Flash animation overview

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Learning goals
Learn about the various methods to create animations in Flash
Learn about timeline representations of the Flash Professional Interface (you can consult that later again)
Flash CS6 desktop tutorial (or Flash CS3 desktop tutorial or Flash CS4 desktop tutorial)
Flash layers tutorial (first part)
Flash drawing tutorial (at least some of it)
Flash frame-by-frame animation tutorial (not absolutely needed, but probably useful)
Next steps
Flash classic motion tweening tutorial (optional, CS3-style tweening for CS3 and better)
Flash CS4 motion tweening tutorial (CS4, CS5, CS6)
Flash shape tweening tutorial (all)
AS3 TweenLite tweening engine (CS3-CS6, intermediate)
Moving on
Flash CS4 inverse kinematics tutorial
Flash animation summary
Flash CS4 motion tweening with AS3 tutorial
After these (or even before) you should be ready for interactivity. E.g. do the Flash button tutorial
Quality and level
This is just an overview article.


Animation means changing properties of objects (e.g. position, size or color) over time.

In Flash CS3 to CS6, you can create several kinds of animations and associated special effects. To create animations, there are several options:

(1) Frame-by-frame animation Frame by frame animation is an ancient technique used for cartoons. This leads to precise results but is time consuming, since you will have to draw each picture. See the Flash frame-by-frame animation tutorial.

(2) Motion tweening with the CS Flash authoring interfaces Wikipedia, retrieved 20:45, 7 August 2007 (MEST) defines “Tweening, short for in-betweening, as the process of generating intermediate frames between two images to give the appearance that the first image evolves smoothly into the second image. Inbetweens are the drawings between the keyframes which help to create the illusion of motion. Tweening is a key process in all types of animation, including computer animation. Sophisticated animation software enables one to identify specific objects in an image and define how they should move and change during the tweening process. Software may be used to manually render or adjust transitional frames by hand or use to automatically render transitional frames using interpolation of graphic parameters.”. In other contexts, one uses also "morphing". E.g. PCMag (retrieved 20:45, 7 August 2007 (MEST)) defines tweening as “An animation technique that, based on starting and ending shapes, creates the necessary "in-between" frames. See morphing”.

In CS4/CS5/CS6, there exist two variants:

  1. Classic motion tweening as known from CS3 and earlier versions. See the Flash classic motion tweening tutorial. You can skip this.
  2. Motion tweening, a more oject-oriented method introduced in Flash CS4. See Flash CS4 motion tweening tutorial

(3) Shape animations

  • Shape tweening, since you can position key frames of shapes in different positions.

(4) Motion and shape tweening with ActionScript code

There exist many different possibilities, e.g.

  • Using a third party library like the Greensocks AS3 TweenLite tweening engine. Must need to know for everyone who plans to create interactive educational scenarios.
  • Dynamically changing x and y positions of a display object over time, e.g. through using the Timer class. See the unfinished Flash games tutorial for an example.

(4) Inverse kinematics

What can be animated with built-in motion tweening ?

In Flash 9/10/11, you can animate all sorts of compound objects:

  • Symbols, i.e. any object that is an instance of a library object, e.g.
    • Graphic symbols
    • Movie clips
    • Buttons
  • Compound objects (things that you grouped together)
  • Text boxes

The ground rules are the following:

  • Motion animation means just changing x/y positions of an object over time. Of course during the motion path one also can change other properties, e.g. orientation, size and tint.
  • With all built-in tools, an animation is usually done in a single layer with a single instance of something that sits in the library.
  • With ActionScript it depends, but usually you also would use "heavy" objects like movie clips.

Flash CS4/5/6 timeline representations of interpolations

Adobe show different types of animations using the timeline in the following way: According to Animation basics, (retrieved 11:17, 25 April 2010 (UTC))

  • A span of frames with a blue background indicates a motion tween. A black dot in the first frame of the span indicates that the tween span has a target object assigned to it. Black diamonds indicate the last frame and any other property keyframes. Property keyframes are frames that contain property changes explicitly defined by you. You can choose which types of property keyframes to display by right-clicking (Windows) or Command-clicking (Macintosh) the motion tween span and choosing View Keyframes > type from the context menu. Flash displays all types of property keyframes by default. All other frames in the span contain interpolated values for the tweened properties of the target object.
An motion tween span.png
  • A hollow dot in the first frame indicates that the target object of the motion tween has been removed. The tween span still contains its property keyframes and can have a new target object applied to it.
An motion tween span no target.png
  • A span of frames with a green background indicates an inverse kinematics (IK) pose layer. Pose layers contain IK armatures and poses. Each pose appears in the Timeline as a black diamond. Flash interpolates the positions of the armature in the frames in between poses.
An pose layer span.png
  • A black dot at the beginning keyframe with a black arrow and blue background indicates a classic tween.
Motion tween-classic.png
  • A dashed line indicates that the classic tween is broken or incomplete, such as when the final keyframe is missing.
Classic-motion timeline broken.png
  • A black dot at the beginning keyframe with a black arrow and a light green background indicates a shape tween.
Shape timeline.png
  • A black dot indicates a single keyframe. Light gray frames after a single keyframe contain the same content with no changes. These frames have a vertical black line and a hollow rectangle at the last frame of the span.
Keyframe timeline.png
  • A small a indicates that the frame includes an associated script (created with the Actions panel).
Frame script.png
  • A red flag indicates that the frame contains a label. This allows for instance to write AS code like:
Frame label.png
  • A green double slash indicates that the frame contains a comment.
  • A gold anchor indicates that the frame is a named anchor.
Anchor tween.png

Credits and copyright modification