As Adobe's mainstay multimedia authoring environment, Flash's core working methods have changed little since its Macromedia days. With Flash CS4 Professional, though, the application has undergone one of its most radical overhauls yet.
Flash CS4 Professional is a mix of new workflow enhancements and tools, twinned with improved integration with the rest of the Creative Suite 4 applications. The biggest change to the application is in the Flash CS4 Professional Timeline - something seasoned Flash users will either embrace or abhor. Adobe has moved Flash's Timeline to an object-orientated model, which enables Motion Tweens to be applied directly to objects as opposed to individual keyframes.
It's clear that Adobe is trying to make Flash more accessible for newcomers, while maintaining the under-the-hood mechanics that seasoned users embrace. Flash now automatically converts items to symbols, making it far easier to edit an animated object. Now, in two clicks, you can convert an object to a symbol, generate a Motion Tween, and Flash will fill in the Timeline automatically.
This is a big step for Flash users. Foremost, it opens the application up to users unversed in ActionScript and Flash's Timeline. Yet Flash CS4 Professional brings much for Flash veterans too.
For those familiar with ActionScript, Flash CS4 introduces a new Motion Editor panel, which offers granular levels of editing to fine-tune animations.
Flash CS4 Professional's 3D prowess has also been improved. Two new tools feature: the 3D Translation tool, which provides ultra-smooth object manipulation; and the 3D Rotate tool, which enables you to apply local or global rotation when working with an object.
Further new powers unveiled include inverse kinematics and a new Bones tool. The latter enables you to click-and-drag between unlinked objects, sewing them together into one object with separate forms of movement. Users can save these as an Armature layer, which enables complex, organic motions that translate through to further, linked elements of the object.
There's also a new Deco tool aimed at procedural modellers and designers. It enables a user to create patterns from single elements or even full kaleidoscopic renderings.
The bottom line
It's clear from this release that Flash is still Adobe's favoured application. New and improved support for handling PSD, AI and Dreamweaver documents, twinned with InDesign's new XLF support, plus new Adobe AIR packaging function and Flex support, makes Flash CS4 Professional a landmark update in the application's development.