Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Increase your Flash productivity (Tips and shortcuts)

I've probably spent more than five hundred hours in the Flash authoring environment in the past year. The two hundred though have been the most productive. Below are many of the authoring productivity tricks I've learned. Most will only shave a second or two off each time you use them, but a few might save minutes by themselves.

I recommend linking most of these commands to shortcut keys for optimal efficiency. To do this, edit Flash's keyboard shortcuts via Edit>>Keyboard Shortcuts (Flash Professional>>Keyboard Shortcuts on a Mac). You will need to create a new set of shortcuts, since you can't edit the default set. Then, go to Drawing Menu Commands>>Commands and select the command you would like to make a shortcut key for. I hope that these help you.

Instance Alpha Toggle (0 to 100)
Most of the time I toggle movie clips between "0%" alpha and "100%" alpha. You'd think that Macromedia (and now Adobe) would have a way to do this action included into the Flash authoring environment, but that's what JSFL is for after all. This JSFL command toggles between "0%" alpha and "100%" alpha of all the selected movie clips. If the previous value was not "100%" or "0%," then no change occurs. The greatest advantage to having this command is that you can select multiple movie clips in multiple layers and change them all to "0%" alpha in one keystroke. I recommend re-assigning "CTRL+0" to this command.

Creating a Motion Tween
The command, "Insert > Timeline > Create Motion Tween" should have a keyboard shortcut. Since next to creating key frames this is the command I use the most often, I deactivated keyboard shortcut for "Transform" which is "CTRL+T" and made it "Create Motion Tween." You can also download a command I wrote that toggles the motion tweening. Yes, you can right click and select "Create Motion Tween" and "Remove Motion Tween," but that requires using the mouse again.

Setting an instance's name
So you've created a fade out tween with two keyframes for the mouse on, a fade out tween with two keyframes for the mouse off, and pulsing movie clip with two key frames for the mouse over. Then, you realize you forgot to set the instance name of the movie clip in each frame. If this has ever happen, download and install this JSFL command created by a Japanese web designer. This simple command copies the selected movie clip's name from the library and makes that name the instance's name. You select the six keyframes and with one shortcut key stroke, you're back in the game.

Frame/Layer Distributor
If you have ever frame by frame (stop) animated a movie clip and then were asked to move the entire animation. You could take all the frames out of the main timeline by creating a movie clip--which is a great benefit of Flash. You can move objects across multiple layers (space), but not across multiple frames (time). This command, by Luar Productions, copies all the selected frames to their own layer. Once there, you will have what looks something like Flash's "onion skinning," but it will be the actual animation, not just guides of the animation. You can then move all the "former" frames that are now layers on the stage all at once since they are in the frame column on the timeline. Once they are moved use the Frame/Layer Distributor to convert the layers back to frames.

Removing Frames
If you have been using the frame context menu (right clicking) in order to remove frames, there's a faster way. You can use the predefined "Insert > Timeline > Remove Frames" (Shift+F5) to delete them. I recommend changing this shortcut command to "CTRL+E" or "CTRL+R." This is so it will be close to "CTRL+T" which in the previous paragraph I mentioned that you could set to "Create Motion Tween."

Copying Frames with ALT
If you have been copying frames via the context menu or "CTRL+ALT+V," you can also duplicate frames by holding down ALT and dragging. This will not insert frames and slide the current frames down the timeline though. It will replace the frames under it--which more often then not what I wanted to do in the first place.

Duplicating a Layer
While we are on the topic of copying frames, I discovered a Duplicate Layer JSFL command that replicates an entire layer--frames and all. It's from Now you don't have to create a layer and copy the frames to that layer in order to duplicate it. This is a great for duplicating similar buttons in the user interface. I suggest making the shortcut key to this command Ctrl+D.

Locking Layers
Like Adobe products, you can use the "ALT+click" on the padlock icon to lock all but the selected layer. This causes all the currently locked layers to unlock when you are done though. To get around this, create folders (even if the groups objects aren't topically similar) and lock the entire folder and thus it's layers.

Stop frames
There is no doubt that the most used Flash commands are "stop()" and "gotoAndPlay()". You can type the "ESC" key, then type "st" to write "stop()" in an actionscript window, but there are also Flash Commands you can download that you can assign a shortcut key to add "stop()" This means that you never have to open the actionscript editor.

Returning to the first frame
I frequently place my actionscript in the first frame of a movie in it's only layer (called "as") (that's until I place a pre-loader). As the movie lengthens and the playhead moves down the timeline that frame is no longer visible, and I have to scroll back to the beginning of the movie to edit the actionscript. To prevent this, you can download this JFSL command that moves the playhead to frame 1. I recommend assigning it the keyboard shortcut "CTRL+1."

Moving frame by frame
You can move one frame at a time with the "<" and ">" keys in their respective directions. This is great for frame by frame (stop) animation.

Output Window
If you use Flash 8 and you usually downgrade your SWFs to version 7, you are probably now use to the Output window popping up and spouting out errors about embedded strokes. To stop this from happening, place the output window in a panel group with other panels on the far right.

Macromedia Exchange extentions mentioned in this post:

--Stephen M. James


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