity. As long as you maintain a larger perspective, you will learn much from this book.

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Yannick

    Thanks for the review Nathan. It’s nice that it goes through some of the basics and takes you up to intermediate. This would be the perfect book for me if I was learning Flash, unfortunately I’m not sure if/when that will be. At least I’ll know which one to look for or at least recommend to someone else.


  2. 2 Nathan Smith

    Yep, it’s definitely a good book. It’s probably the singlemost comprehensive Flash book I’ve ever read. Some of the others that I have take a lot of things for granted, but this one takes you through it step by step, precept by precept.

  3. 3 Wesley Walser

    Nice review Nathan. With all of the JS and Flash interaction that is being made possiable it seems like a good time to brush up on actionscript.

  4. 4 Nathan Smith

    Wesley: Yeah, that’s been my reasoning behind getting more familiar with Flash. I figure it’s a “controlled” environment, possibly not quite as quirky or unpredictable as JavaScript (thank you Opera!). Plus, deep down who isn’t fascinated by a web tool that can make video games?


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