• Don't blink, you'll miss the good frames.

Editorial: If You Use Adobe Flash, STOP


I try to keep a pretty level head about most topics, from the big ones to the small stuff. Normally the “right answer” is somewhere in the middle and not at the extremes. Who really likes reading an editorial that plays it safe, though? Today I’ll be telling you why as an animator, you shouldn’t touch Adobe Flash with a ten-foot pole, and if it’s on your computer right now the “Delete” button should be your next move.

It is very likely that I would not be “an animator” if it had not been for Adobe Flash. Or truthfully I should say if it had not been for MACROMEDIA Flash version 5. I first began animating after seeing Homestarrunner.com and learning of this magical program that would let even a simpleton like me live that glorious dream I had always wanted to live. I worked several freelance jobs designing logos and marketing and used the proceeds to buy a copy of Flash 5, immediately diving into the world of animation! Well, I perhaps should put quotes around “animation” as my early attempts seen here are barely animated at all.

The audio was crude, everything was stiff and lifeless, and there are a few visual tangents in there that make me want to go back in time and punch myself in the face, but I was finally doing what I had always dreamed. I was animating. And for that I will forever be grateful to Macromedia and their little interactive-web-media.

Fast Forward Eight Years.

After almost a decade of working with Flash, the quirks of the program were mostly known to me. It’s propensity to crash, the terrible, TERRIBLE drawing tools that “auto-correct” your lines to be no where near the lines you intended, occasional tweens that broke every symbol in every layer in the file. The straw that broke the camel’s back, though, was when I discovered there was a limit to the number of frames a project could have. When I created this cartoon, I had to break it up into several pieces because Flash destroyed the audio sync by the end of several minutes of video. Enough was enough.

In Search Of Something Better

Unlike the early 2000s, I knew that I had a few more options in front of me, so I set out to see what might be best. I had used Digicel Flipbook back in animation school, however (probably mostly due to the lousy computers there) it had a tendency to crash every 2.5 minutes and drove me absolutely crazy. I gave it another shot, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for. Next up I downloaded the free trial of Toon Boom Animate.

That’s where the search ended.

Toon Boom is a dream come true for an animator who has spent years battling with Flash to do the simplest things. The brush tool alone won me over, and shortly after I did this quick simple cartoon to celebrate my discovery:


It’s very simple: Toon Boom is designed for animators. Flash is not. At some point, people figured out that Flash COULD be used to animate, and from there history was changed. We shall be forever thankful for that, and now it is time to let the past be the past and move on. Because Flash, for animators, is NOT the future.

Where Flash Succeeds and Why It Doesn’t Matter

Flash is easy to learn, I’ll give it that. The learning curve in Toon Boom was intense, and I’m still only early in the process. I also hear great things about TVPaint. My point is not to sell you on Toon Boom (or TVPaint, or any particular program) so much as to UNsell you on Adobe Flash. Flash still does a lot of things very well. One of those things is NOT animation.


“But there are a lot of great Flash animators out there who have made great animation!”
you may remind me, desperate to not let go of Flash yourself. This is true. The point is not that you CAN’T succeed with Flash, it is that you can succeed faster, better, and with less gray hair springing up if you choose one of the other excellent made-for-animation programs on the market.

If you want to truly move forward as an animator, it’s time to let go of the little kids’ bike with the training wheels and learn to ride an adult bicycle. You might fall off a few times, and really consider going back to the little tyke bike that never falls over, but you’d be doing yourself a disfavor. There is no future for you with Flash. Take the plunge now and save yourself some serious grief down the road. And if you are just beginning to learn animation, don’t fall victim to what so many hobbyists are doing by using Flash instead of a real animation program. It is the easy path and the road well traveled, but it is not worth it in the long run. Flash is simply not meant to be for animators, and with each new version Adobe is moving farther away from what would be best for US and putting in more features for others, such as web designers.

Adam Phillips, ex-Disney animator and creator of Brackenwood, puts it this way:

“When it comes to animation, [Flash] it’s capable of a lot, but it’s still a toy. Good for learning and a bit of fun, but the better you get at animating in Flash (especially if you want to take your animation outside of the SWF format), the more frustrating it becomes.”

