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Useful Notes / Adobe Flash

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A vector graphics animation software program developed by Macromedia (based on an earlier program by the Macromedia purchased FutureWave) and later added to Adobe's series of professional graphic applications under their merger. Initially called Shockwave Flash, it was designed to create smooth line-art animations and interactivity for web-based projects (basically, Illustrator, but with the 4th dimension added). It introduced its own coding language, Actionscript, and had its own standalone player software as well.

The "Shockwave" brand was something of an Artifact Title even from the beginning. Macromedia had an existing product called "Director" that was more mature and did some of the same things, and they had developed a browser plugin called "Shockwave" to let people view Director movies directly in their browser. After Macromedia bought FutureWave, they positioned Flash as something of a "Director Lite", most likely to protect Director sales. Flash proved popular, however, and eventually they dropped the Shockwave branding.

Since its introduction, Flash gained more and more features. Due to the shortcuts that it offered (that weren't available in normal animation), combined with steady improvement in computer performance and decreasing budgets and deadlines from cable networks, it started to branch from animations made for the Web into television and even movie animation (this article mainly covers these titles). Many early TV efforts in animating in Flash have not aged very well and were considered poorly animated even for the time, leading many to take a dim view of the software's usage in animation early on. However, standouts existed even back then, and as the technology has progressed and refined, so has the smoothness, dynamism, and fluidity of most Flash-animated series. Also, before the rise of HTML 5's built-in video capabilities and the browser plugin's discontinuation, Flash was a key component in the rise of Web-based TV, owing to its installed base and features that make playback easy to implement.

Flash was not without its competitors, or critics:

  • From the start Flash was considered a CPU and memory hog, but as computer speeds increased and memory got cheaper, it became less of a problem. Still, it was not unknown for browsers to freeze for minutes while processing a poorly written Flash game. The problem persisted on mobile devices, which eventually overtook desktops as the biggest source of Internet traffic in The New '10s.
  • Flash's browser plugin was a popular target for malware, being no better than other common plugins. In fact, the plugin was such a huge problem in terms of security that it was deprecated in the mid-2010s, and eventually discontinued entirely (see below).
  • Flash started on Windows on x86 processors, and support of non-Windows platforms that weren't Macs was poor to non-existent.
    • It took Adobe years to port it to x86's successor, the (fortunately 100% backward-compatible) x86-64 architecture, delaying the adoption of 64-bit browsers.
    • Plugins for Linux and OS X habitually lagged behind. Adobe was happy to start phasing out old GNU/Linux plugins (though the GNU Project had started developing FLOSS replacements, Gnash and LightSpark, quite some time before this) and offload developing its replacement on Google (as part of the Chrome/Chromium browser, though even this wasn't perfect as Chrome only really supported x86 processors (it can be made to run on ARM, but other RISC processors are right out).
    • Despite being the major target for other Adobe software, Apple had a turbulent relationship with Flash due to its performance and security issues; the iPhone and iPad could not play Flash Player videos without a third-party app, and unless they were ported to the App Store, Flash games were nowhere to be found.
    • In November 2011, Adobe promised to drop mobile Flash in favor of HTML 5. Mobile Flash support was only ever available on a few early Android phones.
  • From the start, Flash competed with Java in browsers. Flash won thanks to its browser plugin actually being less resource-hungry and having tools more convenient for novice developers. Microsoft developing an incompatible Java implementationnote  also helped.
  • Toon Boom has been competing against Flash in the entertainment industry for years now, and has actually been used in big-scale feature films. Both programs had developed to the point where it is nearly impossible to determine which show was made with which program just by watching them.
    • In the 90s, Cambridge Animation Systems produced an animation package called Animo which was rather widely adopted by animation studios in the UK. Most UK cartoons from said time period, including those by King Rollo Films, were done using this software. Animo was eventually purchased by Toon Boom.
  • Silverlight was a direct competitor to Flash on the Web, developed by Microsoft and based on the .NET Framework. Since it was still a browser plugin, Silverlight shared all the major problems of Flash (being an unstable resource hog and a security hole, with poor support outside Windows), and failed to catch on or mature like Flash did.
  • HTML5 adds video capability to the HTML standard and some nifty features specifically added for browser games. Though all current browsers support it, it didn't work in really old browsers that were still common in the early 2010s, particularly old versions of Internet Explorer. And again, Flash had better development tools until Adobe Edge appeared (see below).

