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In Flash Catalyst CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding demonstrates how to create and publish fully interactive Flash (SWF) micro sites, widgets, portfolios, and applications from static Photoshop, Illustrator, and Fireworks artwork—all without writing code. The course covers planning a project, importing and organizing assets, creating interactive components, defining repeating data lists, and publishing final projects. Exercise files are included with the course.
I'd like to share a little secret with you. You see, building an application inside of Flash Catalyst is really not that hard at all, in fact you will find it takes a really short amount of time to build them. The hard part is planning your project in advance, and I can't really over-emphasize this enough. The more time that you put into planning your project before you get started in Flash Catalyst, the more successful you will be and the better your project will come out at the end. For example, let's take a look at this project. It's a little micro-site that will run on a web site, to give an interactive tour of the olive farm.
I have this File open right now, inside of Flash Catalyst. It's called olive_tour.fxp. I'm simply going to go the File menu here. I'm going to choose to run the project, so we can take a look at how it works inside of a web browser. It will launch now inside of Firefox, which happens to be my default browser, and I'll see that there are five steps on this tour. As I mouse over each of the steps, a little sound plays and the word Growing appears. I can mouse over the other buttons and see there is Picking, Extracting, Bottling, and Tasting.
Let's take a look at what happens when you actually click on some of these buttons. I'll go to the first step, which is Growing, and I'll click on it, and you could see a panel slides up from the bottom and gives me information about the Growing process of the trees. I see a photograph here and I also have a button that I've created that when you click on it, it makes the panel go away. I'll go to the next step on the tour, which is Picking. By the way notice that when I move my mouse over it, you see how that little white tab kind of slides out and when I move my mouse off of the button, it slides back in again.
It's little design nuances like that, that really makes working in Flash Catalyst that much more special. So I'll click on this one right here, called Picking and you'll notice that as this new panel slides up, I have a Play button, where I can actually play a video. A Pause button lets me pause the video, and without having to close the actual panel, I can simply choose another one, for example Extracting. This is actually a Flash animation that was placed into my project that demonstrates how the oil is separated from the water and the solids.
Next I'll click on the Bottling process, I'll see there is an image here and then finally in the last part, called Tasting, you can see that I can actually preview several different flavors of olive oil. As I mouse over them, a little button appears that kind of rotates in 3D and identifies what that flavor is. What I am looking at here actually is something called a data list inside of Flash Catalyst. You can see on the bottom I have a bowl of olives and if I click on that and slide it across, I can actually view additional flavors. Again, as I mouse over these, I can identify what that flavor is.
These are incredibly easy to create inside of Flash Catalyst. However, as I said before, we really want to be careful about how we build our artwork inside of either Illustrator, Photoshop, or Fireworks. So that we can build these to be functional inside of Flash Catalyst with very little effort. To give you an idea of what I mean, I am going to switch over to Illustrator. Here I'm actually going to view the actual source file that I used to work on this project. It's a file called olive_tour.ai. To get a better idea how of I built this file, let's open up a few extra panels here inside of Illustrator.
I'll start by looking at my Layers panel, which is probably the most important here and I am also going to open up my Symbols panel. So let's take a look at what we have here. First of all, notice that I have several layers carefully named inside of my document. The more careful you are about how you name your layers, it will be that much easier to work with them when you get into Flash Catalyst. For example, let's focus on the Navigation layer. You can see I have five different buttons and I've put those five buttons on five different layers.
Inside of each layer, I have all the elements that I need to create the different parts of my button. I have the Monochrome version, I have the Color version and I also have the text that appears when I mouse over the button. By having everything set up here inside of Illustrator, getting the button to actually be functional and behave the way that I want it to in Flash Catalyst will be that much easier. Let's take a look at some of the other elements. I'll close the Navigation layer and I'll open up the panels layer. If I scroll down over here, you'll see I have a layer called Screen. By turning that layer on, this is the actual panel that first darkens the screen, then depending on which button I am pressing, I can reveal either the Growing layer, the Picking layer, the Extracting layer, the Bottling layer or the Tasting layer.
Let's take a look at the Picking layer for a moment. If you remember there is actually a video that plays here. Well in Illustrator, I've created or designed two buttons, one to Play and one to Pause the video. But I obviously can't place the video into Illustrator itself. So I've taken a snapshot of the video and I've used it as a placeholder here and when I get into Flash Catalyst, I'll swap out this placeholder for the actual video. The same thing is going to be true for the Extracting area. In this case, I have a Flash animation that's going to play here.
The artwork that I have created here is simply a placeholder for where that SWF is going to go. Let's take a look at one more panel, the Tasting panel. This is where we have this data list. But notice that in my design, I only have one flavor listed here. That's because when working with data lists, all I need to do as a designer is define how one of these should look and Flash Catalyst will automatically create repeated elements for me. But knowing that I'm going to be creating this data list component, you can see that in the Tasting layer, I've actually created separate layers for the Item itself, that's this element right here and the Scrollbar that appears in the bottom.
Once again, I've been careful to name these so that I can easily identify them when I bring them into Flash Catalyst. Now in this specific example, I don't really have the need for multiple artboards, but we know that in Illustrator, I can create more than one artboard. If I'd be creating some kind of an application that might take me from one page to another, I can create multiple artboards in Illustrator and those become multiple pages inside of Flash Catalyst. Finally, let's take a look over here at the Symbols panel. Notice I've created a symbol here for the logo that appears right over here.
In reality, I don't need to turn a single logo into a symbol. Symbols are usually used to save space when you have multiple items that are repeated throughout a document. However, when it comes to putting content online, file size becomes really, really important. As we'll learn later on in this video title, there are ways to optimize your graphics so that they play better inside of a web browser. One way to do that is to use symbols inside of Illustrator. Symbols become optimized graphics when they are brought into Flash Catalyst automatically. In fact, let me show you one other strategy that I used in this particular example.
I'll close the Panels layer and hide it for now, and I'll focus on the Background layer. You can see that in the background of my map, I have many trees, a couple of houses or buildings, some railroad tracks and even a river that runs through the farm. While all these elements were drawn from scratch inside of Illustrator, you can easily see that it took many, many objects to create these. While vector artwork is wonderful, there may be times when it's beneficial for you to convert your artwork into a raster image. So what I've done in this case, just to make things more simple is I've actually taken the entire background, then rasterized it as a single image.
So you can see that just by selecting this right now, I actually have an Image that's selected. Now I've kept a vector version of this artwork in a separate file just in case I need to make modifications. But by rasterizing the entire background, before I bring this into Flash Catalyst, not only will this be easier to work with inside of Flash Catalyst, it'll also load much faster in the user's browser. So you can easily tell that I spent a lot of time thinking about the functionality and how I want this application to work before I jumped into Flash Catalyst. My advice to you is to treat this as a regular design project.
In other words, think about who the consumer is, think about the message that you need to communicate, think about how you want that user to interact with your application. Spend time getting the design details right in the beginning, then using the techniques that we've shared here by using symbols and naming your layers, you'll be ready for the fun part of your project, bringing it into Flash Catalyst, adding all the cool functionality and impressing your boss or your client.
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