Flash on the Beach: Day One

This is the first in a series of articles reporting on Flash on the Beach, one of Europe's premier Flash conferences. I'm going to pick out my personal highlights.

This morning, having arrived bright and early in a cold but sunny Brighton, I eagerly made my way to the Brighton Dome to register for this year's Flash on the Beach conference. This is the third year in a row that I have made the journey down to the South Coast for the conference, and once again the line-up of speakers over the three days is stellar. After grabbing a cup of YDN-sponsored tea (yes, we're doing our bit for all the caffeine-addicted Flash developers out there) I headed into the main auditorium for the start of the day.

Adobe Keynote

John Davey, conference organiser supremo, dropped a bombshell in his introduction to the keynote session: Flash on the Beach will be coming to Miami in April '09. If you've always wanted to get to Flash on the Beach but didn't want to brave the chill of the UK in October, then maybe Miami is more your style. I am assured that tanned, toned bodies and manicured poodles are welcome but strictly optional.

The keynote, delivered by Richard Galvan and a few other Adobe folks, showed off some of the features that are shipping with the Flash CS4 release. It's been a while since I've played around in the Flash authoring tool, but judging by the spontaneous applause from the audience it sounds like the new animation system is going to please the designers amongst you. We also got a tantalising glimpse of the new features in the Drawing API, including what looked like live video being projected onto an animated distortion mesh. I don't know what practical applications that might have, but it sure looked pretty. Richard promised that there'll be more information on this and other new features in some of the other Adobe sessions at FotB, so I'll keep you updated.

Mark Anders: Flex 4 and Thermo

After some more tea (or should that be moar tea) I switched venues to see Mark Anders talk about the new designer/developer workflow in Flex 4 and a tool known only by its codename: "Thermo". Having been on the wrong end of a few "misinterpreted" designs (and on both sides of the designer/developer fence) I was interested in seeing how Adobe plan on tackling this thorny issue.

The upcoming Flex 4 has a radically refactored component architecture and a handful of new MXML elements to represent vector graphics, the latter of which exist as a subset of MXML knows as FXG. If you've had any experience with the excellent degrafa library, you'll feel right at home with FXG.

With these two additions, and the introduction of Thermo (think Flex Builder but with the scary ActionScript stuff being replaced with new designer tools), Adobe seems to have completely separated the look and feel of a Flex application from its underlying logic. Developers can round-trip their designs using the new FXG format, and then integrate into their code either at compile time or runtime.

To demonstrate this improved workflow, Mark showed off a weather application that consumed Yahoo's Weather API. The application had several, radically different skins that changed not only how the application looked but also how the user interacted with it. He went from a debug view where all the information was visible, to an accordion-style view with animated open/close states, and finally to a mobile view which looked very much like iPhone's Weather application, complete with flick scrolling. The skins were all created with Thermo without a single line of ActionScipt code in sight. Impressive stuff indeed.

However, as excited as I am by all this, I can't help but wonder why Adobe created FXG and retrofitted all their creative tools to read and write the new format, when SVG is already here and supported by all those tools and more. If I bump into Mark or any of the Adobe people over the next few days, I'll be sure to ask.

Eric Natzke: The Art of Play

The last session of the day was back in the main auditorium, which was just as well as it was absolutely packed. Graphic Designer come Flash hero Eric Natzke showed off some of his latest artwork, and talked about the process of generating that artwork with Flash.

I think I can safely say that everyone in the room was inspired by Eric and his amazing graphical style, not least because there was a mad scramble at the end of his sessions to get one of the free postcards he was giving away. I didn't get a postcard, but I'm seriously tempted to order a few of his canvases for my living room.

End of Day One

Sadly I can't attend James Paterson's "inspired session" or the party this evening as I'm currently on the train back to London, but rest assured I'll be back again tomorrow for more Flash-related fun.

Steve Webster
Front-End Engineer, Yahoo! Europe