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For more information on Flash movie architecture, see Chapter 3.
Moving Data Using Flash
In the past few releases of the Flash authoring tool, there has been an incredible growth of support for dynamic content. Dynamic information (or data) in Flash movies is being used more frequently by Web developers as they realize the effectiveness of Flash movies used as a front-end client for back-end systems. Information can be stored in a database and retrieved at runtime, or even gathered from an end user and inserted into the database. The server-side language used to accomplish this data transfer is up to the developer, although server-side applications such as Flash Remoting MX and ColdFusion have allowed faster and more efficient techniques for transferring data to and from Flash movies. XML is also widely used by the Flash community and in the Flash Player itself, and with the improvement in transfer and parsing speed, XML and Web services data will likely be used more often by developers.
Applying Flash MX 2004
The capabilities of Flash continue to expand with each new version. By allowing the development of third-party importers, more native file formats are beginning to be supported directly in the Flash MX 2004 authoring environment. This simplifies your workflow when you require several technologies in a single project. Flash can be used for many projects, ranging significantly in scope, design, and intention. By integrating the use of server-side scripts, you can even further expand the capabilities of your project. Take a look at just a few of the creations you can produce using Flash MX 2004:
♦ A video portfolio using new, built-in video-import capabilities and dynamic loading of content.
♦ A form collecting user information and dynamically loading customized information based on this input.
♦ An interactive map that can be updated by the client through a database.
♦ A stand-alone presentation on a CD-ROM for distribution that loads requested information from a server.
Chapter 1 ♦ An Introduction to Flash MX 2004
♦ A customized user experience when the user returns to a Web site. Store the user’s input using local shared objects.
♦ Robust chat rooms based on Flash Communication Server MX or XML server-socket technology.
♦ An MP3 player dynamically loading requested songs using new features built into Flash Player 6 or higher.
♦ Single- or multiplayer online games.
♦ A set of customized components for online distribution to other Flash developers.
♦ Projectors used for slide show presentations in the style of Microsoft PowerPoint, either on a CD-ROM or on an alternative storage device.
♦ The front end of an e-commerce site shopping cart.
♦ A movie or interface accessible to screen readers.
♦ A single movie that customizes itself at runtime for targeted information delivery on desktops or mobile devices.
♦ Flash movies exported for use in digital video editing environments for special effects or layering graphics on top of live action video for broadcast delivery.
This list is far from complete. It’s up to you to expand upon the possibilities and pursue the creation of exciting new productions.
Planning Flash Development
After you have your creative ideas in order for a production, it is important to understand how to work efficiently in the Flash environment. There have been many changes in the structure of the program, just between Flash MX and Flash MX 2004. If you are familiar with earlier versions of Flash, you will notice a different organization in the panel structure and modifications to the timeline. Familiarizing yourself with the location of the tools and how they can be used before starting a project will speed up development time and perhaps even give you new ideas inspired by MX 2004 features available for use in your production.
When you have a large project to complete, and you have decided what you want your production to accomplish, you probably want to look at what languages and applications you have access to. Will you need a programmer who is familiar with XML, CFML (ColdFusion Markup Language), or Flash Remoting to create a back-end for your Flash interface? Are you a backend programmer who needs a professional designer for your front-end interface? Which application servers (or middleware) does your server support? Which language is best for the job?
You will also want to familiarize yourself with some of the new code in ActionScript — new objects, methods, and slight modifications to the language. For example, even though loadVariables() i s still valid code, the newer LoadVars class is generally a much better method for sending and loading URL form-encoded data into Flash. Or perhaps you can even move on to the use of the WebServices class. This book helps to familiarize you with the new methods, functions, and best practices for using ActionScript.
16 Part I ♦ Conceptualizing Flash
When you are planning your Flash movie production, you may want to consider creating a flowchart that depicts the flow of data throughout your movie, to and from your movie, and, of course, to each different area of your production. Refer to Figure 1-2 for a simple flowchart of a small movie incorporating a database into the data flow.