As promised here is that long overdue roundup of this years' FlashForward conference in San Francisco. Day one
The highlights of day one were without a doubt the "Best Practices Expert Panel" by among others Chris Georgenes, Joey Lott and Robert Reinhardt and "The Cost of Copyright" by Lawrence Lessig of the Stanford Law School.
I've seen my fair share of best practices sessions but this one really stood out because of its practical, hands-on advice on Flash animation, ActionScript and video for Flash. Its tempting just sticking to explaining established practices in the community and presenting them as is but the guys really outdid themselves and showed some great techniques and time-saving tricks.
Originally I hadn't planned to see the session on copyright but am very glad I did. Lawrence Lessig gave an inspiring talk on the current state of copyright on the web, how "all rights reserved" became the norm and is incompatible with a medium like the Internet where every pageview is essentially a "copy" and how initiatives like the Creative Commons license can promote a legal framework for "remix culture" as is prevalent in the Flash community today.
Day two started with the ever popular Macromedia keynote, as expected we got to see some great things in store for 8ball/Maelstrom including a sneak-peek at the new IDE that has features like filters, blend modes and a great update to the Library panel etc. and of course full alpha channel support in Flash video which is absolutely incredible. Can't wait to see the new software released, I'm sure this is going to be the biggest release since MX!
One other highlight in the keynote was the FlashLite demo by Justin Everett-Church which I surprisingly hadn't seen before. The NYC Traffic application allows you to select a webcam in the NYC Manhattan area and watch real-time video of the current traffic situation on your mobile device.
Later that morning there was an amazing session by Jared Tarbell on "Evolving Computional Creatures". Jared is known for his great Flash experiments over at levitated.net and he showed us some great simulations of life-like motion and behaviour using a few simple rules and seemingly basic mathematical equations. Its absolutely fascinating to see what he does with Flash and I spent the next couple of days browsing through his source files trying to get to grips on how he creates life through ActionScript code.
Another great session was that of Kristin Henry of GalaxyGoo, a little different from what you'd normally expect a Flash presentation to discuss but fascinating nonetheless -- especially since it seemed to fit in so well with Jared Tarbell's work. GalaxyGoo is a non-profit organisation that aims to increase science literacy through using Flash and multimedia in general as a tool for visualizing otherwise complex data or theories. Kristin showed some of the work they did and how the use of Flash can make seemingly boring theoretical concepts be presented in an appealing, interactive and easy to understand way. Its great to see how Flash is now making its way in the educational community.
Next up was my own session on CSS in Flash which I really enjoyed. After talking about CSS support for textfields in Flash MX 2004, how to extend the TextField.StyleSheet parser and apply CSS to v2 components I couldn't help but show off some of the windowSWF panels I built earlier along with Keith Peters' addictive IDE Asteroids.
Last day of the conference had some amazing sessions specifically on Flash animation and design, which I didn't expect to enjoy all that much.
First up was the "Advanced Character Animation" session by Chris Georgenes where he talked about some of the techniques he uses when doing Flash animation. What stood out for me is how he uses subtle lighting and motion effects to create stunning results, amazingly enough when you look at his work frame by frame you can easily spot some obvious faults and animation time-saving tricks but more importantly it works and looks stunning. Chris definitely does some of the very best Flash animation work I've seen around.
The next session I attended was by Paul Ortchanian on Flash debugging, where he discussed a very useful unit testing class he had written. It was very interesting to see how his approach differed from my own in that he went much further in suggesting to test every single line of code where you assign or retrieve values. What I personally do is start out by only running tests against class methods that are critical in the application structure and getter/setter methods. By doing that I can zero in on the problem where it occurs. I'm definitely not opposed to his technique and might give it a go in one of my upcoming projects.
In the afternoon I attended the "collage animation" session by Evan Spiridellis of JibJab Media. I'm a long-time fan of their work and was great to hear the story of how two brothers in a garage in Brooklyn made it to almost instantaneously international fame with their "This Land!" and "Good to be in DC" US election parodies. Evan walked through their source files and showed the different stages of the animation process. One of the most interesting things he showed us was how they prepare a photograph in Photoshop and set it up in Flash for doing their style of collage animation.
The last session of the conference was done by Erik Natzke who showed us some of his latest and greatest work. He continues to create the most amazing Flash experiments and even manages to apply some of the techniques he discovered to his commercial work. I saw him speak back at the FlashForward 2001 Amsterdam and he has left as powerful an impression now as he did back then.
I thought this years FlashForward San Francisco was a great overview of the talent that is out there in the community. Unfortunately the conference coincided with FitC in Toronto but I did manage to meet some great people, long-time online acquaintances and get familiar with a wonderful city. Can't wait till the next edition!