9.2. Introduction to Flash
Macromedia Flash utilizes vector-based technology to deliver interactive real-time animation and sound over slow modem connections. Unlike Director, Flash was developed specifically for the Web. Mathematical algorithms enable Flash to stream high-resolution vector-based
graphics instantaneously. Figure 9-2 shows vector
artwork in the main Flash authoring window combined with bitmap images.
Figure 9-2. Flash 4 scene window
Flash's primary advantage over Shockwave is that its extremely
small vector animations download quickly and play at real-time
speeds, allowing more bandwidth to be allocated to audio content. For
this reason, Flash is generally regarded as one of the few
interactive multimedia formats that really works over limited
bandwidths. Flash has expanded its user base even more since
Macromedia declared the Flash file format an open Internet standard.
In 2000, Adobe will release a product,
LiveMotion, which writes Flash files as well as many other files.
The Flash plug-in is also much smaller than the Director Shockwave
plug-in. Director Shockwave has the additional
overhead of the Lingo interpreter and streaming decoder. Macromedia
was determined to retain the Flash plug-in's optimal 150 KB
file size. So despite the fact that
Lingo and SWA
decompression capabilities would enhance Flash, Macromedia did not
incorporate them into Flash. Instead, Flash 4 now supports
encoding for better audio quality and ActionScript to give developers
greater control and customization of their Flash content.
While not as powerful as Director for creating advanced games and
more complex CD-ROM-like interactive applications,
for most interactive web presentations with animation, button sounds,
ambient loops, and streaming audio.
By using Flash in conjunction with RealNetwork's RealSystem 5.0 and up, you can create hybrid RealFlash presentations that are interactive and dependable (see Figure 9-3).
Figure 9-3. A RealFlash presentation with vector line art and an embedded RealVideo window
Flash 4's bandwidth-friendly vector animation and image compression combined with the server reliability and superior streaming efficiency of RealAudio make RealFlash a real boon for web developers. For more information, read the section, "Creating RealFlash content" in Chapter 6, "Encoding, Serving, and Streaming Sound with RealAudio". Note that you can also get the benefits of robust broadcasting using Flash with Qdesign music tracks in QuickTime 4.
9.2.1. Flash audio: event-driven sound versus streaming sound
Flash allows you to integrate two basic
types of audio: short event-driven sound files
for button rollovers, loops, and transition effects; and long-playing
streamed sound files for synchronizing speech
and music to animation sequences.
effects are embedded within a single keyframe of a Flash movie
timeline and must be entirely downloaded before they can play back.
Event-driven sounds are ideal for button sounds and loops that need
to play instantly in response to a user action such as a
rollover or a particular animation event. An event-driven sound
begins playback when a movie's timeline reaches a particular
Once an event sound is triggered, it plays back autonomously from
other elements in a Flash movie.Aside from the initial startpoint, event sounds cannot be
continuously synchronized along a timeline to specific points in an
animation sequence. Flash playback rates are largely determined by a
computer's processor speed; thus, it is difficult to predict
how an event-driven sound longer than 10 seconds will synchronize
with specific animation sequences. To avoid synchronization problems
and lengthy download times, use short event-driven sounds no greater
than five seconds in length.
Unlike event sounds, streaming sounds are divided into
smaller segments or packets of data and attached to each
frame's image data. When playing back a synchronized streaming
audio clip, Flash places a higher priority on keeping the sound in
sync with specified keyframes rather than on preserving the overall
frame rate. If there is not enough bandwidth to stream both the audio
and the graphic data, Flash drops out image data or animation frames
to keep in sync with the audio.
For reliable and quick delivery of embedded event sounds, combine all your separate sound clips into one contiguous audio file. Then set in and out times on your audio master file where each sound starts and ends.
While both event-driven and streaming sounds allow you to specify the
exact keyframe at which the audio file will start playing, only
streamed audio lets you synchronize continuous speech, sound, or
music to specific visual cues or events in an animation sequence. If
you are creating a music-intensive Flash movie that needs to
synchronize with motion graphics, use streaming audio. However, keep
in mind that streaming audio tends to produce jerky animation and
lost frames -- which makes the use of event sounds a more
favorable alternative for designers.
Flash allows you to control the following sound parameters:
In and out points. One of the most
useful features in Flash is the ability to define smaller sound clips
by selecting in and out points from larger event sounds embedded in a
Flash movie. You can drastically reduce your Flash download times by
reusing sound data or applying different effects such as volume
envelopes and looping to portions of the same sound clip. For
example, you can use in and out points to make several short button
sounds from a longer ambient loop file. Note that you cannot use this
feature with streaming sounds.
