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Flash's Strong Suits: Quick, Cheap and Easy Production

New to Flash and don't have a clue? James Dalby outlines Flash's strong points from utilization to staffing. If you have a story to tell in five minutes or less, Flash may be just the thing you need.

Go to any Web online forum and ask how much it would cost to create a piece of online, Flash animated content and you'll receive a barrage of different answers. You may get a high priced quote; probably from an expert Flash designer whose intent is to keep his pool of clients lucrative. You may receive a low quote; most likely from an inexperienced Flash artist who's willing to do anything to pay the rent. Should you trust either? With what current options do you have to compare?

What Has Animation Cost Before?

So far, traditionally animated productions have been fooling producers and studios into thinking that any animated project will cost an arm and a leg and have to undergo years of development. A studio that develops traditionally animated productions usually has a wide variety of artists on staff; each artist is a part of a separate team of character designers, layout designers, in-between animators, clean-up crews, painters and background artists to name just a few categories.

How much would it cost to house these artists under a single studio? How many artists do you have? How much is each paid? How much money do you spend on supplies, animation equipment and lost time? The bills add up and a budget can be most unforgiving.

How Does Flash Keep Costs So Low?

Flash animation offers its own way of cutting out the middlemen, saving you a ton of money and shortening production time to a fraction of its original length.

Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand, two of the leading vector graphics creation software for print and the Web. © Adobe Systems and © Macromedia.

Due to the program's built-in vector design tools, artwork can be drawn directly into the project file or imported from many popular design applications (i.e. Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia Freehand). The artwork is then placed as a symbol into an indexed library, waiting to be re-used again and again to minimize file size. In turn, the tasks of line testing, cleanup, tracing and painting are quickly condensed into the work of a single artist.

Hours of cumbersome lip-syncing and animated loops are easily conquered using a feature in Flash known as "movieclips." Movieclips treat dialogue-driven animation and redundant movement as collective pieces of artwork, which can be edited and assembled with any other symbol in the project's library.

Using an immense library of body parts, props, lighting effects and background artwork, a professional Flash artist can produce animation at breakneck speed. By either using the computer's own processor to "tween" the animation, or by assembling each frame on its own, a 10 second chunk of completed work could theoretically be done in a day. Keep in mind that this is the work of one Flash animator, not a team of expensive, traditional artists.

What Sort of Animation Is Flash Best Suited For?

Flash animation is generally geared toward an audience of Internet users, meaning that each animated episode should be limited to a length of 5 minutes or less as well as restricting the complexity of the animation itself. The popularity of Flash animation stems from its ability to give engaging animated storytelling at such small file sizes.

If longer, larger-scaled productions are what you hope to accomplish, Flash also has the ability to export its animation into a digital video format (i.e. QuickTime MOV, Windows AVI). This format can then be used with video editing software such as Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, AVID and iMovie. Since Flash artwork is vector based, you can resize your animation without losing any quality whatsoever.

Flash can incorporate interactivity into your animation, giving developers the ability to design engaging Websites, online games and online presentations.

Reality Check

Bear in mind that Flash is intended for good ol' fashioned cel animation. Its main purpose is to create animation more specifically for the Web. In some aspects, Flash could be used to create independent or feature length animation, but its limited features make it pale in comparison to more traditional video production programs such as Adobe Premiere and AfterEffects.

Incorporating 3D art or CGI animation into Flash is frustrating, if not nearly impossible. Flash is incapable of producing visual effects such as motion, gaussian and radial blurs, as well as the other effects more traditional programs have built the industry on.

How Much Does It Cost To Create A Flash Animated Production?

High-quality Flash content will usually take 3 weeks of hard work and criticism until a final draft is reached. The length of time can be shortened immensely with strong team infrastructure and determination. Should the animation be divided into a series of short Flash episodes, production time would drop even more.

Production ManagerThe production manager has the responsibility of managing the team, directing the animation and tending to the needs of the other team members. Production manager may also have to double as the Human Resources and/or Public Relations manager. Average Salary: $35,000/yr - $+50,000/yr. Negotiable, depending upon their previous experience in management.

Flash Artists/Animators

Two artists are recommended for each online production, both specializing in animation, artwork and background design. Both would be wise to have experience in layout design and storyboarding. Average Salary: $35,000/yr - $+60,000/yr. Extremely negotiable, depending upon their portfolio, artistic talent, flexibility with other design programs (i.e. Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Freehand), overall efficiency, familiarity with the Web, 3D design skills, knowledge of Flash ActionScript programming and traditional animation. Bear in mind that most Flash artists are willing to work as freelance employees.

Audio Specialist

The audio specialist focuses their effort in recording dialogue, acquiring or manufacturing sound effects and music production. It is wise for the audio specialist to have a working knowledge of Macromedia Flash. Average Salary: $35,000 - +50,000/yr. Negotiable, depending on their musical talent, knowledge of audio editing software (i.e. Pro Tools, Sound Forge) and audio sequencing software (i.e. Cakewalk, Cubase), personal efficiency, flexibility with different styles of music, and the technical limitations of their studio.

Web Master/Web Designer

The Web master focuses on designing and maintaining the Website that hosts the Flash animated production(s). The Web master should also have a working knowledge of network administration to support the company's intranet and internal server operation. Average Salary: $+40,000/yr - $+80,000/yr. Negotiable, depending on their knowledge in Web design, HTML, JavaScript, CGI scripting, ASP, PHP, ASL, XML, Macromedia Generator, DHTML and database programming.

Before becoming a senior animator at AtomFilms, James Dalby spent a year-and-a-half as the graphics manager for The Highlander, a student newspaper at the University of California, Riverside. He attended two years of study at the University of California, Riverside but gave it up to focus his attention on work. Soon after, James spent most of his time as a freelance Flash animator for various Websites, as well as a full-time animator at Pixelwave Corporation.