 

As an artist, you may be well aware of the trap the “easy” path presents. I think we’ve all walked down it at some point, only to look back and slap our foreheads thinking “Why did I waste so much time?” In case no one ever told you: Art is hard. We do not do art because it is easy, but because we are passionate about it or find it worthwhile. Do not waste your time if “animator” is a goal you have for yourself. Learn the programs meant for animation, and leave Adobe Flash to the designers and programmers that it was created for. The You-of-Tomorrow will thank you for it.

Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and let’s talk about it. I’ve love to hear your opinion.

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59 comments

  1. Daniel says:

    I thought this was supposed to be source of good, genuine animation advice.

    This is just a sensationalist rant.

    You’ve already acknowledged that great animation can be produced in Flash and plenty of people enjoy using Flash, so what’s even the point of this argument?

    What next? Don’t use Photoshop! It’s not made for painting! Use Corel Painter!

    • Joshua K. says:

      Having used both Flash and Toonboom, yeah, this is good, genuine animation advice. So I agree.

    • I don’t think he argues that you can do great animations with Flash. You can do great animation with anything that allows you to create a sequence of pictures.
      The problem is that Adobe doesn’t really seem to acknowledge that their program is used in the making of animated films. And animators make the mistake of thinking that it is. Flash is a tool to create interactive media, which required some animation functonality. Occasionally they put in some nice features for animators but very, very severe bugs haven’t been fixed that are unacceptable for an animation program and make a workflow for professional animated films very hard.
      If you can live with Flash exporting faulty image sequences, being unable to export layers seperately (unless you use the guide layer function that wasn’t meant for that purpose) and the extremly limited brush settings that’s fine. You can do wonderful animation with Flash – but you need a lot of workarounds if you want to use it professionally.
      JK wants to encourage people to try a software that focuses on animation and has been optimized to support the animator. Many animators have never experienced that, because they got used to Flash’s limitations. Limitations that you don’t need to be stuck in, because there is other software. Flash has not been optimized for animators because it is built with different intentions and consequently the animation fuctonalities have many flaws if they face pure animation tasks – and Adobe seems to be okay with that. If Adobe ever changes their opinion and renovates the animation capabilities, that would be great.
      Photoshop is a good example where the programmers actually listened to the fanbase and added elaborated features that support new uses of the program.
      I admit that other programs have other flaws (I love and hate ToonBoom), but there are a lot of unnecessary, annoying problems that you have to deal with in Flash, just because it is Flash. Of course it is always a personal (and also project-based) choice.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Well editorials are all likely to be opinion based, so I understand if someone disagrees. No worries!

      I personally see Adobe Flash as a pitfall for new animators (in the long-term), as it was a pitfall for me. The reason we share thoughts and information is so that hopefully other animators can make informed decisions about their craft, and learn from people who have gone before them. In this case I’m hoping my 8 years with Flash is a lesson for others who might be considering the same thing, and hopefully I can save them some headache by guiding them towards a much better program so they don’t have to spend the same eight years learning the same lesson! :)

      In the end, everyone has to make that choice for themselves. I hope folks will be open to trying a variety of programs, styles, and methods to see what works best for them. And not just what is the easiest.

  2. Karthik says:

    I am a huge fan of Ryan Woodward. I have seen his animation like “Thoughts of you”.. he claims it was done through Flash with Cintiq tablet. I assume Adobe Flash put a different style of animation and limited (difficult) support on 12 principles of animation.

    Output format being SWF, yes i have also struggled in this area. There also other options worth trying if it is created in Flash software.

    I personally like and use Toon Boom Studio, Storyboard.

    Happy Animating !

  3. Sabina says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Personally I use TV Paint and it’s great. Never failed me. It’s got everything you need!

  4. [...] After cheering for Adobe Flash (or more like Macromedia Flash) for a long time, I am now one of the biggest supporters of any-other-animation-program. Flash has become outdated and Adobe has no interest in supporting animators. So today we've got an editorial on Flash over at Animator Island, if you'd like to check it out! [...]

