Does Flash Have a Future?

Spider-Man Animated in HTML5Animation created in HTML5

The controversy about Apple’s exclusion of Flash from the iPad may appear to have minor relevance to animators, but considering the number of artists and studios who animate with Flash, the issue will affect the animation community sooner than later. Primarily, it raises the question that if Flash becomes obsolete as a way of delivering video over the Web, is it also headed towards obsolescence as an animation production tool? The tool was never designed for broadcast animation production to begin with, and Adobe’s poor track record of supporting the needs of broadcast animators hasn’t endeared it to the community.

This article at Wired magazine is the single best piece I’ve read about what HTML5 is all about and how it will replace Flash on the web. The article includes this Spider-Man animation created entirely in HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 (note: it is not viewable in all browsers). It is crude, but no cruder than what was being created with Flash’s predecessor, FutureSplash, in the mid-Nineties. Nevertheless, reading this making-of about the Spider-Man piece is an eye-opener. It amazes me how much effort is required to make cartoons that look less sophisticated than what was being made in the 1920s.

What Flash has working in its favor is loyalty from a core user base. Many animators still think that Flash is the best option. Nick Cross, who has made numerous shorts with the software, wrote an impassioned defense of Flash and explained why he doesn’t intend on abandoning it anytime soon. Adobe would be wise to listen to these animators and ensure that they don’t jump over to the next piece of technology that comes along.


  • http://www.kohrtoons.com Robert Kohr

    Nice post. I think though there is a fundamental difference between people who make flash animation and export to swf and people who export in another format then feed it into After Effects or something else. I feel that later is occurring much more. In which case programs like Animate Pro far exceed the limited abilities in Flash. As far as games, I am already working on stuff that doesn’t export to the swf compiled file.

    As far as being in defense of Flash, why? Its a terrible application, horrid UI and the feature set, for animators, has not at all improved in years. Adobe took something that was getting regular improvements to its front end by Macromedia and turned it into something far more concerned with its backend. This has made Flash as ubiquitous as it now is. Adobe has hardly been animation or artist friendly in its offerings for years, as far as Flash is concerned. I for one and happy to leave it by the wayside.

    By the way my latest film was done entirely in Flash, and post finished in another program. I animate on flash games daily.

  • http://www.brandoncordy.com Brandon Cordy

    Flash may not be obsolete yet as a method of delivering video, but it certainly is as a delivery _format_ (that death knell was sounded the second they added H.264 support). Nevermind how “Flash-only website” is becoming/has become a dirty term to web developers (I’m redoing my own site in HTML now).

    As for its use as a tool in broadcast animation, many people have been able to adapt it to such, but I agree with Amid’s point that that was never what it was intended for, and there are plenty of programs (many of them made by Toon Boom) that do a better job of catering to animators’ specific needs.

    Adobe’s target user base for Flash is developers now, not animators, and their lack of attention to improving/updating Flash’s drawing and painting tools makes this clear.

  • Clueless

    Can’t Flash export H.264? If not, Adobe Encoder? I don’t see the problem for animators.

    Heck, Vimeo already has a “HTML5″ option, which to be honest I love using. Having to install six different plugins to use the interscape is annoying. From a consumer’s point of view good riddance.

  • Baron Lego

    Sigh.

    I miss the process of creating movement through new drawings verses sliding digital cut-outs around…

  • amid

    Clueless: I would suggest reading the Wired article that I linked to because it talks about H.264 at length. That is owned by a consortium of companies including Apple and Microsoft, and isn’t open source, which defeats the whole point of HTML5. Google is proposing VP8, an open source alternative, though Apple may not play along.

  • http://www.flashcartoons.org Lavalle Lee (flashcartoons.org)

    As an animator in flash, who even owns a website with the name flash in it. I see this as a joke. Apple is going to the be lone gunman when HP and other computer companies make there own versions of ipad that include flash.

    Even if they stop using the .swf format, animators will still use flash to create animations. You can still save your finished animations as avi, .mov files.