Volume settings. Flash allows you to
set the volume level of an audio clip. Use volume
settings to create fade-ins and fade-outs or as a sound design effect
to manipulate softer sounds and louder sounds.
Stereo panning effects. Flash allows
you to set the stereo playback parameters of an audio
clip. Using a short event sound that pans from left to right as it
plays back can create interesting button and motion effects.
Looping effects. With event sounds,
you can build compelling loops by changing the envelopes over the
course of the loop, looping segments defined by the start/stop
handles, and layering multiple effects in the timeline.
9.2.2. Flash audio tutorial
We're not going to teach Flash here. What we're
interested in is adding audio to a Flash presentation.
Case study: Bullfrog Production's multimedia web site
The Bullfrog web site (http://www.bullfrog.ea.com), shown in Figure 9-4, is a good example of a soundtrack that
enhances the viewing experience, makes navigation fun, and draws in
Figure 9-4. The Bullfrog web site
The web site was designed by
site's sound design employs well-crafted, short event sounds
that synchronize well with onscreen animations and button rollovers.
The short intro event sound downloads quickly and sets the tone for
the rest of the site. And richly textured rollover button sounds
provide a satisfying auditory stimulus to the navigation experience.
If you continue to navigate the Bullfrog site, you will encounter a
streaming soundtrack for the trailer preview of the game,
"Populous: The Beginning" (http://www.bullfrog.ea.com/).
Despite the trailer's simplicity, this is another good example
of how a soundtrack synchronized with a few still images in a
low-bandwidth environment can draw in an audience.
22.214.171.124. Adding an event sound
To add audio to your Flash presentation,
follow these steps:
Under File, import an AIFF or a WAV file. The file will appear in the
sound library window, as shown in Figure 9-5. Make
sure to import a 22 kHz 16-bit source audio file for best results,
especially if you want to take advantage of Flash's new MP3
support. If the audio file is set to a different sampling rate and
bit-depth, change it to 22 kHz 16-bit before importing it into Flash.
Figure 9-5. Sound library window
Select Insert Layer to add a new layer for your audio track.
Figure 9-6 shows the main authoring window as seen
in Flash 4 on a Mac. Here we have created a new layer called Sound
Effects. We want this sound to start at the 5-second mark. So we
select that frame on the timeline and choose Insert Keyframe.
Keyframes mark where a transition begins or ends in a scene or where
some object, such as a sound file, starts to play.
Figure 9-6. The main authoring window
Double-click on the desired keyframe to call up the Frame Properties
dialog box, as shown in Figure 9-7. The Frame
Properties window will default to the sound tab when you click on a
frame layer with sound. Then choose the name of the sound file you
want to associate with the keyframe. Note that the Frame Properties
window features a pull-down of all the imported audio files in your
Figure 9-7. The Sound tab within the Frame Properties window
In the Sound window, make sure to select the appropriate options in
the Effect, Sync, and Loops fields and then hit OK. Under Effect, you
can select from a menu of predefined effects such as fade-ins and
fade-outs and panning from right to left, as shown in Figure 9-8. For more accurate results, we recommend you
apply custom effects manually with the volume and panning controls
instead of using the predefined effects.
Figure 9-8. The Effects pull-down menu
Under the Sync menu, make sure to select Event (for embedded short
sounds) or Stream (for longer-playing streaming synchronized sounds).
Here we chose Event, as shown in Figure 9-9.
Figure 9-9. The Sync pull-down menu
In the Loop field, you can specify how many times you want the sound
to repeat. The loop option is useful for creating ambient loops. Make
sure to specify a large enough number to keep the loop playing for
the duration of the scene. With embedded sounds, you cannot sync the
exact end time of the loop with a particular animation frame in the
126.96.36.199. Publishing and file size optimization
Once you have finished building your Flash scenes with all the
animation and audio layers in place and properly synced together, you
will want to optimize each sound to achieve the smallest file size
possible. There are two ways to optimize the file size of your
movie: you can set the overall compression rate and encoding format
for the audio stream (streamed sounds) and audio event (event-driven
sounds), or you can specify individual compression rates for each
sound in a Flash scene.
To specify separate audio compression rates, select a sound in the
sound library window and go to the pull-down menu on the top right of
the library window and click Properties. The Sound Properties window
will then appear, as shown in Figure 9-10. The Sound
Properties menu allows you to select the compression type, bitrate,
and encoding speed for the selected sound.
