Adobe Flash CS4 Professional review: Adobe Flash CS4 Professional

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The Good Flash CS4 lets users creates animation in fewer steps; new 3D Rotation and Bones tools; Motion Editor; Motion presets; faster rendering; Adobe AIR support; new XFL format isn't saved by default; practical interface adjustments.

The Bad Longtime users may dislike Flash CS4's radical changes; new tools can be clumsy; steep price.

The Bottom Line Flash becomes friendlier and more fun to explore as CS4 introduces a faster approach to animation, making this a worthwhile upgrade for both beginners and seasoned programmers.

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8.3 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 9
  • Support 8

Flash can be frightening to master because of its complex interface and the multiple steps required to get started with animation. Thankfully, Flash CS4 isn't like some other updates of professional Adobe software, which sometimes add few important features at a steep price. This upgrade is worthwhile, especially for those learning Flash animation for the first time.

Flash CS4 offers a fundamentally different approach to animation with object-based tweening, making it easier to get started. For instance, just draw and select a shape, create a tween, and you're ready to move the shape around in the timespan that appears, instantly creating an animation. There are no more in-between steps to take, as Flash CS4 fills in the gaps you previously had to do yourself.

In addition, the work space is more elegant and options expand to work with the latest video formats and Web applications. And as with each new release, Adobe added design tools that enable creative professionals to create complicated-looking animation more quickly.

Setup and interface
As with other professional Adobe Creative Suite applications, the interface can be be incomprehensible to beginners. However, Flash CS4 offers many welcome improvements to its look and feel. Tweaks to the Timeline, Properties Inspector, and Toolbar emphasize the central location of the Stage. A helpful Search field, tabs to keep track of multiple projects in progress, and pull-down menus to toggle among work space layouts are found throughout Creative Suite 4. Panels are simpler to resize, open, and close. Searching within the Library in Flash will suggest items as you type, which can save a vast amount of time. Designers should like hot-text editing, also found in Photoshop and After Effects, as well as a new color-management panel.

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 keyframes 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 keyframe. Right-click on an object, select Create Motion Tween, and the time span is created automatically. You can create cartoons as if you were drawing designs in Illustrator. The new animation model also simplifies drastic edits when you're already deep into a project; especially if you wish to extend the length of a movie.

Another benefit to Flash CS4 is its new Motion Editor, which provides granular controls for fine-tuning animation with Bezier curves. The Classic Tween option is available, should you prefer the old animation model. Coders can dig into ActionScript without changing their work flow.

New 3D tools make it simpler to add visual depth, although professionals can find deeper 3D options from other vendors. Design tools introduced to Flash CS4 include 3D Translation and 3D Rotation, Bones, and Deco. 3D Translation and Rotation help you manipulate objects in near-3D space with the same ease of resizing an image in Photoshop.

With Bones, you can create inverse kinematics animation, ideal, for example, for rotating the arm of a crane or Rube Goldberg contraption to set off a reaction among related mechanical parts. This also can be extremely useful for animating characters. Bones is trickier to learn than we'd like, but it's still a shortcut compared with how you'd have to labor to achieve similar effects without it.

The Deco tool helps you create repetitive patterns, such as blinking stars in the sky, geometric wallpaper patterns, or intricate designs of vines, without using ActionScript. We didn't find this as cool in practice as it was in early demonstrations, but it's still fun. A library of motion presets also can get you started on more sophisticated animation that could be tricky to build from scratch.

Content is supposed to render more quickly than in CS3, and our tests seemed to prove this. Finally, Flash CS4 renders animation on the stage, as it would appear during preview, another huge time-saver. You can see an object in its previous positions as you drag it around the stage. Flash Player 10 also seemed faster.