  • http://www.brandoncordy.com Brandon Cordy

    Clueless, I was referring to the use of the Flash Video file format (.FLV) no longer being necessary, since H.264 files in .MP4 format can be used (yes, Adobe has a Flash .F4V format available, but that’s not the point).

    The point is that I can make H.264 .MP4s of all my videos using whatever tools I like (Flash, QuickTime, Final Cut, Premiere, x264 Encoder – my personal favorite – etc.), and by making two seperate interfaces (but NOT two seperate video files), I can display my videos using either Flash or some other delivery format, such as (surprise, surprise) HTML5. Flash is therefore easier and less painful to remove from the end use experience altogether.

    This is how YouTube, for example, works on most smartphones today – it’s showing you MP4s, not the FLVs it was originally dependent upon.

  • robiscus

    Its not really a concern in that Flash exports to almost all of the common film formats, and most importantly:
    The iPad is for consumption, not creation.

  • Celia

    I love flash, but it’s not as animator-friendly as it could be.

    I have been buying and swapping Flash plugins to make the program work better for me. Overall: the brushes are awful. Adobe: please update them!

  • http://beaudetteblog.blogspot.com Grant Beaudette

    I think between HTML5 and animators migrating over to programs like ToonBoom, Flash may be on the way out.

    I’ve always liked how since Flash has had so many different focuses (animation, web sites, games, video, etc…) it’s sort of a jack-of-all-trades program. But that also means Flash could easily be replaced by programs well-suited only for animation.

    But HTML5 is going to need a better posterboy than that Spiderman animation before it establishes itself.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    I don’t see how Flash will be replaced by an animation tool despite HTML5′s prominence in the video encoding/distribution end of the discussion. Flash based production does not necessitate Flash based output – I’ve almost always output Quicktimes for compositing or editing. While Aftereffects is arguably proving itself a better animation program for cutout/puppet style animation (especially with the 3d camera at your disposal) when it comes to a cost-effective 2d suite Flash is still one of the best platforms available, as Nick Cross points out. For almost a decade now it has been a dominant platform – why would that change when the discussion is mostly its viability for Youtube-style streaming?
    Adobe has dropped the ball more often than not in optimizing and advancing Flash the way they have Photoshop and AE, but its still too inexpensive and convenient a program for 2d animators for Adobe to kill it outright, at least until a competing program using the HTML5 platform in the same way rears its head. If that program ever becomes a competitor, maybe Adobe will finally get their Flash act together. Until then, I’m pretty sure Flash will remain viable for 2d animators due to the same general apathy on Adobe’s part; why remove it from the suite, lose the added money they can charge for it and have to deal with a sizable consumer base’s rage?
    I’d love to hear some web designers’ thoughts on Flash as a continued platform.

  • http://thisisonlya.blogspot.com robcat2075

    One thing that hasn’t gotten much notice in this Apple-bans-Flash© deal is that it is also complicates things for apps that happen to output to SWF, such as ToonBoom Studio which has a completely different interface.

    After reading the Making-of article it seems HTML5 is not nearly up to what any of the tools that output swfs can do.

    Don’t like the “horrid” Flash interface?…there are other options for making flash.

    I get the sense that a lot of the people on the web who “hate” flash still think it’s what they saw on JoeCartoon ten years ago.

  • Rooniman

    I hope flash becomes obsolete in the animation industry.

  • http://www.sexymecha.com Hal

    I could see how Adobe introducing a Flash-style vector paint tool/onion skin platform native to After Effects would render Flash obsolete almost instantaneously to most animators and studios, more so than HTML5′s presence as a media player. While I think the 2d market remains too small for Adobe to bother making the effort (it wouldn’t make the splash that, say, using Normals to light 3d geometry in AE did) it would make sense if Adobe has plans to phase Flash out of the suite.
    After Effects is superior in almost every way in which Flash and it overlap (animating cameras moves, puppet tools, adding textures to vector objects, 3d lighting and layering, the ability to import 3d cameras, etc.) so it could make sense to cannibalize the one thing Flash has going for it to designers and 2d animators.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    @Hal
    Adobe would never do that, in the same what that they have/never will introduce a linear timeline tab into AE, which would make Premiere (more) obsolete. They will cling onto Flash whatever happens, just to bump up the size/price of the suite, as they so love to do.

