Flash Lesson 1: drawing tools

I’m working through Mindy McAdams’ book Flash Journalism published by the Focal Press. This book has 10 ‘lessons’ or activities in Flash, and the book leads to flash animations timed to a sound track. Much journalistic use of Flash is around sequences of still images or video clips synchronised to a sound track – just what I need for basic Maths animations.

Flash Journalism is based on Flash MX with comments on the new features and changes to the menus in Flash MX 2004. I have Flash 8 as part of Studio 8 Student and Teacher edition, about £100 in the UK, and part of this sequence of posts will be to comment on the differences in the new version. The Web site for the book has details about Flash 8 as well as sample files to download.

When I am more confident with the Flash interface and metaphor, I will be looking at interactive animations – so students can drag things around the animation to trigger actions.

In this first lesson, McAdams suggests you spend time with the drawing tools and get familiar with the interface.

Drawing tools on the stage In Maths, we need to be able to draw polygons, ovals and other shapes and to arrange lines and points easily. The polystar tool in Flash produces a pentagon by default: you click on the polystar tool and then look at the Properties Inspector for the tool settings – click Options in the Properties panel and set the number of sides to 3 in the pop up window. To make an equilateral triangle that is horizontally aligned, hold shift down while dragging with the mouse.

Lines slice shapes in Flash One of the unusual things about the drawing tools in Flash is that when shapes overlap, they cut the shapes at intersection points into new shapes. Drawing a line through the triangle cuts the triangle into two different shapes. The operation also cuts the line into 3 separate segments – you can select each length separately. Shift-selecting allows you to select the three parts of the line. Dragging this selection clear of the triangle makes the line one object again. This behaviour is very different to the default drawing arrangements most vector drawing packages! This feature makes it easy to use intersecting ovals to make lenticular shapes handy for faces, fruit and so forth. Things get interesting when you try to align overlapping shapes.

The triangle now cut into 4 shapes, two filled and two polylines As you can see the triangle is now cut into 4 shapes; two filled triangles and two poly lines that outline angles. On page 55 of Flash Journalism there is a paragraph about the align tools (Modify | Align from the Modify menu item). Align to middle and top works as advertised for shapes that do not overlap. When applied to overlapping shapes, things get interesting. As I want to animate lines and shapes, objects will end up on different layers anyway, and this may alter the cutting behaviour… on to lesson 2

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