  5. Shane says:

    I am a blender fan and while it is a steep learning curve to get started it is worth it when you realise you don’t have any limitations. You can go from simple 2d animations to Pixar quality movies and even game assets for products like the Unity game engine. For an example of 2d animation look at http://www.blendernation.com/2012/01/09/2d-in-blender-2-6-tutorial/

  6. Tom says:

    LOL! It’s so true! I used flash for a long time as well and then when I moved to TVPaint it was like “What did I waste all those years on!!” Drawing alone is so much better its scary. I can’t believe Adobe makes Photoshop, which is excellent, and yet the Flash drawing tools still suck to bad. Dumb, they are going to lose customers!

  7. orhanproject says:

    Yeah, agree, too bad flash was never made for animators…

    The brushes are horrible, image sequence export is unnecessary since you can just import the swf into after effects and composite there.
    What I like most about flash is the timeline with easy add frame/hold/extend frame functionality, I mean even Toon Boom copied their timeline from flash, why can’t adobe copy it to photoshop ??

    hopefully Photoshop with its video timeline will get flash like timeline keyframe functionality soon, that would be awesome

    So, In my frustration trying to animate in flash, I made a “open letter to adobe” 7 months ago..

    check it out:
    “An Open Letter To Adobe – 2d Animation Software Request”
    link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5lfI-lLDRQ

  8. ZZDas says:

    Finally somebody said it,too!
    It’s not about hating flash, it’s about knowing there’s other tools out there that was really made for animation…like ToonBoom..
    Nice post[great to see you include Pencil(http://www.pencil-animation.org/) here]

  9. C. Hernandez says:

    I too used Flash back when it was in Macromedia’s hands as my go-to choice for animation, and likewise the moment someone introduced me to TVPaint I wondered why I wasted so many years of my life. It is a night and day difference, and I cannot recommend more highly that if you use Flash do YOURSELF a huge favor and switch to a good animation program this very second. Don’t delay. You’re only hurting yourself.

  10. Mandela Komba says:

    I am against flash too. personally it causes headaches. If used correctly than it can be amazing to use. looking at shows like wakfu, which is a french animated film animated entirely in flash, with after effects for compositing it shows what flash can do if used right.

    however schools should really avoid teaching flash to beginners. from my course a lot of people relied heavily on flashes tools to do the animating for them when it should be the last thing they use.

    after you learn to animate properly than you can go back if you still like it. I know a few amazing flash animators who do a great job with it. use what you are most comfortable with is what I say

  11. Mark Tindall says:

    Hello there
    This is Mark from the UK chatting – I am a simple old fashioned hobbyist Amateur Animator of great agebut I find your comments and vies most interesting. I have never used ‘Flash’ animation so dont really have a valid opinion – but I use ‘ Stop Motion Pro’ and find it excellent for any animation only snag is my computer is dying and I need to know what anyone recommends particularly for Anmation. Choosing one is like being in a minefield. I do shadow Animation a la Lotte Reiniger.
    Any info would be apreciated

    Mark

  12. christopher says:

    I like Flash for games. You can’t make games with Toon Boom, nope.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      It’s true, games and interactive media is one place where Flash really shines. I was speaking more about straight-up animation itself. If you want a program to create interactive entertainment, Flash is still a good choice! :)

  13. Tassy says:

    You’re actually a fantastic site. This is absolutely totally true. If you want to do REAL animation you’re shooting yourself in the foot by using Flash.

  14. Mike Milo says:

    Great article! Unfortunately Toonboom is phasing out Animate in favor of the MUCH more expensive Harmony.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Really?! Wow, I hadn’t heard! Very interesting… Well, I guess that makes sense considering Animate and Animate Pro are their other high-end ones. (I never understood why Harmony was a separate thing, to be honest.) I would assume they’ll keep around Toon Boom Studio and their other inexpensive options, though, to keep the available for folks who aren’t quite ready for Animate or Harmony. :)

      Thanks for the heads up!