Figure 9-10. The Sound Properties dialog box
By experimenting with different settings, you can optimize the
compression rates for each sound. Some sounds work just fine at
super-low bitrates such as 8 Kbps and 16 Kbps, while others (such as
speech) might require a higher bitrate of 24 Kbps to pass your
acceptable audio quality threshold. With a convenient Testbutton, the Sound Properties window makes it easy to
preview the result of any given bitrate and
compression type. If you have a
scene with eight audio files, you can set five of them at a bitrate
of 16 Kbps and the other three at a rate of 32 Kbps.
Optimizing separate sound files will come in handy when you run your
scenes through the Flash Bandwidth Profiler to check frame by frame
for data spikes that shoot above your specified stream rate. The
Bandwidth Profiler enables you to manage
your Flash streams by locating data spikes and moving content to
different frames in order to spread out the bandwidth load. For
example, if a certain frame peaks above your specified 28 Kbps stream
rate, you can set some of the objects to preload in the beginning of
the Flash movie, preventing glitches in playback. To use the
Bandwidth Profiler, click the Test Movie menu option. Figure 9-11 shows a short intro scene from a Flash site in
the Bandwidth Profiler window.
Figure 9-11. The Bandwidth Profiler window
If you don't want to bother specifying a customized compression
setting for each sound or if you want to override the settings, you
can simply specify a universal compression type and bitrate for all
sounds in the Publish Settings window when you go to export your
Flash content, as shown in Figure 9-12. In the
Publish Settings window, first select the "Override sound
settings" checkbox, then specify the global sound settings for
all event sounds and streamed sounds.
Figure 9-12. The Publish Settings window
Flash case study
Let's take a look at Raspberry Media's promotional Flash
multimedia site, shown in Figure 9-13, at
Media, a web design firm founded by co-author Josh Beggs, redesigned
its text- and graphics-based web site into a media-rich site with
audio and animation. The plan was to develop a multimedia version of
their existing sites so they could show clients the difference
firsthand and give them a glimpse of what they could expect from a
site enhanced with Flash.
Figure 9-13. The home page of the Raspberry Media Flash site
- Building a soundtrack in Flash
If you use Flash, you know that its compact vector graphics allow
plenty of room for audio. According to Raspberry Creative Director
Ethan Allen, it was important to incorporate audio into
Raspberry's Flash site. "If we had to do all the tweening
and overlay effects with bitmap images, like we did in the old days
of Shockwave, there would be no bandwidth left over to include a
Even though Flash vector animation is extremely compact, it's
still a tight fit to include additional audio information at 28.8
Kbps bandwidths. "When we first started designing the site, we
were excited about implementing a diverse soundtrack with multiple
tracks of sound firing off in sync with the animations. But when we
started beta-testing the Flash site with three or five event-driven
sounds for a particular animation sequence, we ran into major
bandwidth congestion problems. With so many embedded event sounds,
the Flash site would not buffer properly due to too much data
throughput at a given frame on the movie timeline. We had to simplify
most of the soundtrack to only include one music loop per animation
sequence. Now that
supports MP3 compression, resulting in much smaller file sizes for
event sounds, we plan on redoing the site to incorporate more sound
With Flash movies you have to make a choice early in the site design
to use either less audio and more intensive visual effects or more
audio and less complex animations. "As is typical with many
multimedia productions, we started producing the visuals first and
then started adding audio later when the animations were nearly
complete," says Ethan. "In hindsight, this was a mistake.
We should have started thinking about the soundtrack from the
beginning. Then we could have simplified the animations in certain
spots to accommodate additional event sounds in the timeline. It is
much more difficult to change the animation components at the end.
"Ultimately, we made the choice to go with only one or two
event sounds per animation sequence. Every main section of the Flash
site has an accompanying one-bar ambient music loop. In cases where we had
enough bandwidth we added another short event sound to the movie.
Since we were using so few sounds we had to find creative ways to
make the soundtrack interesting."
The key to keeping your
Flash movie size small is to recycle or
reuse sounds. As mentioned earlier, Flash allows you to set in and
out points in the keyframe where the event sound is located. With a
two- or three-second sound, you can use in and out points to create
multiple button sounds from one event sound.
According to Ethan, what worked best with the Raspberry multimedia
site was to use two event-driven sounds, a repeating music loop for
background ambiance, and a short sound effect for buttons and
transitions. "In several of the Flash movies, we tried to reuse
portions of the music loop to add spice and variation to the
animation sequence. This approach did not work because the reused
sound effect was hard to distinguish from the original music loop.
Reusing a louder portion such as a drum hit did not work either since
it randomly came in over the music loop and sounded like a
Ultimately, the best approach was to incorporate a separate sound
effect to overlay the music loop. Using two distinct sound files gave
us the best result and the most flexibility, says Ethan. "With
an additional sound effect we were able to add more variation to the
soundtrack and accentuate the visual effects."
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