A first look at Adobe Flash Professional CS5

by Richard Galvan

Whether you are a designer, developer, or mobile application enthusiast, the latest release of Flash – Adobe Flash Professional CS5 — has something for you.

With this release, the Flash development team focused on expressiveness, coding improvements, and workflow enhancements while supporting a broader initiative to enable designers and developers to create content and applications across desktop and mobile platforms.

In this article, I introduce you to my favorite features and improvements.

New text engine

Topping the list of my favorite new features is the new text engine, known as the Text Layout Framework (TLF), which allows you to set and edit text with complete typographical control. With the new TLF, you can perform advanced text styling such as kerning, ligatures, tracking, and leading. Advanced text layout controls such as threaded text blocks, flowing text across multiple columns, and inline images are now possible, freeing you to work with text fluidly and quickly. And if you work with Adobe InDesign for text layout, your life just got much easier. InDesign CS5 can now export to the native Flash Professional CS5 file format (FLA) so you can retain the integrity of your design as you interchange elements across applications.

TLF also supports advanced multilingual typographic and layout features. There is support for:

Now users around the world can be more creative and increase their efficiency when using the Text Layout Framework in Flash Professional CS5.

XML-based FLA files

Flash Professional CS5 now offers an improved XML-based FLA file, which enables new workflows and offers greater flexibility when working on large projects. The new FLA format is a set of XML files and other assets (JPEG, GIF, MP3, WAV, and so forth) saved as either a compressed (*.fla) file or an uncompressed (*.xfl) folder. With XML-based FLA files, developers can manage and modify projects using source control systems while designers collaborate on files more easily with direct access to the assets in a Flash project. For example, a designer can use Adobe Photoshop software to edit an asset and have it update instantly on the Flash Professional CS5 stage.

Adobe applications, such as InDesign and After Effects, can export files in the new format, enabling you to start a project in a separate application first and then continue working on it in Flash Professional CS5.

Spring for Bones

Animation has been the hallmark of Flash since its inception many years ago. Flash CS4 Professional was a breakthrough release in 2008, offering an iterative workflow approach that gave motion designers greater control and flexibility. With Flash Professional CS5, we take animation one step further by integrating a physics engine into the Inverse Kinematics (IK) system that gives you an extraordinarily easy way to create lifelike animations while authoring or at runtime (Figure 1). Spring is a property of an IK Bone element. It has two new attributes: Strength, which is the amount of spring, and Damping, which is the resistance value to Strength. Whether you are animating arrows for a tour, bobbing heads in a crowd, making a flock of birds soar, or creating an instructional animation showing how parts slide in or out of a gadget, Spring for Bones lets you tell a better story with animation that can be created quickly and realistically.

Spring for Bones

Figure 1. Inverse Kinematics provides advanced motion capabilities and adds realistic physics effects.

Deco brushes

Several new scripts have been added to the Decorative Drawing tool in Flash Professional CS5 that add new Deco Brush tools and functionality to enable you to easily draw shapes and add advanced animation effects (Figure 2). These include the Particle System, Decorated Brush, 3D Brush, Tree Brush, Lightning Brush, Fire Animation, Smoke Animation, Building Brush, Flame Brush, and Flower Brush effects. The Particle system lets you create the effect of rain, fog, smoke, steam, or other dynamic phenomena using a range of controls and properties. The 3D and Building Brushes and associated properties make creating a 3D environment fun and fast. Trees, bushes, flowers, and vines can be instantly drawn in and around objects to complete the creation of a more natural environment. These scripts demonstrate the power of the Deco engine, which enables developers to create their own custom brush.

Deco Brushes

Figure 2. The new Deco Brush tools and functionality enable you to easily draw shapes and add advanced animation effects.

Video improvements

On-stage video scrubbing and an enhanced cue point workflow are key improvements to Flash Professional CS5. You can now scrub and preview video directly on stage (Figure 3), which makes working with videos that have alpha transparency much easier and more efficient. With the video on stage, you can now use the Property inspector to find and add (or delete) cue points from your video, including specifying the time by increasing or decreasing the timecode value. Flash Professional CS5 also includes the Adobe Media Encoder, which enables you to convert just about any file format to FLV or F4V.

Video improvements
Figure 3. See and playback FLV components directly on the stage.

Streamlined development environment

We think developers are really going to enjoy several new Flash Professional CS5 features, especially the ability to add interactivity through the use of ActionScript code snippets. The Code Snippets panel includes code for things like timeline navigation, actions, and animation, as well as audio, video, and event handlers. Newcomers to Flash Professional CS5 and the ActionScript language will reduce their learning curve because code snippets contain helpful comments and clear instructions right in the code. Advanced users can also take advantage of the Code Snippet extensibility by inserting and saving their own snippets to support their own programming style or their specialized or highly used code.

Plus, developers using Flash Professional CS5 can now benefit from a more streamlined development environment using an improved ActionScript editor that supports custom class code hinting and completion as well as automatic writing of the import statement for libraries.

Integration with Adobe Flash Builder

Flash Professional CS5 offers even more timesaving efficiencies when working between Flash Professional CS5 and Flash Builder 4. Designers and developers can launch ActionScript 3 files from Flash Professional CS5 to edit in Flash Builder 4, or they can edit ActionScript 3 code directly in Flash Builder and then test, debug, and publish it in Flash Professional CS5. Both workflows save time and provide a more cohesive development environment.

Mobile and application development

Mobile phones and popular consumer devices have caught the attention not only of consumers but also of designers and developers who author and deliver content for these mobile platforms. Flash Professional CS5 has a new Packager for iPhone preview (also part of the Adobe AIR SDK) that lets users create and publish applications for the Apple iPhone*. The packager compiles an AIR application into native iPhone code. The resulting iPhone applications can be distributed as iPhone application installer (IPA) files via the iTunes Store.

The truly exciting news is that with the release of Adobe Flash Player 10.1, consumers can use the same Flash Player software on mobile devices and the desktop. This enables designers and developers using Flash Professional CS5 to create content and applications that can be distributed across both desktop and mobile platforms.

Mobile and application development

Figure 4. Deliver interactive content consistently for more runtimes across personal computers, mobile devices , and screens of virtually any size and resolution.

Omniture integration

For companies interested in web analytics, the Omniture Test&Target and SiteCatalyst extensions are now available as panels within Adobe Flash Professional CS5. The Test&Target downloadable extension enables you to easily create and manage Flash content variations for online marketing campaigns directly from your creative workflow. The Omniture SiteCatalyst extension provides real-time intelligence about online marketing initiatives, identifying the success criteria from active campaigns. In order to properly use these Flash Professional CS5 extensions, you must have Omniture installed at your site.

This is just a short list of all the features and improvements in Flash Professional CS5. I encourage you to download the trial and explore Flash Professional CS5 for yourself. As always, we look forward to your input.

* Publishing content to the iPhone® is subject to Apple's current requirements and approval.

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Richard Galvan is the product manager for Flash Professional at Adobe Systems. Formerly a senior field evangelist focusing on Flash, Richard has been educating and consulting customers about interactive media and Flash technologies since joining Adobe (formerly Macromedia) in 1999.