  15. Natalie says:

    Toon Boom is FANTASTIC. I started using it last year, and it is such a great tool. It’s like the vector of Flash (improved, of course) combined with the animation power of After Effects.

  16. Amateursnomore says:

    This is really fascinating, from someone who has used Flash for a long time. Most people just become so deeply in love with a program that they refuse to accept any alternatives. I agree, the alternatives are far superior.

  17. lou says:

    I don’t think your giving Adobe Flash a fair shake. It is easy to use and best of all you can find it online for free because so many people use it. I don’t have money to spend on expensive programs it is important that people have it to download or I can’t afford it.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Hey Lou!

      I appreciate your thoughts on Flash’s ease of use. You’re right, it can be rather user friendly at times (at least when it’s not crashing!). I did want to say a quick word about the “free” aspect you mentioned.

      Adobe Flash is not a free program. You can download a 30 day trial for free, however if you’re using the full program that you found online for free then it is an illegal pirated copy. I fully understand the lack of funds to purchase the program, but I hope you’ll reconsider stealing it.

      While I disagree with Adobe’s choice to make the program so expensive, it is their right to set the cost, and the choice we have is to pay to use it or not. It hurts the industry, and honestly much more than that, when people decide to take things for free illegally. Trust me, I understand the draw. When I was younger I fell victim to that allure too. Since then I realized the damage it really does, even to you as a person, when you devalue things like that.

      So my advice is if you’re a fan of Flash (or any program) save up for it and work extra jobs so you can pay what the company is asking, and if not find an alternative that costs less. No one likes being stolen from (from personal experience myself) and even though they are a “big company” we need to all work together to make the world a better place and follow the laws that exist to help us do that. :)

  18. raSpbERRY says:

    This web site is really a walk-through for all of the info you wanted about animation and I thank you! I am going to try the demo of Toon Boom Studio.

  19. Modmoth Inc says:

    Couldn’t agree more Flash is the past and it’s time people moved to a actual GOOD program to animate!

  20. carla brighton says:

    The main issue I take with Adobe Flash, or any Adobe product really, is their tendency to release “upgrades” so often that are not upgrades AT ALL. For example the swap to Actionscript 3.0 from previous Actionscript was a load of bull so large you could fill a landfill with it. What garbage! Then they require you to pay hundreds of dollars for the latest version, and for what? Nothing really new. Sometimes much worse. It’s sickening that they get away with this sort of monopoly. I’m glad I made the switch to Pencil and Quicktime Pro a long time ago.

  21. Anonymous says:

    What I hate about Flash is how often it crashes. Someone even made a funny animation about it!

  22. Kim says:

    I used to use Flash MX. Glad I moved on to Toonboom Studio. I’m using Toon boom Studio version 5 and I plan on crossgrading to Animate in the near future.
    I also would use TVPaint if I could afford it.

  23. Kirby says:

    @Kim is Toon Boom Studio okay to use? Why are you upgrading to Animate? I ask because I was going to get Studio but then I didn’t know if I should just save up for Animate instead because it is more expensive so maybe better?

    • Mark Borok says:

      Animate has overall better drawing tools, and version 3 is going to be even better. Studio (at least the version I’ve used) still has the irregular brush outlines of Flash. They look kind of “blobby”.

  24. Davis R. says:

    Just excellent. Anyone who can be prevented from getting sucked into the sucky Flash is worth it. It is a stupid program when there are so much better ones out there.

  25. ray m. says:

    I used Flash since the very start and I’ll tell you it all went to sh*t the minute Adobe took over. Garbage company making stupid decisions. I moved to Toon Boom Studio and I’ll never go back.

    • Porky Rottenham says:

      Agreed. Adobe is highly over-rated. They have milked Flash to death, as they do everything they buy.

  26. Porky Rottenham says:

    You’ve certainly given me something to think about. Some of the things you said, I knew were true. Some I sensed. Thanks.

  27. Maki says:

    I agree with pretty much everyone here. Flash sucks for long term work. Fine for just kicking things around, not worth it otherwise.

    • Scott says:

      I dindt know where to find this info then boom it was here. Really helpful thanks. I was trying to decide which program to learn on and now I cross one off the list.