    Flash *will* die soon though. Thank god. Because the animation tools that some of us cling to, have only ever been a sidecar to its main role as a web media app. When the next-gen web language makes it obsolete in that respect, our hobbyist tinkerings won’t even be a consideration.

  • http://youtube.com/chipCHIPLEY Mike Hollingsworth

    Amid is right that Adobe (and before that Macromedia) never really had much interest in the folks who were using there program for character animation. But I love it and if you’re a fan of Superjail, Ugly Americans or Yo Gabba Gabba you probably love it too! I’m very proud of the stuff I’ve made in Flash and It’ll be sad if they discontinue it. But I’m still using Flash 2004, and they can’t take it away from me, so I’ll be fine.

  • Mitch Kennedy

    Flash used in television broadcast production never has a final product which is an swf. Characters are animated in Flash and then the final product is either rendered out to a standard video codec or rendered out as an image sequence to be composited. Apple not supporting Flash on the web has no relevance to television animation…

    … except that if Flash becomes obsolete online, then maybe Adobe will focus more on making it more friendly for television animation!

    In any case, Apple kicked out Flash is bad news for artists, because there’s no HTML5 development tool like there is for Flash.

  • http://www.taberanimation.com Taber Dunipace

    Yuck! Flash may have its faults but at least it’s easy to use. Hard-coding in rotation and translation? SERIOUSLY? That’s not user friendly at all! I mean sure, you could animate a whole shot by weaving each frame onto a loom, but would you ever actually do that? (has anyone ever done that? it might be cool)

    Anyway he still used an Adobe product to do this anyway: Illustrator.

  • J. Champlain

    I wonder how Adobe feels about the rumors of Apple working on their own Flash alternative?

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-20004509-37.html?tag=mncol

  • ZN

    I still feel that Flash is an invaluable tool for allowing aspiring and young animators to learn the ropes before they go to art school (or if they even go at all). It’s easy as hell to throw something together.

    Unfortunately for me, I might have outgrown it. I just can’t stand the drawing tools. They’re a nightmare to work with. Good luck drawing any sort of curve in the program and expecting it to look like your stroke! I will probably switch to Toonboom in the future.

  • http://constipanimated.blogspot.com Greg

    Flash became dominant because it was relatively cheap, fairly easy to learn, and widely distributed – not because it had the best tools or support. If it ever goes away, perhaps whatever meets these criteria will be better suited for making animation than Flash is. But Flash is never going away. It’s the Herpes of Animation Software.

  • Bob Harper

    I don’t really care about the output factor, as has been mentioned Flash created doesn’t mean Flash delivered. We as a community have had to work hard to make Flash do what we want it to do, but Toon Boom seems to care about helping us do it easier and better, so I’ll be adding Animate Pro to my arsenal, but I still have a legal version of Flash CS3 that I’m sure I’ll still use from time to time fo when I’m in a masochistic mood.

    For broadcasting, Adobe needs to kick it into high gear if they want to expand their presence in that market, because Toon Boom has already proven to be the superior choice.

    As far as the web goes, it will still be interesting to see what the competitors to the IPAD do to Flash, so I’d say the jury is still out.

  • http://underseriousdaydreaming Tony Claar

    Serious character animators, WHO ALREADY KNOW HOW TO DRAW, have had no reason to use clunky, geeky Flash or at least not any more, since they’re now using Toon Boom Animate, a smart app actually designed for traditional animators who like vectors! I myself, a long-time animator who draws, have never liked the “help” Flash gives you by “correcting” your line! No thank you, I WANTED the line exactly that way because I already know how to draw animation. Plus, symbols, instances, and a tiny, weird timeline with billions of dots make no sense to me at all. The x-sheet has been perfect for Hollywood since the 30′s and it still is. Flipbook has a beautiful, correct, digital x-sheet, thank you. The only guy I’ve ever seen make Flash look good is Chris Georgenes. But, he uses an enormous amount of layers, like 8 for 2 eyes. I draw on 1 layer for eyes and just animate them! Digicel Flipbook is the best app for drawn animation anyway.