On a related note, Flash's player was used by web designers for tasks it wasn't originally intended to perform well, such as banner ads, bitmapped video, games, complex interactive applications and, as of Flash 11, full on 3D rendered games. In extreme cases, web developers have had created entire webpages that are nothing but one huge Flash application. Its adoption for those uses can be traced to the "browser wars" of the late 1990s, which kept equivalent functionality from being standardized in HTML while Netscape and Microsoft duked it out. Now that the browser landscape has improved and most browsers at least try to follow the relevant standards, complex forms and applications using JavaScript, CSS and HTML5's improved, standardized document object model have become the standard; this also makes them attractive for use on smartphones, due to Apple banning Flash from its devices and the aforementioned cancellation of Mobile Flash for Android.

In November 2011, Adobe announced it will no longer develop Flash software for iOS games past the most current version. In September 2012, Adobe released a software application called Adobe Edge, which is basically Adobe Flash for HTML5, with the aim of making this technology more accessible to designers, artists and people without a technical background. It is predicted to finally spell the end of Adobe Flash, but Adobe hasn't stopped development of Flash and Air; new features are still being added.

In February 2016, the program was renamed to Adobe Animate to highlight its change of direction from a web-based general purpose multimedia engine to a specialized animation tool targeting animators and animation studios.

August 2017 saw Adobe announce Flash Player's end-of-life by 2020, as outlined on their blog here. Most of the Internet already saw this coming for at least a year or two beforehand, with YouTube, Mozilla Firefox, and Newgrounds (amongst many others) having long dropped Flash support. In December 2020, it was dropped entirely, with browsers blocking websites that supported it in 2021. Luckily though, Adobe Animate continues to be developed and it will still be one of the leading 2D animation programs in the world for the near future.

The ActionScript programming language that allowed advanced capabilities of the plugin, by then up to version 3.0, was similarly open-sourced by Adobe. permitting browser developers of that time to better integrate advanced programming concepts into Javascript thus pushing it forward in capabilities. Video, hardware acceleration and some advanced css features are attributable to this change.

For those concerned that many older Flash games and animations will become unplayable, attempts to create a reverse-engineered Flash plugin that has modern sandboxing and security features built in had been under way for several years nownote ; have a look at Lightspark and Ruffle if you're interested. A massive archival and emulation effort can be found at Flashpoint, which provides a straightforward way to download and play Flash animations and games that are no longer available online.

Not to be confused with the brick-walled superhero of the same name. Or the other comic strip character whose first name is Flash.

See also Web Animation, Thick-Line Animation, and Flash's arguable spiritual successors Blender (for animation) and Unity (for games).

Works that were created with or used Flash:

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Shows that switched to Flash