  28. Mark Borok says:

    Flash began life as an illustration program called “Future Splash”. Then they added animation features and it became a web animation program, which is when Macromedia bought it and started promoting it heavily. Like Director before it, also originally an animation program, it got a programming feature added to it and after that they basically stopped adding animation features. Animate has better drawing tools and other features, but it makes you jump through hoops to do some things that are simple in Flash (example: to make twinkling stars in Flash, you make a graphic symbol of one star, paste a bunch of instances on a layer of your timeline, set them to loop forever and give each instance a different starting frame so they don’t all twinkle in sync with each other. I won’t go into the difficulties of trying to do this in Animate). The folks at Toon Boom are really reluctant to borrow from Flash, even when it makes sense. They’re stuck on the idea of duplicating a traditional animation environment even when it means keeping a separate “drawing” and “camera” view and making you turn on the light table in drawing view if you want to see all the layers of your animation, instead of just the one you’re working on. Overall, though, it’s much better just for the drawing tools and the rotating drawing “disk”. The fill tool is brilliant. I didn’t understand at first why there was a separate tool for filling empty areas, then I found out that you can sweep the fill tool across an area and it will fill only the unfilled parts. So if you have a character wearing a red suit with yellow buttons, for instance, instead of having to click on each small button and hope you don’t miss (and turn the red suit yellow), you swipe across all the buttons and only the empty areas get filled, leaving everything else as it was. Then there’s the option of moving your layers farther from the camera while having them visually keep the same size. So if you design a background with mountains in the background that are already drawn with perspective in mind, then you bring them into Animate and want to physically move them farther away, they will not become even smaller as they move back. On the other hand, some things are very frustrating. You really need to have your animation planned out ahead of time, there’s little room for improvising.

  29. Martin Watkins says:

    Not to mention how much Flash crashes. Sucks.

  30. Tracy says:

    I’ve been working in animation for 5 years, and though I am a total toonboom snob, it’s worth learning both if your considering animation as a career.
    Animators work on contract, usually for 6-12 months at a time. The more jobs you can apply to, the more likely you are to find jobs.

    Many studios still use flash because it’s cheap as dirt. Toonboom is much more expensive. Also, the learning curve with toonboom adds training costs, so smaller studios stick to the flash-standard.
    I think toonboom will eventually push flash out of the TV and film industries entirely, but you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket starting out.

  31. Theo says:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but it doesn’t matter what tools one uses. I even did animations in Photoshop! No kidding.
    Back in the day Aphex Twin (experimental music producer) even made sounds with text editors.

  32. Banskel says:

    Interesting that everyone says flash crashes? It never crashed for me at all and I do not find any bugs. Though I can agree toon boom has alot more features for animating.

  33. Lucky says:

    Im sorry, I completely agree with your points but as long as there’s work in flash I’m still using it, and over the last 10 years it hasn’t died down :) Its till a buggy piece of shit software, but it’s my buggy piece of shit software <3

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Ha ha, I understand! I also used it for 10 years, the downfall was then I tried a better program and realized just HOW buggy Flash was. I couldn’t go back after that! (Still highly recommend the others, but I totally get wanting to stay with what you know.)

  34. eezacque says:

    I found ToonBoom as least as buggy as Flash, especially on OS X. Also, buggy as Flash may be, there is a lot more info/forums/tutorials on Flash than on ToonBoom, and the very few useful ToonBoom sources are directly from ToonBoom…

  35. Jonah O. says:

    I keep telling people this and so many don’t listen. They are like “No, Flash is fine, it’s just another tool.” Yeah, whatever. It’s a sucky tool. I went to flash after already knowing Toon Boom Studio and it was like stepping a huge step backwards. The most basic animation stuff was suddenly hard to do and full of bugs. More people need to thisten to this article because Flash is a waste of your time!!

