Bitmap import in Flash MX

Vector animation is the killer feature that Flash was founded on. It enabled savvy Web builders to create movies that were small enough to download over a dial-up connection, yet every bit as rich as traditional video clips; indeed, in most cases, quality was far superior.

However, there are still some things you can't realistically do with vectors. Photorealism is out, subtle shadowing doesn't work and texturing is flat, for instance. It's fortunate, then, that Flash supports bitmap import. What's more, it enables you to do almost as much with bitmaps as vectors. They can be animated, scripted and included in symbols. They can have simple actions applied to them, be scaled, rotated and distorted. All that's required is a little know-how, which is where we come in€¦

Unfortunately for those more used to cranking out bitmap images than vector illustrations, Photoshop and Flash currently don't play well together. Flash can directly import Photoshop files from versions 2.5 and 3. Its support for the Illustrator EPS or AI files is similarly patchy, making the direct import of paths from Photoshop even more of a challenge. There are solutions, though - and the majority of our tutorial looks at two tested methods for importing your Photoshop work into Flash.

Vector packages are catered for more effectively by Macromedia's app. Adobe's Illustrator 10 has extensive support for Flash file formats - so one route for Photoshop 7 owners is to export files to Illustrator 10, then out to Flash MX. Alternatively, Macromedia FreeHand produces Flash files, and Flash can import native FreeHand files.

While Flash excels in just about every other department, Adobe's neglected LiveMotionWeb animation tool has more integrated bitmap features. It supports Photoshop more effectively and includes live effects that are converted to bitmap elements on export. However, some argue that the whole point of Flash is that it animates vectors. LiveMotion does this, too - but to the detriment of some features that Flash users take for granted.

Certainly, when incorporating bitmap files into the app, it's important to strike a balance. Flash sports its own compression tools and knowing where they are and how to use them will guarantee that you don't sacrifice quality for file size, or vice versa. It's not just a case of making everything as small as possible. Flash enables you to tweak individual settings for all elements.

In our project, we create a slideshow with a Photoshop-generated interface. As we work our way through, we'll demonstrate two distinct methods of getting your artwork from Photoshop into Flash. The steps are less tricky than you might think. We wrap things up by taking a look at how Flash handles bitmaps in general. The project needs bitmap images of the highest possible quality to display within a Flash movie, and we discuss techniques that will help you reproduce our results in your own work.

INFO Words and Flash expertise supplied by Karl Hodge.

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