Learning Flash
January 20, 2005 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm a graphic designer who is looking to advance my actionscript skills in Flash. What is the best way for "non-coders" to learn more advanced coding? [+]

I have many years of experience in Flash. I've done a lot of animation and novice-level actionscripting. Until now my actionscript skills have consisted of modifying existing code and piecing stuff together in normal mode (as opposed to expert mode) on the actions palette. At least once a year I buy a good actionscript book and try to work my way through it, but then I loose momentum. I want to get to the point where I can do more advanced stuff (i.e., build a dynamic online portfolio).

It could be that the answer is simply "buckle down and study". I guess I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for learning to code since I do not have a propensity toward it. What's the best way for non-coders to step up their skills?
posted by quadog to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
I'm kind of in the same boat, and I've found that the best thing (and this applies to learning pretty much anything) is to give yourself a PROJECT to do that will require the skill you need to develop.

If you just sit down and read a book, you may not learn much at all, because the examples are very rarely relevant to what YOU want to do with code. Books are good for references and proper syntax.

But, if you give yourself a real project, you'll have built-in motivation (to finish it and get it working right) and have specific tasks to figure out -- several "mini goals" that let you learn a piece at a time. This also makes asking questions easier, which is something you'll do a lot of (Macromedia's usenet support forum I've found very helpful.)

So, start on that dynamic online portfolio right now, imagine what you want it to be like when it's done, and figure out the parts you need to get it there.
posted by robbie01 at 5:19 PM on January 20, 2005

start on that dynamic online portfolio right now, imagine what you want it to be like when it's done, and figure out the parts you need to get it there

Dammit, that's what I was going to say.

This is definately the best advice. I taught myself Actionscript a few years ago by doing exactly this. I thought about what I wanted my site to do, what I wanted it to look like, then slowly pieced together (through various examples on websites) how to do it.

Eventually you'll start to get a feel for it. At its heart, Actionscript is much like any other scripting language. All the objects and scenes can be referenced through variables. The single hardest part (at least for me) was understanding the timeline in reference to background functions. That is, if you run a function on one of the frames, the movie will keep playing unless you instruct it to stop. The hard part is, you can define functions inside clips that have their own timelines, so getting everything to work properly can be a hassle on complicated sites.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:17 PM on January 20, 2005

If you can, you might want to take a classroom based course. Problem is the quality can vary greatly (and therefore it's money well spent or money badly spent). I say this both as a person who has taken courses and who has taught them. Keep in mind that once you learn ActionScript you'll find it much easier to learn other languages (particularly JavaScript and perhaps Java, but also PHP, ASP, etc. as Civil_Disobedient mentions.)

Civil_Disobedient is speaking about how instances of symbols have their own timelines. Not surprisingly, the structure of Flash's symbols and instances is also the structure of object oriented programming (more or less). You can get a little crazy nesting timelines within timelines, within timelines, much like folders within folders.

If you can relate how changing a symbol changes the instances of that symbol you are half way there structurally (ie. the movie object, the sound object, etc are like premade symbols, the instances of which you can customize.) However, as Civil_Disobedient warns, it can get complicated quickly, particularly when you're learning. The benefits are worth the headache.
posted by juiceCake at 7:53 PM on January 20, 2005

May I suggest that the coding and graphical elements of flash suggest small scale gaming as a learning utility. My own efforts to learn actionscript involved programming a version of space war (the apple II version) which not only gave me a good idea of both the mechanisms and limits of the medium, but gave me and some friends a game to play at the end. It makes for a good small scale but achievable goal, plus, if it isn't awful, you can donate it to the greater good of Homo Consolus via the internets.
posted by Sparx at 5:34 AM on January 21, 2005

I highly recommend the book "Foundation Actionscript for Macromedia Flash MX 2004." It was written with designers in mind.

You might also want to check out the free tutorials at www.bit-101.com, www.flashkit.com and www.were-here.com. All three of those sites also have forums, where you can ask questions when you get stuck on a project.

For $25 a month, you can join lynda.com. You can watch hours of online training videos, which are pretty well done. If you want, you can join for just one month, watch the flash videos, and the quit.

If you're in the NYC area, I teach Actionscript classes.
posted by grumblebee at 8:35 AM on January 21, 2005

Another vote (assuming you learn well this way) for the pick a project and figure it out model. Get yourself a good reference dictionary and start reading the Flash boards on Macromedia's site every day. You'll get an idea of what's possible and you'll have a resource for when you get stuck.

Also, anything written by Colin Moock is great, he's basically the actionscript guru, a really nice guy, and he hangs out on the Macromedia boards.

The most important thing is to recognize the most effective learning style for you and then pursue the task in that direction.
posted by spaghetti at 9:22 AM on January 21, 2005

I have considered taking classes but I can't find anything that quite fits my goals (living in San Francisco). I'm also concerned a class would be either too rudimentary or too advanced.

Lots of great advice on this thread. Thanks for giving me a push in the right direction, everyone.
posted by quadog at 11:20 AM on January 21, 2005

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