A journal that focuses on Flash Platform development, and a little bit about what I am up to on any given day.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Don't Learn Actionscript...?

I am just writing this in response to this post from Flash Insider:


I certainly agree that it is great to look at other languages to cross-reference the similarities, but to what end?

Most non-programming Flash users are designers. Explaining methods, classes, events, etc in other programming models will not do much other than confuse someone that is trying to add a little code to their Flash work for the first time.

Designers tend to understand how assets in Flash behave, like MovieClips, Textfields, Video, etc, therefore starting to learn programming in Flash with Actionscript is easier to explain to them because it is based on a system of events that a designer can actually see for themselves. Once they get a good grasp on it there, it surely opens the gateway to learn other programming models.

On another yet similar note,

These days alot of developers are coming into the world of Flash. They are being beconed in by tools such as Flex. These types of tools abstract the bottom layer of what Flash actually is, and makes Flash development seem much more like other familiar models.

This is great but the truth is, that the deep understanding of Flash not Actionscript has led to most of the brilliant work that really stands out over the last 6+ years. So many people in the development community these days curse at the timeline in Flash and state how they are looking at tools for development that hide it away. The only reason that occurs is because many of those people have not taken the time to explore Flash at it's simplest level to see how powerful it actually is.

I had to work with a team of Java developers at SNL Financial last year. They were new to Flash and immediately jumped right into Actionscript to start building things. While they were able to do great things, it wasn't until they were shown the simplest tricks of Flash timelines that their eyes lit up with real intrest. The Flash timeline may not be like other programming models, but that is the reason why Flash has become so popular over the years, not Actionscript.

So to conclude, while all these designers are out there trying to pick up all of these different programming languages to help them with their Flash work, maybe more developers should take some time to learn how to use a traditional Flash timeline for tweening. And if they did, maybe they could also take a look at

- After Effects
- SVG authoring tools
- Director
- 3DS Max
- etc

That could really help developers understand visual interface and motion design at a higher level...........

It would also confuse and annoy the crap out of most of thedeveloper community to even take the time to do such a thing. All those tools are similar in the fact that they have timelines, and key frames and tweening. But they are all so different in implementation that it would take a while to wrap your head around all of it, and to be able to use and understand them all.

So in final, I would recomend that Flash designers looking to add some interactivity to their work, stick to Flash and Actionscript. It is a great learning tool and will open thet gateway to bigger things when you are ready.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the article. Learning the fundamentals of application design would significantly aid the code-as-you-go Actionscripter. I don't agree that you need to learn another language but it probably would help to understand how common problems are solved across the divide. Just as color theory, typography, motion graphics, etc apply to visual design in Flash; OOP, MVC and design patterns apply to programming challenge common to most developers. Can you name any Actionscript developer of importance that only knows only Actionscript?

2:29 PM

Blogger Tony said...


But teaching programming to a non-programmer is alot harder than many seem to believe. You cannot just jump right into design patterns, because most non-programmers have a hard time understanding what an Object is.

Learning the concepts of programming is best achieved within one enviornment that is familiar and comfortable for the learner. I was just stating that Flash is one of the best enviornments to get people started in.

learning different object models and runtimes is something that should be introdued after the learner has a good grasp of the fundamentals. Bouncing them around before that will cause nothing but confusion.

I teach at Algonquin college here in Ottawa, and I can guarantuee you that learning 3-4 enviornments at once is harder, not easier for the learner.

2:43 PM

Anonymous Mike said...

I'm not sure I understand the rationale for suggesting programmers experiment with timeline-based design. I learned Flash app development by first mastering the timeline, then gradually applying larger libraries of functions to enhance my timeline-based apps. Eventually it became classes with AS2, and now it's MVC. This seems like a logical progression...but asking a programmer to learn the timeline is a little bizarre in that they don't need it to develop in Flash. Why learn timeline-based tweening when you can tween in ActionScript? I like the originality of this suggestion -- it made me think -- but I can't wrap my head around it.

6:53 AM

Blogger Tony said...

well this was the point:

I was trying to turn the tables of the original article. It suggested that designers go and try to explore many programming models when trying to learn AS. I wanted to point out that the suggestion does not really take into the account that designers are not programmers and would not benefit from that type of approach to learning.

I wanted to show that a developer trying to make headway in the designer's world have the same type of struggle. Facing many radically different implementations of the same concepts.

I agree that there comes a point where you no longer need a timeline, however I was not referring to those that have dealing with Flash for years. Most of that crowd was forced to learn the timeline in early days and as Flash grew, they grew with it.

I am talking about the newcomers that may be coming into the Flex world that may not know much about the very base workings of Flash, and the Flash Player.

I used for example the Java developers that I was working with on the SNL Merger Model that were amazing programmers, but were blown away by how much Flash could do without having to writew any code.

7:16 AM

Anonymous Al said...

Enjoyed reading this blog and the comments, as its been the topic of several in-house 'debates'.

Mike's comments about a logical progression tell the tale of how an experienced developer comes about. Trouble is, all too often we've seen a few freelance developers who've missed fundamental steps of that learning curve.

You can see it immediately in their work: no design patterns, code 5 layers deep in movieclips that have no assets in, easing-in with code (with no idea when the ease ends)', etc. etc.

Its only when you come across source files like this that you wish that people had been pointed in the direction of the timeline.

I'm very much in favour of the timeline, its a very powerful tool. After having to rescue a few 'attachMovie-designers-code' efforts - I feel at ease seeing assets and animation on the timeline.

9:50 PM

Anonymous Jon said...

This post does not really reflect the previous but I live in Ottawa and have come to realize that some of the employees of Teknision are ahead of the game in the action script world and some teach it. I am looking desperately for a class of some sort to learn action script. Though Teknision is not involved in any program of the sort I am somewhat unplugged from the as world. So I am asking you this question for the same reason someone would come to me with an animation question. It's what were into and information about what we are into come to light much easier than someone searching in the wrong places. Action Script changed enough that i feel a bit lost... I am by no means a programmer on any level but I would like to learn AS3.

11:46 AM

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