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Manipulating Artwork with Flash 5

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Flash has a deep bag of options to manage movement of artwork components for an animation. This sample chapter from Special Edition Using Macromedia Flash 5 runs through the various Flash tool options and explains how each one behaves.

Flash might not be your first choice when it comes time to handle artwork. Many developers use collateral software packages and then import the results into their movies. Inevitably, though, your project will call for some changes, modifications, or, more likely, movement of artwork components for an animation.

Flash has a deep bag of options to manage these shapes. A series of clicks, drags, and menu options can take you way out into the strange recesses of the program. This makes the usual hunt-and-click learning process less than ideal—like searching for a way out of the forest by taking random turns.

It's best to systemically run through the various tool options and understand how each one behaves. Picking up on the subtle modal differences can improve your work time and reduce the inevitable confusion one extra mouse click might induce. Experiment with simple shapes first, trying out the various tools, and then graduate to more complex shapes and designs. The experience is well worth a few hours of time.

Selecting Artwork

Two arrows can be found on the main toolbar—the Arrow tool designated by a black fill, and the Subselect tool, designated with a white fill. The Arrow tool does most of your major selecting and element shifting. The Subselect tool, on the other hand is used to highlight and modify the particular pieces, or segments, of an object on the stage. Both of these tools behave in different modes (see Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1 The Arrow tool on the left and the Subselect tool on the right function differently.

The third selection tool is the Lasso tool. You probably have encountered this in other software applications. Some developers grab it constantly; others use the Arrow tool to designate the space they want to move. Either way, Flash has a sufficient set of options that let you grab, adjust, and configure your stage elements.

Using the Arrow Tool

The Arrow tool on the main toolbar is one of those universal click-and-drag icons found in just about every design software package. You select an element by clicking it with the Arrow tool. To select more than one element at the same time, hold down the Shift key while clicking the elements. Elements are selected when they are shown with small white dots. In the case of a stroke, the pattern appears as a single row, or a line of white dots.

Click and Double-Click Shape Selection

A geometric shape usually is composed of a fill and a stroke, unless you originally created the element with the stroke or fill turned off. One click inside the filled area engages only the fill constrained by any boundaries. To grab the entire shape, including any stroke lines, double-click the shape, and the entire element should be selected.

Fills, Strokes, and Intersecting Strokes

More complex geometry might have shapes intersecting with each other. That also might mean that stroke lines are overlapping, creating odd exterior borders and lines running through geometric elements.

Notice that clicking a fill engages only the area constrained by a closed border loop. In Figure 3.2, the shaded area represents a single fill section. Even though there is more to the entire circle, clicking inside the shaded area selects only that side. A double-click does select the stroke, but only the stroke around that area.

Figure 3.2 Clicking different areas creates different selection results. If you click in the shaded area, only that portion of the circle is highlighted. Double-click the stroke, and all intersecting lines are selected.

Modifying Shapes with the Arrow Tool

The Arrow tool also can be used to modify the contours of shapes and curves.

Bring the cursor close to the edge of the circle, and the Arrow tool changes to include a tiny curved line below it. Click the border of the circle once and only the unbroken line segment is highlighted. Now double-click in the same area, and you'll notice that all the intersecting strokes are highlighted.

You can take this a step further and select fill areas as well by hold down the Shift key and continuing to click to select multiple objects. Ultimately, you can select the entire geometric configuration using this method. However, a better way to grab the entire picture is available—the drag-selection method.

Using Drag Selection

The Arrow tool also can create marquees around areas on the stage. To select all elements, start in one corner of the stage and click and hold down as you drag the cursor to the opposite corner. As you drag, a rectangle appears, identifying the area you are about to select. You also can grab just blocks—rectangular portions—of the stage.


TipDon't forget, keyboard shortcuts also enable quick access to items on the stage. Ctrl+A in Windows and Command-A on the Mac grabs every visible element on the stage. Ctrl+Shift+A in Windows drops everything. On the Mac, the keyboard sequence is Command-Shift-A.

Using the Lasso Tool

In many cases, the area you need to select is not a simple rectangle or an existing shape on the stage. Here enters the Lasso tool. The Flash Lasso tool functions similarly to other programs (see Figure 3.3). It enables you to grab various sections of the stage based on your requirements and not on preset options.

Figure 3.3 The Lasso tool lets you specify custom- ized selections on the stage in either freeform or polygon mode.

It is important to note that the Lasso tool closes loops for selections without having an actual complete loop. If you draw a semicircle with the Lasso tool, Flash interprets your desired selection by closing the loop in a straight line from the starting point to the finish. This happens in either freeform or polygon mode. If you draw a straight line through a shape, Flash highlights just that line segment through the element.

Freeform Selections

The Lasso tool has several modifiers that appear on the toolbar when it is engaged. If none are selected, you are in freeform mode. This lets you draw a path for selection in the same way you sketch out a rough shape using the Pencil tool. Wherever your drawing ends, Flash closes the loop and highlights that area on the shape.

Note that the Lasso tool always takes the outermost portion of a selection. This means if you have drawn a circle with the Lasso tool to grab an area of a particular shape, and then continued to draw other loops inside the circle, the area designated by the outermost loop prevails. Flash does not omit the inner loops because they are effectively selected twice. The Lasso tool also always selects the union of the total drawing. If you have roughly drawn a circle or a loop, and then you draw another loop—some of which is inside the original area and some out—the union set of those two loops is highlighted.

Polygon Selections

Two ways exist to create selections that are composed of straight-line segments. On the toolbar, an icon appears with sharp, angled lines. Click this button and the Lasso tool goes from freeform to polygon mode. Now you can draw a straight line and simultaneously end the segment and start a new one with each mouse click.

You can achieve the same results by holding down the Alt key in Windows (or the Command key on the Mac) and clicking every time you want to stop the existing segment and start a new one. Again, Flash always takes the total area selected. It also closes polygons by drawing a straight line from the beginning point to the end point. If that happens to be only a straight line, a straight line through the shape is highlighted.


If you want to work with selected objects, but remove the highlighting Flash provides, choose View, Hide Edges from the main toolbar. Any selected objects will not be highlighted until you reverse the option.

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