  36. Femme Lanimator says:

    The problem with telling people they shouldn’t use Flash is that it stops people from doing animation because Flash is the easiest one to learn. What do you care if they use Flash or not if they are trying to do animation? It is foolish to act all high and mighty to say “This is wrong!” when you said yourself you used Flash for a long time. Maybe you should let other people make the choice for themselves instead of telling people what to think. I use Flash and it is great, and I tried to use some others and it was terrible because Flash makes it very easy. I would rather do it the easy way because then I can make more cartoons instead of wasting my time learning other harder programs.

  37. JeP says:

    Hi, so, I understand the rant about Flash. But as long as you’ll see movies like “Ernest and Celestine” (I would know, I worked on it) done with it, I really don’t see the problem with the soft. And yes, animators had the occasionnal crash, but working with computers you learn to never trust the software or the hardware and should save really often anyway.

    • J.K. Riki says:

      Thanks for the input, JeP! I had no idea Ernest and Celestine was done with Flash (great to know, and nice job I loved the film!). I think it’s probably important to note, looking further into the process now, that you guys not only made all the backgrounds in watercolor but you used another program to overlay on top to make the effect the way it is in the film, yes? That’s a good thing for animators to keep in mind. Flash, like any tool, is useful only for what it does well and needs complimented with others to achieve the best results.

      I still believe from my own experience that it isn’t worth the energy you’ll expend to learn and use Flash over other programs dedicated to animation, but it’s nice to hear from folks who have found success with it. Have you had the opportunity to work with the other, dedicated animation software suites on the market? I know for myself I had no problem at all with Flash UNTIL I had experience with others, and with that experience I realized fully how limiting Flash truly is since it was never designed with the animator in mind.

      Thanks again for the comment!

    • You can make good films with a pencil, paper and the crappiest camera. Just because you can make good films with something doesn’t mean it is a tool that makes it easy and supports you. The animation principles are the same… The question is not if you can do good animation with it, but how you can do it faster and better (and the answer is sadly: not with Flash).
      Good animation software tries to minimize the obstacles and maximize the possibilities. Flash has some very unnecessary obstacles (export errors, corrupt files, crashes, no linking of frames or of colors to a palette despite it being a vector program) and limits your possibilities (limited brushes, hard to control vectorization). Sometimes that can be refreshing and the limits make you creative. And if somebody manages to make something great despite those limitations, that’s very good – like in the case of Ernest and Celestine. But who knows maybe something could have been better, faster, easier with a better tool. Actually most certainly… that’s why there are more tools and studios often write their own software. Every new version of software tries to advance (but Flash doesn’t, Adobe abandoned the animation potential of their program)
      I suspect that in some ways the studio had to build the pipeline in a way that works around Flash’s weaknesses rather than having a software that could completely adapt to the production needs.
      I read an interview somewhere way back when Ernest and Celestine came out where somebody from the studio said that the main reason why they were using Flash was the price. And Flash is tough to beat there. You get a lot for little money, but you might pay with some work time for things that other software gets done quicker (coloring, post-effects – we animators should not just think about ourselves). I admit for pure frame by frame animations the competitors are only really much better with the post stuff, developer support and the program’s stability (if you are okay with the Flash brush)… but for a professional environment these are crucial time savers.

  38. todd louis b. says:

    Jep: That’s amazing you made all of Ernest and Celestine in Flash!! Didn’t it drive you crazy?? I use it just for little animated shorts and it makes me crazy! I wish I got to see the movie but it did not come to any theaters near me! :( That’s what I get for living in the middle of nowheresland. :`(

  39. Daisy C says:

    Hi JK!

    Do you have any advice / resources on learning ToonBoom Harmony if you’ve come from a long Flash career (12 years in broadcast and mobile games here)? I’m attempting to go through the documentation for TB and learn it, but so far, it’s been so difficult and non-intuitive. Maybe you would know of some tutorials that would help Flash artists make the transition easier? Because TB doesn’t seem to… Thanks!

  40. Joe F. says:

    Thanks for one marvelous posting! I used Flash a long time and then once I moved to TVPaint because the studio I was working at used it I never looked back. If I could go back in time and tell my younger me one thing it would be “Don’t even bother with Flash, the drawing tools are the absolutely worst!”

  41. marco m. says:

    Some Ugly Truth but true nevertheless.

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