  • 64 Zoo Lane - Season 3 switched to this
  • Arthur - Season 16 switched to this after the rights to the production of the show switched from Cookie Jar to 9 Story Entertainment. Dumped Flash in favor of ToonBoom Harmony when the license changed hands again to Oasis Animation in Season 20.
  • The "Cliff Hanger" segments in Between the Lions in Season 7.
  • Caillou - Season 4 switched after being traditionally animated for the first 3 seasons. Dumped Flash in favor of ToonBoom Harmony as of Season 5.
  • Corneil & Bernie - Season 2 switched to this.
  • Curious George - The Royal Monkey DTV movie and Season 12 of the TV series switched to this.
  • Cyberchase - Season 6 switched to this.
  • Drawn Together - For its Direct to Video Grand Finale movie, due to the fact that Comedy Central refused to fund it and this was the only option the creators had.
  • The Fairly OddParents! - Mid-season 10, starting with "Space Ca-Dad". These episodes were produced on a very small budget and short notice.
  • Garfield and Friends - The opening was reanimated in Flash when the show was remastered by the aforementioned 9 Story.
  • Gawayn - Season 2 switched to this.
  • Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law - The first nine episodes were traditionally animated, until they promptly moved to Flash to have more fluidity and to save production time.
  • Home Movies - Season one was done in Squigglevision (a style where the outlines on the characters were constantly moving) but it limited movement on the characters. Thus when the show moved to [adult swim], they switched to this to avoid this problem.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes - Season 1 used Toon Boom (albeit on a rather modest budget), but due to changes in production, Season 2 switched to Flash animation.
  • Johnny Bravo used it for its Made-for-TV Movie, Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood.
  • Johnny Test - The show switched to Adobe Flash in season 2 when Warner Bros. Animation stopped co-producing the series with Cookie Jar, leading to severe budget cuts. When the series was revived for a seventh season in 2021, however, it switched its animation to Harmony
  • The Loud House - The series initally used Toon Boom, albiet on a modest budget, which led some people to believe that the series has always been animated with Flash. However, the series switched over to actually using Adobe Flash beginning with season 4, even though its spin-off The Casagrandes continued to use the Toon Boom software for its animation.
  • Mixels - Started using it after the Season 2 episode "A Quest for the Lost Mixamajig". Episodes prior were animated in Toon Boom.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998) used it for the final episode, The Powerpuff Girls Rule!, which was also a 10th anniversary special. Mostly a decision by the series creator since he had switched to Flash by that point for his animations.
  • Rainbow Rangers - Seasons 1 and 2 were in CGI. Season 3 switched to 2D Flash animation.
  • The Simpsons - the HD opening first used in Season 20 uses this for some of the animation, most notably the supermarket scene with Marge and Maggie.
  • Staines Down Drains - The second series switched to this to be animated entirely at Flux Animation.
  • Stickin' Around - only for Season 2. Traditionally animated for the first and final seasons.
  • Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go
  • Wayside - like Johnny Test, the later episodes were made in Flash.
  • Winx Club - Started at Season 5 (albeit some scenes in the first episode of Season 4 were in Flash too) and been using it since in conjunction with its CGI animated segments (A rather odd contrast really).
  • Zig & Sharko - starting on Season 3.

  • Awkward Zombie
  • Bob and George occasionally incorporated Flash segments.
  • Burning Stickman Presents...Something! was a Sprite Comic made in Flash, with animated comics occasionally, typically on 100 comic milestones.
  • Cat Nine is all drawn in Flash.
  • Combo Rangers, with the first three episodes of the Revolution season being fully animated
  • Most of the comics hosted on Dumm Comics
  • Homestuck, which releases Flash animations every 50 comics or so. (Originally the writer planned for every panel to be a Flash comic, but it was deemed to be too time consuming.)
  • Keychain of Creation
  • Knite
  • Morph E is presented as a Visual Novel with interactive elements and is programmed in Flash. The artwork is drawn in Sai and edited in Photoshop.
  • Newheimburg has made the transition from hand-drawn to fully Flash-based drawing recently.
  • PepsiaPhobia
  • Prequel has several flash animations and minigames.
  • Sacred Pie: Some pages are flash animation; some chapters are entirely flash animation. Usually they are action-packed, with little to no dialogs. However, flash pages only amount to several percent of the comic.
  • VG Cats used Flash to smooth its line art earlier in its run.
  • Webcomic/Waterworks is created entirely in Flash and has several animated segments, which have been converted to WebM videos.

    Web Series 

    Video Games 

Alternative Title(s): Adobe Animate