Flash CS4 and After Effects CS4 – Web Animation Matrimony

By Elise Teddington-Jones

Animating in a 2.5D world is just as good as 3D, and in fact it is my preference when you couple the two greatest same-suite motion graphics software together, Flash CS4 and After Effects CS4. Before the release of CS4 integrating the two was like putting together oil and water and forcing them to emulsify. Now its more like putting together apples and oranges (with a shot of rum) and making fruit punch!

After Effects is commonly used as a video editing and enhancement software, taking video footage and applying limitless effects, text animations and 3D camera movements. The files created do not always contain videos, many times its just cool text effects and motion graphics created within the program.  The files can be rendered (i.e., exported) in .swf, .avi, .flv and my personal favorite the new .xfl. My next article will address the usage of these file types in your projects.

After Effects seems like a dream to a Flash developer however the problem for us is that when compiled, the After Effects files are movies without any user interaction like buttons and rollover animations, unlike a .swf file. That is where Flash CS4 comes in to play. Flash can now take the new .xfl After Effects file and import the footage and manipulate it like a movie clip. The only limitation in Flash with using the .xfl file is that you cannot edit the actual images created in After Effects, however you can use key framing to modify the movie’s time line.

When rendering (exporting) an After Effects XFL for Flash, the settings for saving the file may be a little mysterious. There are third-party plug ins available for “squeezing” the footage into a small file while maintaining resolution, but I recommend first trying a few settings that ship with the product.

Some useful tips that will save you a lot of headache when you first begin to play around with integrating the two:

  • Use the CS4 versions of After Effects and Flash, else the XFL file is not available in prior versions
  • Export your After Effects compositions as XFL
  • Open the XFL as you would an FLV – importing inside a movie does not work unless the file has been opened and saved as a movie clip which can be imported into any movie library
  • Select “on6 vp6″ codec – DO NOT USE THE DEFAULT – SPARKS! Sparks has significantly lower performance (Don’t buy a 3rd party compressor unless you are not satisfied after tooling around with the settings)
  • Do not export audio if you are not using it in your AE file – in fact I recommend placing the audio in your Flash file
  • Be creative – you can make awesome animations and effects in After Effects and make them interactive and fun to the user with Flash. When I design in AE many times I am often planning for Flash components and integration
  • Get the trial – Adobe has a trial for every product they carry – get a 30 day head start on your new skill! In fact, once the trial is up, you probably should just upgrade your suite as CS4 (assuming you already have some Flash/Adobe products) is truly worth it!
  • Get tutorialized – there are many tutorial sites such as www.videocopilot.net, www.creativecow.com and YouTube, as well as other video content based sites – learn what After Effects can do!
  • Read my articles. Not to be self-serving, however I intend to continue fleshing out the world of Flash and AE in the CS4 world and I would like to save others a great deal of time and headache!

Remember to have fun and measure your time as you get better – name your price for your new skill as I doubt your competition is doing it and the concept is still quite new!

Elise Teddington-Jones is a leading Flash designer in Atlanta working with such clients as Wachovia, AVAYA, Keller Williams Realty and Sharper Image.

Elise is the Creative Director at Me Marketing U [http://www.MeMarketingU.com] a web development and marketing firm in Atlanta.

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