We are not flash, we are animators…

We are currently in development of our first iPad app which will be an interactive storybook (more on that later) but since the iPad’s launch there has been quite a lot of discussion about HTML5 and creating web based application as ‘non-flash’, this has caused quite a stir amongst the animation community. We all have our grumbles about Flash, Sliced Bread has only just upgraded to CS5 from CS3, because from what we could gather, going to CS4 was way too much of a risk in animation production. 85% of our output is web based, which is why we are particularly interested in this issue. We have also started working on a number of client projects where the end product needs to work on a ‘mobile’ device, so not only the Apple favourites (iPad/ iPhone) but also Android, Windows Mobile, RIM products etc, etc. There is definitely a need now, more than ever, for some kind of web standard (without the need for plugins). A lot of HTML5 debate seems to be how will the video/ dynamic web elements ‘play’, rather than how it can be created, whilst at the same time keeping the filesize efficient and of good quality (unlike animated gifs).

From what I understand from some our digital agency clients and because its only the start, these type of productions are quite hard to budget, particular on fixed based budgets as you just don’t know what you are going to come up against. Currently the developer will do most of the ‘animating’ through creative direction, or a prototype is built (in Flash) which is then ‘converted by code’, creating almost double the work. Also, with regards to apps, sometimes there is need for several iterations before they are approved.  However, I do understand that Apple have now (recently) relaxed some of ‘their rules’, mainly relating to ‘objective C’ conversions.

The thing is, Flash is such an easy programme to pick up and get animating and that’s all an animator really wants to do. Quite often we have spent weeks coming up with the idea, storyboarding it, creating vector elements (say in Illustrator), etc, etc. From Flash or wherever, we don’t really care about the output as long as it works on what we need it to. Even against H.264 compression, Flash (SWF) files can be tiny in filesize and this has added advantage for gaming, particularly since they quite often require lots of assets for ‘non-linear’ use (see 1066 The Game for reference).

Whenever we do a work placement and where that student is still at school, we tend to offer them Flash as the right tool to get them started. Its not only an easy way to teach the basic principles of keyframe animation but all the tools are there to aid the animator and get the job done. When I was 18, I did a media course and at the college they had an Amiga with Deluxe Paint 3, this was a big step in the  right direction of me becoming an animator, as I could very easily get my idea up and running. I do remember exporting to video being a nightmare as you needed some kind of card and another unit to be able export (just to VHS!). Being able to afford to be able to have one at home, also had its advantages. Given that Flash is also part of the Abobe suite it also has the added benefit of integrating neatly with other products like Photoshop, After Effects etc.

I think the biggest concern is, if it needs to be non-Flash what other tools are out there to get the job done? At the moment not a lot, Adobe has a new application coming out called Edge, here’s a link to a prototype presentation. There is also Sencha, which I have recently download at had a little play with, it is only a beta version, and seems very light not nearly early enough the intuitive tools like Flash has, and certainly not something we can use professionally. However, I do think in both these cases its a move in the right direction to achieving a ‘web standard’ for this type of content.

Sencha Animator allows you simply place objects (text, shapes, and images) onto a re-sizable stage area, configure their properties and then animate to bring them to life. You can move, scale, skew and rotate objects singly or at various levels of nesting, in 2D or 3D space. With Sencha Animator, you can also take advantage of CSS3 capabilities like gradients, blurs, reflections and shadows. You can create basic animations quickly and easily. But Animator is also designed to be a CSS3 power-tool. So when you need to add HTML or custom CSS, it’s easy to do that too. Best of all, Sencha Animator outputs pure CSS3 animation code, so it’s hardware accelerated on Apple iOS, which creates incredibly smooth animations. This also means it’s ready to work with any JavaScript library, not just Sencha.