Some Thoughts on This Entire Flash Debacle and A Lengthy Flashback Why It Makes Me Sad

I will not lie, Flash has a special place in my heart. Back in 2001, I saw a website by Yugo Nakamura that had a timeline that grew, shrank, moved and pulsated based on my mouse movements. I compared this to other websites I was viewing on Netscape Navigator and said to myself, “What the hell is this, and how do I make it?”. I found out after perusing Web Crawler (my search engine of choice), that it was made by something called Macromedia Flash 4.

I picked up a copy on a CD, via, shall we say… illegitimate means. I installed it on my blazing Pentium 3 PC with 16MB of RAM and started tweening the shit out of circles and squares. Mind you, I was in college taking up Management in Information Systems. I had never animated a thing in my life or knew that there was an entire industry called design that, you know, people did for a living.

Over the next couple of months, I taught myself to do things in Flash based on the amazing things i saw through my 28.8kbps modem. I started seeing people make references to typography, grids and color theory alongside terms like encapsulation and inheritance. Not knowing what any of this meant, i assumed everything was important so I tried to learn all of it, not knowing how this had any practical application in life. You see, this was a hobby. I thought that after I graduated, I was going to take over my parents’ gas station or work in a vague field of IT designing databases and programming enterprise software in Java. Boy was I wrong.

After graduating, I was stuck. I went to school for a degree that I realized I didn’t want to make a career out of. What I did have was this mishmash of skills in some newfangled language called ActionScript and a (in hindsight) crude understanding of design. By some stroke of luck, i found myself at a company that designed toys that needed someone who knew Flash. Two amazing things happened to me here.

First, I met an exceptionally talented Creative Director who ripped apart every single piece that I “designed”. I was lucky that he was one of these rare people that actually told me what i was doing wrong and (painfully) taught me the process of how to do it right. To stress how much of a newbie I was, I had never heard of Photoshop or Illustrator (I had a brief run-in with PageMaker, but that was about it). All I knew was Flash. I drew, “designed” and animated everything in Flash. This was around 2004. To this day, it boggles my mind.

Second. I was working with around 6 other people who could draw the fuck out of anything. Most of them were traditional animators. They had drawn thousand upon thousand of frames for the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon. Due to the decline of traditional animation techniques, here I was in an office with goddamned animation and illustration masters because I knew how to move things with a mouse, and they didn’t! Whenever we were concepting and sketching out things on paper, it got really, really embarrassing for me. To think of this now, I must have been some really nice person in a previous life. But I digress. These guys taught me how to use Photoshop, Illustrator and more importantly I think, the fundamentals of animation that, whether by hand or computer are universal and have served me well to this day. To these people I am eternally grateful.

There’s a lot more to this story, but to the point: To think of a single company who had a major effect on my life, I will have to tip my hat to Macromedia and to some extent, Adobe.

The decline of Flash makes me sad. What makes me even sadder is that it was caused, in a large part to misinformation and half-truths. Grant Skinner can put it better in this post he made: Flash Player Mobile, a Post Mortem. While I feel it was inevitable, I think it is rather premature and somewhat ironic. Feature for feature, I still think HTML/CSS/JS has a long way to go before matching the capabilities of Flash. I’ve seen the most creative and ingenious content on the web created using this medium. To be fair, I’ve also seen the worst the web has to offer made in Flash, a thousandfold more so that the former. But that, I think is a testament to how open this technology was to my generation of designers and developers. It was the perfect sandbox at a time where any other web technology was encumbered by faulty browser support, lack of imagination and ambition. A time when nobody knew what they were doing, we made and dropped bombs. The sky was the limit for Flash. Not so much now.

While it’s time has not passed, I do believe Flash’s golden age is over. The new kids have taken over, and I can see that HTML/CSS/JS is the new thing to push, prod and explore. Good luck kids, may you have more than than we had, learn from our mistakes and learn from our successes.

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