flashcamp_UK – a fine day out

I went across to see the Flash Camp the other day. Organised by Chester of Emak Mafu (there must be a story behind that name!) and interspersed with Robin and sundry other Adobe types, it was an excellent day out and worth going; new people to meet; lots of ideas; not quite as in depth as the Flex Camp last year but lots of stimulation nevertheless. This is just a quick note to keep some of the memories and the links around for myself and anyone else that might find them useful.

I arrived as Serge Jespers was doing a quick intro on the delights of Flash Lite on mobiles. Sorry Serge, to miss some but I did sit right through to your final talk as well. What I did catch were the links at the end where you mentioned the Flash Lite developers challenge. Althought the crowd weren’t unduly excited; they hadn’t woken up yet. Seems that $100,000 in prize money might not be enough! There was also talk of a $1,000,000 fund as well, but I need that run by me again….

Seb Lee-Delisle was next up; his task to warm up the crowd. He did this and more. His company, PlugInMedia are making some cool looking, soft rendered 3D sites. (Have a look at their site too, it’s a lot of fun). Seb is the particles man for Papervision3D so it’s to be expected that he’s at the leading edge, but they look so much more cartoony than the typical rendered 3D. Have a look at bigAndSmall on the CBeebies site it looks great, with upstairs still to come. (Seb did a great PV3D demo using the crowd. He’s used some of the FlarToolkit code to process the images from the web cam and his example was to allow the crowd to control the paddle on a 3D pong game. One half of the crowd to go left, the other to go right. It showed the power of committee voting. We almost never hit the ball! The occasion being his birthday brought a twist to the augmented reality demo. He had build a 3D birthday cake and had candles flickering using the particle system. He even blew out the candles by blowing on the microphone. Great way to warm up the crowd!

Someone asked how much time to create the CBeebies site. It took around 4 months, using 3 coders, 2 animator/illustrators, a sound man and the project manager. Les than 1000 triangles, so it should perform OK. 64k mp3 sound.

Michael Charles then tlked about Pixel Bender, or Hydra, as was. He’s working for AKQA on some big money titles and the one that he showed, Nike5. Pixel Bender gives some cool effects using non-destructive image maniplation. Interesting to see that Nike used this to give some special effects on a smaller part of their site, to encourge people to download Flash 10. Once the numbers using Flash 10 increase, they can then move to that version on their main site. As far as the effects go, they are not just for Flash or programmers, they are in the other software in the CS4 suite, in particular Photoshop and After Effects. This allows us to let the designer sit ad play with all the combinations until they find one that works for them and they can save it away for a programmer to use as a filter. We can even set up specific parameters to tweak. It then takes those parameters and uses then in a similar way to an OpenGL shader code fragment, and are just applied to any image available. There are now files which can hold multiple filter layers which are more convenient and by the sound of it, more efficient. I must test this out. Flash 10 will surely become popular very quickly. I wonder what whether this type of filter would work on other types of binary files? Experiment and discover. Also interesting to hear that there is a PBJ decompiler which gives actionscript code as an output, so it could be fed back into Flash or Flex (have a look at the rest of Marek’s site, especially if you’re into 3D – he has a real buzz about him). Performance of the filters needs to be watched, especially if doing animation as well, but you need to push things to the edge, don’t you. For more examples of using the filters, have a look at the sites of Lee Brimelow and boostworthy.

A couple of links I haven’t seen before,
ffiles.com – a place for free exchange of Flash files
http://twitter.com/mesh – mike chambers’ twitter feed
GTween – Grant Skinners latest version of his tweening library

Richard Dean of Lightmaker gave a talk about inverse kinematics. They’ve been involved with some big sites – Man Utd, Chelsea and EA Games. Lately they’ve been involved with the EA Game Spore and have used inverse kinematics for the final site. There are facilities in there now which seem quite basic after using 3D animation software, but they are quite useable. It even allows the end user to adjust the animation by giving them limits on the constraints of each joint. I’ll be interested to see if this can be used within the prgramming environment to do some animation.

James Whittaker gave a talk about producing a custom chrome Air application and how to set up a badged installer for it. It’s interesting to see this coming to the fore, as I think that it will be important for people to go out and get some sort of security licence when installing these applications. There are too many dodgy downloads out there. Smaller companies need to have a secure feeling to therir software. As for publishing new apps, James has another site that reviews new Flash applications – RefreshingApps.com. A good source of publicity. As for the install, another vote for Grant Skinner. His ‘badger’ app is an installation builder and there is a description on devnet

Lee Brimelow then took as through the solution for his treasure trail. I must be working too hard; I hadn’t heard a thing about this search for an Adobe package hidden away somewhere. Carl was the winner and had to do lots of tricky searching through sound and image files. Lee took us through the new features in FLash CS4; Z sorting, autokey with motion paths etc. He has some sample code on his blog site. CS4 has a bundle of free sound effects. For me one of the better tricks is to be able to save out the curves to use in other applications or in some actionscript code. The deko tool was something that I hadn’t seen before. It enables people to create brushes and again, could be used within the programming enviroment.

Finally, Serge gave for me the most interesting talk. I’ve been taking some custom components from Flash into Flex and it seems that it will be even easier in CS4. This gives me huge power. I can build small components in Flash that would take a long time to program, but they have been wrapped into a simple class that I can use easily. Have a look on his blog for some more examples. They are so useful for bringing a Flash designer and a programmer together. The Flash animator can make your site less dull; the programmer can automate the rest; double bonus. Serge had some time at the end to cover Thermo, or Flash Catalyst as it is now. I’ve played with the betas and I’ve used Microsoft’s Expression and they feel very similar (but Adobe wins!). Such a good tool for a designer. Take a Photoshop file and put in the various states of all the elements and the code will be inserted to do all the button handling and animations. I’m sure that some programmers will have some doubts that the code will be good enough or will suit their style, but for designers with a little bit of scripting, it will give a huge speed advantage. Do try the betas when they appear in a month or two.

All in all an excellent day. A few people received a bonus with a raffle prize, software, books or the Flash on the Beach tickets for September from John Then on to beer and pizza. Who could ask for more. I spoke to one interesting guy who was working on the cut-away how-they-work books. During one series of books, he transitioned from being an airbrush artist at the start, to doing it all in Illustrator at the end. What a learning experience. Where are those skills now!

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