  • Gerard de Souza

    “For broadcasting, Adobe needs to kick it into high gear if they want to expand their presence in that market, because Toon Boom has already proven to be the superior choice.”
    Here, here. Maybe this current situation will make them listen to cartoon animators finally.

  • http://animationinventory.blogspot.com/ Teodor

    Why then 2d animators use toon boom to create flash-like animations for broadcast?

    I use flash or toon boom for charaters anmations without paper for a long time .
    Each has its own disadvantage.

    both are good for work and training.

  • joecab

    You should all be complaining to Adobe and telling them to support both HTML5 as well as Flash.

  • startstop

    Flash has taken up 98% of my income for the past 5 years. Do you THINK I would encourage people to move to something else?!

    The animation in that HTML5 piece is good, but definitely worse than most of the Flash shows I see on TV nowadays. I use Flash animation primarily as a way to get it ON TV, not on the Internet, because people expect and demand much better animation in that format, thus forcing me to develop my skills as well! Oddly, I was introduced to Flash in college as “a television medium”. O . O

  • http://amber-gail.blogspot.com Amber

    I agree with startstop’s comment above, I view flash as a tool you need to learn to work in television and completely inappropriate for creating animation for the web. Then again, I’ve been a mac user for more than 5 years now.

    Tony Claar, you should check out Max Weintraub!! I love his flash work. Why doesn’t all flash look more like that? Just goes to show how important animation and design skills still really are. Really, really, very paramount.

    The article linked in Amid’s post refers to Ogg Theora and I had to look it up! Never heard of it before. Linking it here to help direct other people along to the info – http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2010/02/ogg-theora-vs-h264-head-to-head-comparisons.ars

  • http://coldhardflash.com Aaron Simpson

    I’ll reiterate what others have said above – the whole Apple/Adobe dust-up has been about delivery, not creation. Unless you’re outputting for Newgrounds, the .SWF option is rarely used anymore. When an animation is finished inside Flash (or After Effect or any other software) how the animation then travels to the user is an entirely different discussion, that I suspect doesn’t really concern most animators. I haven’t written about this hubbub on CHF ‘cuz it’s kind of a non-issue.

    Flash, as an animation tool, will live or die independent of Apple’s shenanigans. I’ll predict that Flash will slowly die out as an artists tool, but it’ll take 5 or 10 years. Toon Boom has made major inroads in the professional community, and I know many Flash-centric studios that are mulling a switch. It will take years for this to trickle down to the independent animators and beyond that, there’s gonna be scores of folks who stick with their trusty, dusty copy of Flash CS5 because that’s what they know.

    Even with Flash-created projects getting nominations and trophies at the Oscars, Annecy and the TV Academy, it’ll never gain true respect, because Adobe never fully respected the animation community.

  • http://www.antoniolinhares.com Antonio

    I believe we shall be very careful to not mix Flash – an animation software – with web content displayed in Flash Player in SWF files, which can even have been produced in other authoring program.

    HTML5 animation is script-based and therefore much more limited so far. Frankly I don’t picture Nina Paley creating an entire feature film using HTML5, for example, or Jake Armstrong delivering his ‘Terrible Thing’ with HTML5.

    Even if we’re talking only about animation for the web… “It is crude, but no cruder than what was being created with Flash’s predecessor, FutureSplash, in the mid-Nineties.” Agreed. But then does that mean we’re going to step back 20 years and develop web animation all over again?

    Cheers :- )

  • amid

    Aaron Simpson: It’s funny because the whole point of my post is that Flash is in danger of dying out as an artist’s production tool, and you yourself predicted in your comment that it’s going to die out in the next 5-10 years. If Adobe makes a significant shift in the feature set of the software, that process will be accelerated. We seem to agree on the same essential point, only you seem to be dismissing the importance of this tool’s demise because it “doesn’t really concern most animators”.

