by Joshua Davis
Publisher: New Riders Publishing
Pub. Date: July 2002
Joshua Davis is a flash guru. I first became acquainted with his work under the pseudonym, "Maruto," which he used on the site www.once-upon-a-forest.com . Once-Upon-A-Forest was, at the time, one of the most compelling web sites I had come across. It was an anomaly, in that it wasn't a shopping site, a game site, or a design-for-sale site. Updated each month with an elegant yet playfully interactive flash collage, it could only be classified as an art site. There were no instructions. The user was left on their own to figure out just how to interact with each "painting." The only navigation was an extremely unobtrusive row of numbered links to previous incarnations. It was beautiful.
His web site, www.praystation.com, was winner of the 2001 Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica in the category of of Net Excellence, the pinnacle of online art and design. Praystation has played the role of showcase, portfolio, and digital playground for Davis, an open-source practitioner who has posted not only the results of his experimentation, but the downloadable source files, as well.
"Flash to the Core," subtitled "an interactive sketchbook," falls somewhere between a textbook for Flash designers and a work of art and philosophy, as do Davis's web sites. Davis begins with descriptions of early experimentation with baking his oil paintings at 450 degrees and observing the results; there is a rather disturbing picture on page 5 of Davis with red food coloring in his eyes; and amidst it all he intones the existential question, "Should Bob die?"
From this philosophical introduction, he moves into a general overview of the Flash MX environment - movie clip naming conventions, the stage, how to effectively use the library. A seasoned Flash designer might be tempted to skip this part, but I recommend against it. Where else would I have learned that 24 frames per second is the "same rate used in 35 mm film movie-making"?
The general overview leads into the book's Basic Tutorials, in which the reader is gently eased into basic actionscripting. The Basic Tutorials cover elements such as actionscript fading, collision detection and depth-sorting. They provide a groundwork, both in coding practices and understanding, for the reader to move on to the Intermediate and Advanced Projects.
It's in this latter part of the book where the real fun starts. Davis takes the reader through well-outlined tutorials in friction, collisions, and randomness. You can follow along in the book, typing the code into the actions window, as I did (F9 toggles the window on and off), or you can go to the book's site ( http://flashtothecore.praystation.com ) and download the .fla files. Either way, there's some pretty cool stuff to learn along the way, and Davis's informal style ("To help get your head around this properly…") is comforting in the wake of so many dry technical manuals in the online development world.
Flash to the Core is a highly accessible book on developing in Flash MX. If you take the time to go through the tutorials, you can't help but walk away with a solid groundwork in actionscripting, a basic understanding of object-oriented programming practices, and a desire for more experimentation, of the type that Joshua Davis illustrates. The inclusion of an illustrative web site as part of the package, and a bonus "inspirational" list of books and web sites for further exploration makes this irresistible to the would-be Flash artist .