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Precision Drawing with Macromedia Flash MX and FreeHand: A Perfect Union of Form and Function

A Perfect Union of Form and Function

A long time ago, there were two vector drawing programs that barely knew each other. FreeHand drew vector illustrations and Macromedia Flash drew vector animations. Vectors are vectors are vectors, right?

Not exactly. See, the vectors you drew inside FreeHand were built on an engine dating back to the medieval times of desktop publishing. And while that engine was good for drawing in FreeHand, it didn’t always play well with others. Because the vectors created in FreeHand were largely designed for PostScript printing, there weren’t usually any problems going to print-design applications like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW.

But when the destination was a newer application such as Macromedia Flash, it wasn’t always easy to make the two formats line up correctly. The drawing engine in Macromedia Flash was relatively new and significantly different than the venerable FreeHand codebase. It would have been natural to assume that because Macromedia owned both products, it should be easy to get those FreeHand vectors to work inside Macromedia Flash. Because of the disparity between the engines, it wasn’t. Think of it as seventh grade. Boys get along with boys and girls get along with girls. Both are curious about the other but nobody knows where to start. So designers stumbled around, copying and pasting vectors into Macromedia Flash with mixed results—losing arrowheads, always having trouble with dashed lines, and trying the EPS and Illustrator exports. It was awkward like the first seventh grade dance.

Along came FreeHand 7 and now it was time to move to high school. FreeHand 7.02 added the ability to export SWF files directly from FreeHand. This was a step in the right direction. The original goal of this new development was to enable people to use FreeHand who didn’t actually have Macromedia Flash. (Yes, there are five people who don’t have Macromedia Flash.) FreeHand 9, for example, significantly improved the ability to create SWF files. A side-effect of being able to export SWF from FreeHand was the ability to import SWF into Macromedia Flash.

So now FreeHand and Macromedia Flash were starting to date a little bit. They’d been to the movies and they were holding hands. Sure, there were some problems. Importing SWF into Macromedia Flash didn’t maintain layering. Groups didn’t map to a single symbol, which would seem logical. Rather, they broke into a zillion small symbols that you had to recombine. Dashed lines disappeared. Some fill types just plain weren’t compatible. Every couple has its problems.

The root of these issues was really Macromedia Flash. While Macromedia Flash was designed to create SWF, the SWF format itself was designed to be as compact as possible for fast streaming playback and quick downloading. Because SWF was designed to be compact it was not designed to be the ideal format for importing back into Macromedia Flash (or anything else for that matter). Odd things happened, but it was still usually better than the junior high days of copying and pasting.

Sooner or later every application grows up. Along came FreeHand 9, ready to go to college. It still liked Macromedia Flash and it got a bit more sophisticated about exporting SWF. But exporting SWF was still the extent of its commitment to Macromedia Flash.

Macromedia Flash wanted to grow up too. In a big way. Macromedia Flash decided that it liked FreeHand best. Those old flames, Mr. Clipboard and Mr. Illustrator File, faded into the background. Macromedia Flash wanted to get married and FreeHand was Mr. Right. So Macromedia Flash 5 at long last built in the ability to import the FreeHand file format directly.

This ability continues in Macromedia Flash MX. FreeHand 10 comes out with even more, such as the ability to create SWF files with actions and navigation plus the ability to create complete HTML pages containing SWF files, images and text.

This is huge. A major event worth celebrating. Get some rice (birdseed if you’re environmentally conscious) so you have something to throw.

The marriage of Macromedia Flash MX and FreeHand 10 has a lot going for it. The wedding album is large too, with lots of great pictures. I’ve pulled out some neat ones to show you how to create great drawings with precision by moving your FreeHand illustrations into Macromedia Flash.