  • david

    i still use flash 4 for personal use because it’s so simple. if you’re just doing traditional animation all you need is a timeline, layers, and somewhere to drop in sound. No tweening or web crap necessary. All the camera moves can be done in after fx etc. anyway. yeah the brushes and tools aren’t that great, but people forget that we don’t have to use cels anymore. OMG. we are not shooting on film OMG. purists and technology do not mix.

    It’s just a tool. people will find out ways to share their animation (made in any program of their choice) on newer web stuff regardless.

  • Animator in TV Production using Flash

    I agree with Aaron, I pretty much consider it a non-issue, Toon Boom will either replace it and animators will simply switch, or they’ll stick with an older copy of Flash until they can make the switch. I still prefer MX 2004 to CS3 and CS4 which I use at work. I kinda feel like whether it’s toon boom or Flash it doesn’t matter as long as it’s fairly cheap and widely distributed.

    Small studios and productions seem to be either training up in Toon Boom already or are thinking of switching to it.

    Greg is right. Flash is the Herpes of animation. Although I’m pretty glad to have gotten the Herpes since It’s kept me employed for the last 6 or so years, and I’ve gotten to do some work I consider pretty traditional and not just “sliding digital cut-outs around” like some sad, lonely, bitter soul above deemed it. It’s a wonky bit of software pressed into service and while I’m happy to jump onto a program more aimed at animators I will shed a tear for it because it helped me get into the industry.

  • http://jamiegallant.blogspot.com Jamie Gallant

    Flash not being originally designed for animators is no reason to believe that you can’t get some nice results from it. Was a pencil and paper really “suited” for animation? You needed a peg bar, some reinforcers, A specially designed desk, a couple of specially designed cameras, hundreds os sheets of crinkled up paper and hundreds of sheets of celluloid before anything made it onto the screen. But people did it (and do it) anyway.

    You can adjust settings so Flash doesn’t correct your line (if you “already know how to draw”).
    You can draw on one layer if you want to.
    You can still use a dope sheet if you want to.
    You don’t have to push cutouts or use symbols if you don’t want to.
    You don’t have to throw away your pencil if you don’t want to.

    I’ve worked in Flash for years because that’s where the jobs have been in my area. You get used to it. Like any other medium. The weaknesses in my work are due to my own lack of experience, not the program I happen to use.

    If you unfroze Walt Disney and showed him a Cintiq and a copy of the Adobe suite I think he’d shit his pants. And I bet he’d squeeze some wild stuff out of it, too.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Re:
    –If you unfroze Walt Disney and showed him a Cintiq and a copy of the Adobe suite I think he’d shit his pants–

    Probably pee himself and throw up a little bit too, maybe babble some nonsense for a while, his eyes pointing in different directions.

    –And I bet he’d squeeze some wild stuff out of it, too–

    …or hire someone else to do it.

  • http://www.kdcartoon.com Khalid al Dakheel

    I’ve been using Flash for a decade now, I loved it? yes, I made couple of short films with it? yes, BUT: it’s still the same old same, in another meaning: it doesn’t feel like Adobe really cares about cartooning and animating with Flash, and that clearly shows in their new releases of Flash,

    Well, it’s like they’re saying: You got other options for animating – but if you really wanna use Flash? then sure go ahead! but remember: WE DON’T GIVE A S*** ABOUT ANIMATION PRINCIPLES!.

    My honest personal opinion (as a guy with a director vision), I think Toon Boom is the best for the cartoon animators, I’m not gonna talk about all the features, the 3D & Camera features are enough to beat Flash.

  • http://www.mukpuddy.blogspot.com Mukpuddy

    Flash is the only reason we can make cartoons here in New Zealand! Because of the crappy budgets and time-lines we get for projects its the only way we could make anything! We love Flash!

  • http://coldhardflash.com Aaron Simpson

    I’ll stand by what I wrote, Amid: the death of Flash as an animation tool will have zero to do with this Adobe/Apple mess. If Flash toys with their software a bit to react to Apple’s stance, it still won’t impact animators one bit. I suppose if they pull Flash off the shelves it might, but I think we know that won’t happen anytime soon.

