Interface saves time and space
Flash MX's updated look resembles a typical Macromedia MX interface, which should appeal to Macromedia devotees. But everyone will appreciate Flash MX's excellent tutorials, sample animation sequences, and templates. Flash's 20 dockable and collapsible palettes, including the Movie Explorer, save screenspace, and the convenient Properties Inspector lets you alter the properties, such as color and size, of any selected object.
To start building a movie, you create a separate layer for each object you add to your work space. To generate objects from scratch, delve into Flash MX's vector toolbox. You'll find the standard pencil and Bezier pen as well as tools that produce circles and squares. Version MX's new Free Transform tool lets you distort object outlines. Better still, Flash integrates closely with Fireworks and FreeHand, a vector drawing package, so you can edit an image in FreeHand and export it back to Flash.
Making the movie
In Flash, you use the rulerlike Timeline panel to animate your movie. The Timeline window displays layers vertically, with a horizontal set of frames for each layer--much like a cartoon flipbook. Animate your movie in one of two ways: frame by frame or through tweening. In the first option, you must manually alter the content of each successive frame to, for example, move an object or change its appearance. In the latter, speedier method, you define the first and last frames of your movie, and Flash MX interpolates, or tweens, the intermediate frames.
Lights, camera, action
Programmers: 1; newbies: 0
For heavy-duty commercial Web sites, Flash MX pulls out the big guns. You can, for instance, make movies that gather data from online forms and send it to a database. But you must program these complex actions using the ActionScript scripting language, which will flummox both new and intermediate designers.
All is not lost for newbies, however. Macromedia offers extensive Flash MX support, including guided training movies and extensive, easy-to-read tutorials, such as one that helps beginners use ActionScript. For human interaction, you can call a toll number or e-mail Macromedia tech support as many times as you like during your 90-day complimentary support period. After that, you must pay $25 per incident or purchase a Support Package for $95 to $650, depending on the amount and type of support you need.
There's no question: Flash MX is an enormously powerful animation toolkit. However, though the product offers much to beginners, even intermediate Web designers will struggle to harness Flash MX's true potential. For a less complicated but equally powerful animation program, get our current favorite: LiveMotion.