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This chapter is from the book

Task: How to Make a Frame-by-Frame Animation

Enough talk! Let's make a quick animation, and then we can discuss what we've built. We'll make the animation "Stick man takes a walk."

  1. Draw a stick man using only lines (no fills) and make sure everything is snapped together, as in Figure 7.1.

Figure 7.1 A stick man drawn with lines. Lines are used for these exercises because they are easier to modify.

  1. Single-click just to the right of the keyframe dot in Layer 1—that is, click in the second cell of Layer 1.

  2. Select Insert, Insert Keyframe (or press F6), which inserts a keyframe in frame 2 with a copy of the stick man graphic.

  3. To make a slight change to the stick man in frame 2, first make sure that you are editing frame 2. You should see the red current frame marker in frame 2. If it's not there, click in frame 2 of the Timeline.

  4. Now, make a slight change—namely, bend one leg slightly and change the endpoint of the arm so it looks like it's swinging (as in Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.2 In the second keyframe, bend the stick man's leg in preparation for taking a step.

  1. If you want to preview what you have so far, use the scrub technique. Grab the red current frame marker and drag it back and forth. Okay, there's not much yet, but you can see stick man beginning to take a step.

  2. We're ready to create the third frame, so click in Layer 1 right after frame 2 and select Insert, Insert Keyframe, which copies the contents of frame 2 into the new keyframe in frame 3.

  3. Make a slight change to the stick man (bend the leg more and swing the arm more).

  4. Continue to insert keyframes one at a time. Make an edit to each new frame to keep the arms and legs moving, and then select Insert Keyframe again.

Previewing Your Animation with Test Movie

There are three ways to watch the entire animation: Scrubbing, Playing, and Testing. Scrubbing the red current frame marker is a good way to preview as you work. The only problem with scrubbing is that the speed won't be consistent, it will only be as smooth as you scrub. The second way is with the menu selection Control, Play (which is also available from the Controller toolbar or when you press Enter). However, as you'll see later (in the chapters on buttons, layers, and Movie Clips), Play doesn't always show you exactly what your viewers will see, so let me strongly recommend that you not get into the habit of previewing with Play. The best way to view your animation is with the menu selection Control, Test Movie.

Test Movie exports a .swf file into the folder where your file is saved, names this file the same as your file but with a .swf extension, and then launches the Flash Player program for you to view the results. You'll see how this works when you first save your source .fla file into a new, empty folder. After a Test Movie, your folder will have an additional .swf file.

.swf Files. As you recall from Hour 1, "Basics," a .swf file (pronounced "swif") is an exported Flash file. This is the kind of file you put in your Web pages. It differs from the source Flash file (.fla) in that it is not editable. The critical concept is that your source file is an .fla file, and that's the file you need to keep. You can always export again to create a .swf (from an .fla) but you can't get an editable .fla from a .swf.

You may have noticed that when testing a movie, your menus change. That's because you're actually running the Flash Player, which is a different program than Flash. Also, the movie loops by default, which is something we'll address later when we publish the movie to the Web (in Hours 18, "Linking Your Movie to the Web," and 24, "Publishing Your Creation"). The only thing weird about testing the movie is that you must close the Flash Player program to return to Flash. The good news about Test Movie is that you will see almost exactly what your viewers will see!

Editing One Keyframe at a Time

The frame-by-frame technique is simple. You just put a keyframe on each frame. An entirely different image appears on each frame—sometimes drastically different, sometimes only slightly different. The beauty is that you can put anything you want in one keyframe, because it doesn't matter what's in the other keyframes.

Although frame-by-frame animation is a simple concept, it can be a lot of work. Imagine conventional animation in which an artist must draw each frame even when only a slight change is necessary. It's detailed, meticulous work and, unfortunately, not really any easier in Flash, though you have functions such as Undo that help. Just realize that this technique is for situations that require it—something with lots of details such as an animation of someone walking. No other technique gives you this level of control to change each frame.

Changing Frame View

Just because frame-by-frame animation is a lot of work doesn't mean you can't use a little help. One way to make the process a little easier is by changing the Frame View setting. In Figure 7.3 you can see the Frame View pop-up menu. If you select Preview, each keyframe in the Timeline will be displayed as it appears onstage. Figure 7.4 shows the stick man animation with Frame View set to Preview. Preview lets you see all the frames of your animation without actually stepping through them. The Preview in Context setting draws the preview in the correct proportions (including blank whitespace), so the stick man would likely appear smaller.

Figure 7.3 The Frame View pop-up menu is available to change the size and character of the Timeline. You can make each frame larger or include a visual preview of the contents onstage in each frame.

Figure 7.4 The stick man animation is shown with Frame View set to Preview. An image of the onscreen contents appears in each frame of the Timeline.

The Frame View settings don't actually affect your animation. For example, if you set Frame View to Large, it just makes your Timeline take up more space within Flash—the user will never notice the difference. Also, you can change Frame View any time and change it back without changing your file.

Using the Onion Skin Tools

Probably the greatest helpers for frame-by-frame animations are Flash's Onion Skin tools. The original onion skin technique was developed for conventional animation. When an artist draws each frame by hand, he needs a way to judge how much change in the image is necessary from one frame to the next. He draws a frame on tracing paper (with the translucency of onion skin) that is placed on top of the previous frame. That way, he can see through to the previous frame and draw the next image accordingly.

In Flash, the effect is the same, but of course you don't use real onion skin. Flash's Onion Skin feature allows you to edit one keyframe while viewing as many frames before or after the current frame as you want.

Open the stick man animation file and click the leftmost Onion Skin button at the bottom of the Timeline (see Figure 7.5). Select Large by clicking the Frame View pop-up that is just right of your Timeline's frame numbers. With Onion Skin turned on, you can place the red current frame marker on any frame you want and edit that frame, and you'll see a dim view of the other frames in your animation. Which frames appear depends on where you position the Start Onion Skin and End Onion Skin markers. These markers can be difficult to grab when you try to move them—I often find myself accidentally grabbing the current frame marker. It's easier to grab the markers when the Frame View is set to Large.

Figure 7.5 Onion Skin is turned on (the leftmost button), and we can see the contents of adjacent frames.

You would probably turn on Onion Skin while creating an animation (instead of after it's done). To practice, let's try the stick man animation again—this time with the help of Onion Skin.

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