    As you know, animators use Flash for the design tools, the timeline and the library functions (re-use). That’s about 1% of what Flash is – the rest is for the gamers, mobile developers, website designers and the video broadcasters. It’s two different conversations.

    And to expand on my point about Adobe – they have a reasonable understanding and appreciation of what animators do with the software, but the big financial carrot is in the Flash servers and the casual gaming explosion. Animators probably account for 5% of their user base.

    The real win for us Flash devotees would be what you might call Flash CS4animators – a stand-alone piece of software that takes what was right with CS5 and builds on it, stripping away most of the scripting stuff and website bells and whistles. John K has been dreaming about something like this for years. We can dream, right?

  • http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/ Nina Paley

    I <3 Macromedia Flash 8.

    Unfortunately Adobe’s latest version of Flash doesn’t allow quality Quicktime rendering; it forces you to export as .swf and then render through After Effects. The “Quicktime Video” export options are gone. That adds a huge amount of unnecessary work to what was once simple rendering, and for what? So they can force animators to buy After Effects along with Flash? Why did they cripple an essential part of Flash’s functionality?

    Meanwhile, Adobe’s idea of adding features to Flash is this.

    Adobe can suck it. But I still loves me some Flash 8. I dread the day I upgrade to a machine it can no longer run on.

  • Animator

    As an animator I hope they ban it all, flash and harmony are horrible tools to use, we use harmony at our studio and the more builds we make the more it just starts looking like 3D. Or they talk to me about adding graininess to a cintiq to imitate paper, well they invented something a long time ago that already has that graininess, it’s called paper. They can’t even roll and flip for christ sakes. I find it completely ridiculous that studios are trying reproduce hand drawn animation by using every means possible other than actually drawing the darn cartoons. Now junior animators can’t draw because so many of them don’t practice or they try reproducing the “graphic” look, although I just call them bad drawings. Most TV animation painters don’t even know how to actually paint and don’t care if they don’t, As if the brush was some ancient thing of the past. It has been a burden on our community since it began. I’ve had some of the juniors tell me that disney drawings are ugly and look bad! That they prefer stuff like 6teen, total drama island and george of the jungle to stuff like Roger Rabbit or Secret of Nihm. Beleive it or not I get 3D feature films like how to train your dragon and I think it has bright future but when it comes to hand drawn animation the way to go is hand drawn. Studios talk about making faster productions at cheaper costs, got news for you, you’re in the wrong industry, animation takes time and a lot of patience, you want animation, teach the juniors how to actually animate and draw and you’ll eventually get your product and a damn good at that, don’t stick them on a computer on the first day to do a whole scene. BTW harmony isn’t cheaper, its getting more and more expensive as the demand for it grows. Soon enough it will be more expensive than cell animation, the reason is simple, toon boom is a buisiness first and foremost and that’s capitilism for you. And the bigger and the more complicated the programs get the more expensive they become. Besides now that flash is going to be out, now its going to be HTML5 or whatever, then its going to be some other program, then another, then another etc… its never going to end and I for one am not going to spend the rest of my life learning computer programs when my passion is animation and drawing. Animation used to be a simple thing. Remember when you dreamed about holding a pencil all day long and making cartoons for a living? I do.

    To flash I say good riddance, let’s hope the rest of your lousy sister programs will die and fall through soon as well.

  • http://www.darklinestudios.com zak

    I think all the whoopla about HTML 5 is overblown. If you think that animators are going to not want to work in a timeline and be able to have control over all the little things that make animation an art and have some sort of uniqueness and nuance than I think you are kidding yourself. Even the coding for HTML 5 is less sophisticated than AS3. Sure it will replace Flash in many areas, simple animations, small scope games, some common web use but the support isn’t there. Right now in order to make something you need 3 different audio formats and video formats just to make sure you are cross browser compatible. One thing HTML5 isn’t is simpler and it doesn’t have better market saturation. Go look for yourself…