about us
contacts and credits
Before an animator can go forward and craft with their chosen form of moving image they need to understand, if not master, the basic principals of animation. This is true of any of the animated mediums, but none more so than the CGI class of this art form.
Header images: Edward Muybridge (run sequence), and Piscopo using Muybridge sequence to create fluppet parts for Flashman character
Original publication: Desktop Magazine 2007
Republished with permission
Until recently, Flash has not been viewed by the creative community as a tool which is capable of carrying expression. The majority of original flash animations were flat and lifeless, although groundbreaking in their own way [with apologies to the couple of amazing examples not being quoted here]. The masters of animation will happily lecture away on what was lacking – the ability to focus the work not on the software tool, but on the principles of animation, those tricks of the trade that animators have developed over fifty years of practiced expertise.

Steve Piscopo of Nectarine, presented an excellent overview of the use of the 12 basic animation principals at the recent WebDU conference, and how they are practically applied using the Flash 8 platform. In this article we look at the first of these principals, Appeal, and explore its use in the development of Steve’s character – FlashMan.


Personality in character animation is the ultimate goal of all the principal techniques. Appeal is the principal of creating a design or an action that the audience enjoys watching. Steve explains, “basically what this principal means is what your character looks like, but more importantly what does it look like to the audience and will it have enough APPEAL to obtain the audiences attention – are they going to WANT to look at your character and continue to look at it for the duration of your piece. A good way to think of it would be to compare your character to a real life actor. Where an actor needs charm and charisma, your character needs appeal.” To illustrate this principal Steve has taken an early sketch of FlashMan, turned it into a vector to see how it works in Flash, and then using some of the new features and plug-ins of Flash 8 demonstrates how you can enhance its appeal.

“You need to take your sketch and show it to other people and see what their reaction is and how they feel about it first, and once you are happy with it then there is scope to take it into Flash and enhance it.” These techniques can be used for the general overall feel of your character, but Steve also encourages “there are moments in your animation that your character might need more attention and you can use filters. You don’t have to use it for the whole duration of the animation but there might be an instance that it appears in the door [for example] and there’s a big glow around him and its “hey look at me”

Creating a Vector Character

After importing his sketch and placing it on the flash stage, Steve works by using the line tool and object drawing mode (similar to the application in Adobe Illustrator) to work around the sketch creating a line drawing. Steve notes “keep the number of node points fairly low. If you end up with 200 points then you can’t smooth and you end up with a little glitch you can’t see now but will become evident later when you colour in the character”

Once you have finished tracing your character and have filled it with colour, you can now help enhance its appeal by adding shadow colours. Steve demonstrates “working on the same layer as your line work, make sure nothing is selected and create a Grouped Object (Ctl G). Next create line(s) where you would like your shadow colour to be. Working in a grouped object means you can freely create lines without disturbing any intersecting character line work. When you are done, break the grouped shadow line and start working with the shadow colours.

Toon Titan from flashfilmmaker.com, is a handy colour plug-in for Flash 8, that automatically creates a highlight and shadow colour, saves colours to a library and helps keep consistency throughout the production of your animation. Steve laments “Before Toon Titan I spent a lot of time playing with highlights and backlights and just guessing. What I was doing before was just typing in my 10% hue and doing it by numbers. Toon Titan takes care of it all and keeps my colour references in a library that can be reused throughout the animation”

Creating Depth with Filters

Before you can start experimenting with the Filter effects in Flash 8 you will need to turn your character into a Movie clip. Venturing into the Filters tab you will find a list of different effects – Drop Shadow, Blur, Glow, Bevel, Gradient Glow, Gradient Bevel and Adjust Colour. Steve demonstrates Appeal by using the Bevel effect, adjusting the Strength, Shadow and Highlight colours to give FlashMan more depth and volume.

An important element of using the Flash filters is to play with your character, adjusting the light angles and alpha. This will ensure you are working with the right effects for your character, not just the software presets. When you are satisfied with the result Flash 8 allows you to save your filter settings to apply to new objects and forms and create a character style within your piece.

The examples shown below demonstrate FlashMan before and after the addition of this effect.

Fluppets – Flash Puppets

Once you have your character and are happy with the way it looks both on paper and in Flash you can go about creating a Fluppet! A Fluppet is basically a Flash Puppet library.

Steve explains the technique “We start with creating a profile of the character. Keep it fairly simple to begin with, just a front and side profile of your character should do. Next we take the profile of our character and break it down into editable parts such as arms, legs, feet, torso and so on, turning each part into a Graphic clip. In doing this we are able to achieve two things. First is consistency, and secondly we are help keep our published swf size down to a minimum – especially important if you are publishing on the web.”

Working with Fluppets is a great way to animate, but don’t always rely on what you have in your Fluppet library. Steve says “If you need to redraw something do so!” Not only will it help to create a richer library but more importantly, if we only rely on what we have in our library we run the risk of creating a flat, wooden, piece of animation. Exactly the effect Flash 8 now helps us to move away from!.

Terri Dentry is an independent film journalist, animation producer, and the Director of thinkRED film & media in Melbourne, Australia.

What's Up With Abstract Animation?
SIGGRAPH 08 celebrates the third generation launch of 3D cinema
Sound Designers Have Great Balance
Flash 8: Exaggerating the Illusion of Life
Flash 8: How to make a character appealing
Flash 8: Squashing and stretching your character
Flash 8: Moving through arcs of motion
Technologies Merge at WebDU
Filmmakers beware: DVDs simply don’t work!
Stories in the Stars: Animating at the Planitarium
The Persistance of Visuals: VJ technology
Steve Piscopo, Nectarine
Steve Piscopo, Nectarine